Hirschman Shines in Bright Lights of NWMT New Smyrna Debut

"Big Money" took the win in front of a capacity crowd at the Florida half-mile.

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On Saturday night at New Smyrna Speedway, a capacity crowd witnessed history. Modifieds have been a staple at the Florida half-mile since the 1970s, but the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour finally hosted its first event at the track.

With a sellout crowd in attendance and fans keeping close tabs on the action from around the country, particularly in the Northeast, Matt Hirschman etched his name in the record books once again by winning the 200-lap event.

The magnitude of the moment was not lost on "Big Money," who scored the victory after starting from the pole in the NWMT debut at New Smyrna.

"With a sold-out crowd, with the coverage and people watching across the country, it's a real big deal," Hirschman told Racing America. It's a Saturday night, people were probably looking for something to tune into tonight. It's very rewarding to win this.

"I didn't make it to the Daytona 500 or that level, but to come down to Speedweeks and win big races in short track racing, it's huge. In our first big opportunity of the week to get a win, it's huge."

In some ways, Matt Hirschman in victory lane at New Smyrna Speedway is a familiar scene. He is a three-time champion in the Tour-type Modified division at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, with 10 New Smyrna World Series wins under his belt entering Saturday's race.

However, Tour rules and a longer race presented a new challenge for Saturday's event, meaning the outcome was anything but a foregone conclusion as pit strategies played out throughout the night.

"[Ryan] Preece and I were 1-2 in qualifying and 1-2 in the beginning of the race. It's like nothing changed," said Hirschman. "We've been 1-2 in a lot of stuff here the last five or six years.

"At the same time, it's a different tire compound, different procedures, a longer race but you're counting cautions. I don't think you needed to be a World Series of New Smyrna regular to win this, but it certainly helped."

It is perhaps fitting that it was Hirschman scoring the win in Saturday's race. Hirschman has established himself as one of the top Modified racers of the current generation, carrying on the legacy of his father, five-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Tony Hirschman.

Both of those are great sources of pride for Hirschman, who sees Saturday's spotlight as a sign of Modified racing's growth in recent years.

"I grew up around Modified racing when my dad was one of the all-time best," said Hirschman. "I feel like, today, I'm one of the representatives of today's Mod Squad. In his generation, it was him, Stefanik, Ruggiero. I feel like I'm one of the top guys today that people recognize. I feel like Modified racing has been getting stronger in recent years.

"When the car counts were down in the low-teens six or eight years ago, Modified racing was on the downslide. In the last five years or so I think it's continued to grow and grow and grow. This Whelen Tour race is a big deal, but Modified racing is so much bigger and so much stronger than it was when you just had one Tour."

Of course, the week has just begun for the ground-pounding Modifieds. There is still five nights of racing as part of the World Series, where Hirschman will look for another points championship. He'll be going against a field of cars that includes around 50 entries, proof positive of the rising tide of Modified racing.

"You're going to see it Monday night, this division is alive and well and building. I'm a big part of that, what today's Modified racing is, and I take that seriously."

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour

1. Matt Hirschman
2. Eric Goodale
3. Michael Christopher, Jr.
4. Jon McKennedy
5. Tyler Rypkema
6. Craig Lutz
7. Ron Silk
8. Tommy Catalano
9. Patrick Emerling
10. Ryan Preece
11. Austin Beers
12. Ronnie Williams
13. Jimmy Blewett
14. J.B. Fortin
15. Kyle Bonsignore
16. Spencer Davis
17. David Sapienza
18. J.R. Bertuccio, Jr.
19. Matt Kimball
20. Eddie McCarthy
21. Dylan Slepian
22. Ken Heagy
23. Paul Charette
24. Gary McDonald
25. Joey Coulter
26. Kyle Ebersole
27. Jeremy Gerstner
28. Chris Young
29. Andrew Krause
30. Melissa Fifield
31. Justin Bonsignore