By Souza Media/Kyle Souza
SEEKONK, Mass. -- No matter what gets thrown his way, Matt Hirschman just keeps on winning. The Northampton, Pennsylvania, driver earned his fifth career Tri Track Open Modified Series championship in 2020 -- a year that was filled with success for him.
The season-opener was delayed two months due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, two races originally intended were dropped from the schedule and a new track was added. But none of that slowed the veteran Modified competitor -- as Hirschman scored one win in the Star Speedway SBM and finished top-10 in all four races en route to the crown.
“Tri Track has been great for me,” Hirschman said. “I run a variety of races, but Tri Track, since day one, has been positive for me, and us as a group. Being a champion in anything, whether it’s a mini-series, a full-blown full season, it’s always good. It always has a rewarding feel to have it tied to your team and your name to win the championship. The competition is tough -- you need to be more than just consistent, but you also need to finish races up front. Getting one win helped -- with four different winners in four races -- just to be in that group of four is an accomplishment.”
Hirschman’s year started with the two-month delay due to COVID, which was something no one expected. It gave him the chance to make sure his equipment was prepared as soon as the green flag was ready to drop.
“The spring was very unusual to go as long as we did without racing,” Hirschman said. “I’ve run a light schedule in April, but once you get into May and the weather is nice, I’m always racing at that point. To not be racing there in 2020, it was unusual. Once things got started in the middle of June, it was a welcomed return to normality. We took precautions with the pandemic, but going back racing and racing right up until the beginning of November… it didn’t feel any different. With what's going on in the world, with the precautions we took (masks, social distancing), things were a bit different, but racing was what saved the year 2020 for me.”
In the history of the Tri Track Series, Hirschman leads all drivers with 29 career starts and 12 wins. He’s been to Victory Lane in 41% of his races, starting with a victory at Lee USA Speedway in 2014, and most recently a win in the SBM at Star. Hirschman has won the most prestigious races Tri Track offers -- including as a five-time SBM winner, the $10,000 Open Wheel Wednesday at Seekonk Speedway in 2017 and the Haunted Hundred in 2017 and 2018. Hirschman even leads all drivers with 23 career top-five finishes -- a shocking 80% of the time he hits the track.
In the seven-year history of the Tri Track Series, only Jon McKennedy (2014) and Ronnie Williams (2019) have defeated Hirschman in championship battles.
Although, his 2020 season started off with a seventh-place finish that most would think is a good start, Hirschman’s drive to succeed proved that seventh wasn’t good enough. He was adamant after the race about his feelings of not contending for the win, and went to work to improve.
“Even in a high success season you’re always going to have that letdown race, where it’s a reality check and your kick in the butt for you to go back to work,” Hirschman said of the seventh at Monadnock. “We found success prior to that at Speedweeks in Florida and June, and had success after that. We needed to just look at everything and see that you can’t be off just a little bit, because the competition is so tough.”
At Star, Hirschman put on a dominating performance, pitting late, charging through the field and driving by Matt Swanson to win. Hirschman followed it up with a top-five finish in his Monadnock return, and a third-place effort to close the season at Stafford. With Seekonk Speedway facing tight regulations from the state of Massachusetts due to COVID-19, those events were cancelled and one was moved to Stafford -- a place Hirschman did have experience at previously -- but not in a few years.
“Of the staple tracks, with Star going back to the beginning of the series, Star is one of my best tracks,” Hirschman said. “Going there and winning isn't really a surprise, I knew it was a good place for us. But not running well at Monadnock made our focus on improving for the next race.”
Hirschman sealed the title with a third-place at Stafford, and although he didn’t have a lot of recent experience at the track, he wasn’t going to let that deter him from having success.
“People thought I wasn’t going to be a factor because it was a bigger track and I hadn’t run there in a while, but that was just added motivation for me to go there and run well,” Hirschman said. “Although we didn’t win, we drove to the front in the heat race and we were in the front, in the hunt for the win of the feature. It was satisfying for me to perform well and show people we can do it on any type of track. That turned out to be quite an event.”
Hirschman’s fifth title further cements his legacy as the best driver, success-wise, in the seven-year history of Tri Track, but also brings a question forward: is winning races more important than the championship itself? Tri Track offers a purse of over $30,000 for every race, with feature wins earning a driver at least $5,000. Hirschman has certainly been the most lucrative driver in the history of Tri Track as well, scoring wins in some of the biggest money races the series has offered.
“From the beginning of Tri Track, race wins have always been more lucrative than the championship, where in other places it might be reversed. Some series run 14 or so races and it’s a season-long grind… Tri Track is more spread out and it's more incentive to win races than to points race, or try to win the championship. It’s a nice bonus. It’s like the cherry on top. It really shows that you can’t afford to have a bad race.”
Hirschman’s championship also came with some unfortunate news just a few days before he sealed it at Stafford -- when he learned that longtime team supporter Brian “Sparky” Denton had passed away.
“The Tri Track races, since it’s just a few races, they are some of the biggest races of the season for our team and supporters,” Hirschman said. “Sparky was at all of the Tri Track races -- and even though I hadn’t raced at Stafford recently -- he attended races there weekly. I knew he wanted to see us do well there. With his passing just a few days prior, we had already put something special on the car for him in hopes of lifting his spirits, but he passed a few days before. It fueled that desire for us at Stafford to perform well and put our best effort into it.”
Now, as Hirschman begins to look forward to his 2021 plans, he’s hoping to come back and try to chase a sixth crown with Tri Track.
“I think next year in general, any pandemic delays aside, is going to be jam-packed with Modified racing. Hopefully things align and we can compete in all of the events and try for another championship,” Hirschman said. “I look forward to trying to win more races. Star is an above-average track for us, Seekonk is a good track, looking forward to getting back there post-pandemic and looking forward to those staple events again... and Monadnock is high on the priority list to improve.”
Tri Track Open Modified Series officials are putting the final touches on the 2021 schedule, with the full announcement expected in the next month. Already announced, the series will return to Seekonk Speedway for two dates (June 30 & October 23), the annual Open Wheel Wednesday and Haunted Hundred. Two dates at Monadnock Speedway are set for May 1 and August 14 of 2021, while Star Speedway gets two dates -- a Memorial Day special on May 29 and the annual SBM on July 24.
For more information on the Tri Track Open Modified Series visits us at tritrackmodifieds.com and follow the series on social media.