BY JR KENNERUP
Oswego,NY … Racing luck, every driver who has raced knows what it means to have thison your side and on Saturday night at the Oswego Speedway during the 62ndSunoco Race of Champions Matt Hirschman had racing luck on his side.
From atimely yellow on lap 138 for an air cleaner on the track that nullified apotential pass by his stiffest competitor to a lap 160 bout with the insideturn four wall that severely dented the left front rim while taking the leadfor good. To a lap 187 computer malfunction that caused the lap counter /scoreboard to go dark and his crew lost track of what lap it was. To a lap 190electrical malfunction which caused his Bob Bruneau engine to start popping andto a final lap drag race to the checkers with a car that was just about out ofpower due to the electrical malfunction.
The secondgeneration driver from Northampton, Pa. was able to join Racing Royalty bywinning over $15,000 in cash and prizes in the 62nd Sunoco Race ofChampions.
ChuckHossfeld fell a half a car length short of a win and finished second. JimmyZacharias looking for his second win on the day ended up third minus the aircleaner with Erick Rudolph in fourth and Jan Leaty in fifth.
“ I can’tbelieve it “ said the emotionally drained winner in victory lane. “ I was cool,the car was great all night and I had it under control. I was calm and wantedto bring it home and with ten to go the car started to die on the high rpm’sand right at the end the car died and we wouldn’t have made it another lap. Myguys they killed me as the lap counter went out and I guess nobody was watchingthe flags and when I was coming down the front for the checker I didn’t know itwas the checker and I knew I wasn’t making it back around and I couldn’tbelieve we went under the checker flag first. “
Mattexplained what went wrong with the car at the end. “ After a few minutes herewe found out it was electrical and not the motor. The car with the problem wasgetting through the corners good but was dying each time I went down thestraights. “
“ Thank God we made it here tovictory lane “ said Matt. “ We’ve been so close here and for many years noweverybody has said it’s your year, it’s your year. I didn’t even want to hearit this year because it’s been too many times where it should have been my yearand it wasn’t. My heart just stopped those last couple of laps. “
TJ Potrzebowski and JR Kent broughtthe 32 car field to the green flag of Jim Burleigh. Potrzebowski darted quicklyinto the lead while Kent pushed up entering turn one, Hirschman meanwhileaggressively moved from his fourth place starting spot into second by turn two.Entering turn three on the next lap Hirschman quickly passed Potrzebowski onthe outside to take the lead.
Matt spoke about his aggressivestart to the race. “ That was the plan if I had the room; I wasn’t going toforce the issue, just wanted to race smart. But TJ ( Potrzebowski ) gave meroom and I was able to power by him early, there isn’t a better place on thetrack than being out front. It was a good night to get a good draw, that’s thebest feature re-draw we have had all year. To get out front and get some lapmoney, I have to Thank Don & Marilyn Toal for all of their hard work inraising that money for us drivers. My car was so good but I knew that therewere going to be certain drivers that it was going to be tough to pass them andthey way it worked out, I didn’t have to pit early there at lap 50. “
After a yellow on lap 12 the raceremained green until lap 46 with Hirschman leading Potrzebowski, Tommy Cloce,Wilbur Hebing and Erick Rudolph.
Race rule procedures called for amandatory pit stop after lap 50 and with the race under yellow flag conditionsat the time only Patrick Emerling and Jimmy Zacharias made their mandatory pitstops.
Hirschman commented on why he didn’tpit at that time. “ I really didn’t know at that time how hard it was going tobe to pass while coming back up through the field and there were only two guysbehind me who pitted. Plus pitting onlap 50 is way too early. “
Hirschman continued to lead untilthe next caution appeared on lap 63 and this time only Cloce, Daren Scherer,Jan Leaty, Earl Paules, and Tony Hanbury pitted.
Hirschman continued to lead nowfollowed by Hebing, Rudolph, Potrzebowski, and Kyle Ebersole until the nextyellow came out quickly on lap 70 for the spun car of Chuck Hossfeld in turnone.
“ I would have liked to seen moregreen after that first yellow where you had to pit and then we had all thoseyellows and then I decided that the guys we needed to beat so we could win werepitting, and it worked out just about perfectly because we were going to pitaround that lap. “
With Hirschman pitting and he wasjoined by defending race winner Zane Zeiner, JR Kent and Hossfeld. This put Hebing into the lead followed byRudolph, Potrzebowski, Ebersole and Andy Walko.
The longest stretch of green flagconditions for the entire race lasted between laps 76 and 138. Rudolph passedhis teammate for the lead on the lap 76 restart while Ebersole moved into thirdon lap 86 and into second on lap 108.
Upfront Rudolph was setting ablistering pace even though he hadn’t pitted yet but he was trying to get thecars that had pitted a lap down, which would be a huge advantage to him when hepitted.
