Some race teams come back from New Smyrna with an idea of what they want to try for the rest of the racing season.
But most were just there to win.
Matt Hirschman has done a whole lot of that his last few years in Florida. His 2021 title was the third in the last four years during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing week at the Florida half-mile. Hirschman’s racing season model has been the same for years: no focus on a single series, but rather on the open events and a few Whelen Modified Tour races.
There’s a reason Hirschman is nicknamed “Big Money.”
"If you're a fan of mine, thanks for the support. If you're not, thanks for watching anyway." pic.twitter.com/XRxXv3sbbp
— NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) February 13, 2021
In that sense, the week-long World Series championship is a cluster of open shows, one race after another for an entire week.
And when it’s money time, Hirschman is there: he’s won the Richie Evans Memorial 100 four of the last five years. He’s no slouch in the John Blewett III Memorial 76, either. Over the last five years, he’s won that event twice and finished second three times.
“It bridges the gap from 2020 to 2021, meaning from November to April it gets us back in race mode,” Hirschman says. “You just knock the rust off, so to speak. I don’t think I need that so much from the driving standpoint.
“It’s more of just working together with everyone, just being familiar with how we do things and the order in which we do things. I think it’s more beneficial from that standpoint.”
Hirschman hasn’t run more than four NASCAR Tour races since 2014, but won at New York’s Oswego Speedway in 2018 and lost an overtime thriller to Justin Bonsignore last year at New Hamphire’s White Mountain Motorsports Park. He non-committal on his 2021 tour schedule.
New Smyrna has turned into a trophy battle between Hirschman and Ryan Preece.
Since 2015, either Hirschman (2017, 2019-21) or Preece (2015-16, ’18) have won the Richie Evans Memorial 100. In that span – covering 34 tour-type Modified races overall – Preece has 11 wins and Hirschman eight.
Hirschman swept the Richie Evans Memorial and week-long titles in 2020 and ’21, while Preece did it in 2015 and ’16. In 2017, Hirschman on the tace and Preece the title, and in 2018, Preece won the race and Hirschman the title.
You have to go back to 2014, when Justin Bonsignore won the Richie Evans Memorial and Ron Silk the championship to find someone other than Preece or Hirschman holding the trophy.
For Silk, racing at New Smyrna all about winning and having fun.
Silk is one of just four drivers — along with Ted Christopher, Jimmy Spencer and Preece — to win both a Tour title and a World Series title.
No driver in the modern-tour era has won the World Series and the tour in the same year. Richie Evans, in 1984, is the last driver to win both the World Series and NASCAR Modified title in the same year.
Steve Park won the championship at New Smyrna in 1992 and ’93, and then finished second on the tour in 1995 and ’96. Reggie Ruggiero finished second on the tour seven times, including 1987 and ’89 when he won the New Smyrna championship.
Christopher, who won nine tour-type Modified titles and split one SK Modified title at New Smyrna, finished third behind champion Jimmy Blewett and runner-up Hossfeld in 2008, when he went on to win his only tour title.
Recent Whelen Modified Tour champions have eschewed the World Series. New York’s Justin Bonsignore, who won his second tour title in three years in 2020, hasn’t raced New Smyrna since 2017. He has three wins there, including one in 2015 when he was World Series runner-up. Similarly, six-time tour champion Doug Coby made one start in 2014, ran five nights and finished fifth in points in 2019 and ran two nights this year.
While Silk didn’t win a race this year, he was competitive all week and ended up in a three-way tie for second in the points with Eric Goodale and Ryan Preece.
The week is a break from the snow and ice up north the Modified community sees every winter. Add five nights of racing, and it’s a hard combination to beat in February for Silk.
“The weather sucks up here [in the winter],” Silk says. “Obviously, we race because we love racing, so we can’t race up here. It’s a good week.
“Vacation’s the wrong word because it’s a lot of work, but your regular daily routine just kind of comes to a grinding halt. You’re in an alternate reality for a week where you’re just racing every day and hanging out with your buddies. It’s a great time to get away and go do that.”
Second year in a row, Matt Hirschman doubles up.
— NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) February 13, 2021
While the championship indicators may not be there at New Smyrna, the health of Modified racing bodes well for an exciting 2021 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season. Patrick Emerling and Craig Lutz finished fifth and sixth this year at New Smyrna, with both picking up wins. Anthony Nocella proved to be competitive all week, while Jon McKennedy collected three top fives.
The World Series coming and going is a sign of something else, too: the racing season up north is on the horizon. The Whelen Modified Tour opener at Martinsville Speedway is set to go in less than seven weeks. Unlike Hirschman, Silk will be on the Tour full-time competing for a second championship.
“I’d be hungry either way, but you’ve got the feeling of racing again,” Silk says. “Really, it’s not going to be too much longer before we’re back.”