With 80 laps to go some of thedrivers who pitted were in danger of going a lap down and they started pickingup the pace and this was led by Hossfeld who jumped to the outside groove intrying to avoid being lapped by Rudolph.
With a long train of traffic infront of him led by fifth place runner Walko. Leader Rudolph slowed his paceand this allowed Ebersole to close on in to battle for the lead.
This long rain line of traffic startedto pick up the pace as Rusty Smith got past Walko for fifth on lap 131.Meanwhile looking at who had pitted already you had Zacharias leading Cloce, Leaty,Hirschman, and Hossfeld for the lead after the top six currently had not madetheir mandatory pit stop.
Ebersole passed Rudolph for thelead on lap 136 with a strong turn four outside pass.
Hirschman spoke about remainingpatient during this time where everyone was backed up and the leader was at theend of the line trying to put you down a lap. “ It was tough trying to remindyourself to be patient at that point. But all of us were equal at that point soit would have been tough making a pass. It wasn’t until the 27 ( Walko )started to back up that there became a difference between all of us and youcould make a pass if you had to. “
Hossfeld entering turn three on lap138 made his move and got under Hirschman who was setting up to pass Leaty.However this pass by Hossfeld wasn’t completed as the caution lights flashed onfor an air cleaner laying on the track in turns three and four that came off the car of Zacharias.
During this yellow flag periodEbersole, Rudolph, Hebing, Smith, and Walko all made their mandatory pit stopand surprisingly they were joined by Hossfeld who appeared to be the fastestcar on the track. Hossfeld who changed a right rear tire only was the first carto return to the track.
Mattspoke about the almost pass of Hossfeld. “ It was go time at that point andChuck got under us by making his move before we made our move as we were behindJan ( Leaty ) at that point. I think it would have been tough at that point tosay that it would have been the winning pass by Chuck. It is what it is and Igot burned in this race before by making a pass and then having to go backbehind the guy I just passed because the yellow came out before I completed thepass. At the point when you’re racing for seventh I don’t think it would havebeen a winning move. “
Hossfeldironically would have changed his strategy if he would have passed Hirschman atthat point. Chuck said, “ I would have definitely stayed out if I passed Matt,which was for the race win essentially. Hindsight I don’t know if it was theright call to put the tire on or not. We didn’t lose track position due to thegreat pit stop by my team, it was Dave’s idea to come in and get that tire. “
Potrzebowskiwho still hadn’t made his mandatory pit stop regained the lead once again overZacharias, Cloce, Leaty, and Hirschman.
Therace went back to green but only for a few seconds as Cloce spun into thehomestretch wall to quickly bring the yellow back out. Now Potrzebowski madehis mandatory pit stop giving the lead to Zacharias.
Therace restarted with 50 laps to go and Zacharias bolted out to a few car lengthlead. Hirschman showing power got under Leaty exiting turn four to take secondon lap 153 and he set sail after Zacharias.
Hirschmanglued himself to the back bumper of Zacharias on lap 155. Hirschman almost gotpast the third generation driver with an inside turn one pass on lap 158 butZacharias slammed the door shut.
Hirschmantried the same move exiting turn four to complete lap 160 that he used to passLeaty and it worked with perfection this time. Just after making the pass theyellow lights came on, with the complete pass made before yellow Hirschman wasable to keep the lead.
Duringthis yellow the next obstacle for Hirschman arose as his left front rim wasnoticeably bent and it was causing the front end of the car to shake. The rimgot bent in the pass for the lead as Hirschman clipped the inside turn foursteel retaining wall when he got under Zacharias.
As hiscrew looked to the heavens asking what else could keep him from winning thisrace, Matt had other worries. “ It ( bent rim ) was giving me a headache becauseit was shaking so bad “ said Matt. “ It really had no effect on the carsperformance as we were still really good after the race went back to green. Afterlosing this race a few times where I got no breaks, it was good to get a coupleof breaks with mechanical part breakage tonight. “
Therace resumed green with 34 laps to go and Zacharias knowing that Hirschman hada problem attempted to apply heavy pressure for the lead. Hirschman turned upthe wick and pulled away in the process turning his quickest lap times of theevening proving that the bent rim had no ill effect on the performance of theTroyer chassis machine.
Hossfeldafter many laps of trying finally got under Leaty in turn three with 25 to goto take third and he was followed by Rudolph who moved into fourth.
Hossfeldquickly got up to Zacharias and passed him for second on lap 182 but he wasstill a full straightaway behind Hirschman for the lead.
Thelead advantage would remain the same as it appeared that there would be nochallenge for the lead. However the final yellow of the race came out on lap193 for the spun car of Emerling and during this period Hirschman faced anotherproblem.
“ Atthat point I hadn’t given any thought about Chuck being in second and how hewas going to try and pass me for the win. All I was thinking about was what wasgoing wrong with my car and why I was losing power on the straights. I shut offall of the fans to save as much power as I could and I moved down on the track.“
Whenthe green flag flew for the final time with four laps to go the top two carstook off. It was very apparent to the naked eye that Hirschman could hold offHossfeld in the corners but on the straights, it was a different story.
“ Thereason why I dropped so low on thestraights was if I lost all power I could coast around on the inside and notbreak in the middle of the track and potentially cause a big wreck “ said Matt.
Hossfeldtried a pass for the lead with two to go but Hirschman had enough to hold himoff and Hossfeld dropped back to gather his resources for a last lap last ditcheffort.
Goinginto the final set of turns on the final lap Hossfeld went in high to try andset up a slingshot move coming off turn four. However with the Hirschman carbarely running exiting turn four Hossfeld had to move to the top groove. A dragrace to the checker found Hirschman winning by less than a half a car lengthover Hossfeld with Zacharias, Rudolph, and Leaty to round out the top five.
On thecool down lap the Hirschman car officially ran out of power and limped to thescales and after making weight the car was pushed into victory lane.
“ Theoutside was all there for Chuck to pass me as my car was dying and I hadnothing on the straights for him “ said Matt. “ Another half a lap he wouldhave had me as my car died coming off two on the cool down lap, it would havebeen history for me. “
Mattwho was running his tenth Sunoco Race of Champions Modified event in hisdriving career spoke on what the win means to him. “ This was my biggest winever because it has been a lifelong dream for me to win the Race of Champions “said Matt. “ I’ve been a contender each time I’ve run this event and I can tellyou what happened to me in my previous nine races in this event. Winning thisrace is very special because of the history of this race and my dad winning itpreviously. I was a kid when dad won it at Pocono, I was here when he won thisrace in the 1990’s here, then in the 2000’s he won it again, and won it for afourth time here against me when I finished third two years ago. Regardless ofwhere the race is held, who is in it, what time of year it is, it was a dreamof mine to win this race and now I have won it to fulfill my lifelong dream. Avery special moment for me, my team, and my family. “
“Hindsight is 20/20 “ said Chuck. “ I wished I could have rewound the race forthe last 30 minutes. For example I thought I was bottomed out on rear brakesand during that last caution I found out I had more and that helped. I could behappy with second, we ran hard against Matt and it seems like we’re alwaysfirst and second racing for the win against him. “
For thesecond RoC Tour race in a row Jimmy Zacharias finished third without an aircleaner. “ It’s getting old finishing like this but my best two RoC finisheshave been without an air cleaner. I don’t know if the car runs better but we’lltake it. “
Qualifyingfor the 33 car field saw Hirschman set fast time in the American Racer Time Trialswith a quick lap of 18.227, while American Racer heat races were won by Leatyand Terry Cheetham.
NOTES; Every feature starter received a free copy of theNational Speedway Directory. Once again thanks to the outstanding efforts ofMarilyn & Don Toal a total of $22,395 was raised for lap money. The timebreakdown between the top 12 in tine trials was exactly three tenths of asecond. Matt Wentz was running a former Heinke / Baldwin Racing Troyer HouseCar entry while former Super Modified driver Kris Meyn drove a second DougReaume entry. The 50/50 was an impressive $3,129. Grand Marshall Geoff Bodinepaced the 32 car starting field with his Valiant bodied Modified that he wonmany races with. Daren Scherer regained the RoC Asphalt Modified Tour pointlead going into this Sundays’ race at Shangri – La II.
62ND SUNOCO RACE OF CHAMPIONS MODIFIED FINISH;Matt Hirschman, Chuck Hossfeld, Jimmy Zacharias, Erick Rudolph, Jan Leaty,Daren Scherer, Kyle Ebersole, Zane Zeiner, Terry Cheetham, Wilbur Hebing, DougReaume, TJ Potrzebowski, Patrick Emerling, Earl Paules, Tony Hanbury, KarlHehr, Andy Walko, Rusty Smith, Tommy Cloce, JR Kent, Jim Storace, Nick Barzee,Billy Putney, John Ramsey, Sege Fidanza, Randall Richard, Matt Wentz, AndyLewis, Daryl Lewis, Jr., Kris Meyn, Matt Clemens, TJ Zacharias.
DNQ; Mike Odwazny.
LAP LEADERS; Potrzebowski ( 1 ), Hirschman ( 2 – 73 ),Hebing ( 74 – 75 ), Rudolph ( 76 – 135 ), Ebersole ( 136 – 140 ), Potrzebowski( 141 – 147 ), J. Zacharias ( 148 – 160 ), Hirschman ( 161 – 200 )
GATER RACING NEWS BEST APPEARING CAR; Cloce.
GATER RACING NEWS $500 B MODIFIED BONUS; Hanbury.
AMERICAN RACER TIRE HARD CHARGER AWARD; Hossfeld, J.Zacharias, Leaty, Hanbury, Hehr, and Ramsey ( all gained 8 positions ).
AMERICAN RACER TIRE HARD LUCK AWARD; Kent ( 2ndto 20th ).