Matt Hirschman has been named Racing America’s Short Track Driver of the Year during its first Short Track Awards, broadcasted Thursday night on a special episode of The Bullring.
Hirschman collected 28 wins in Modified competition throughout the 2022 season. He also competed at Stafford Motor Speedway during the Superstar Racing Experience’s return to the Connecticut half-mile, by virtue of his win in the 50th Spring Sizzler.
“If I had to say what the biggest [win] was, I’d say the Spring Sizzler,” said Hirschman on The Bullring. “Being the 50th anniversary, an all-new format, a lot of build-up and it delivered. I also earned the opportunity to compete with the SRX.”
The season started with a pair of wins at New Smyrna Speedway during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, including a first-of-its-kind event.
For the first time, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour contested a points-paying event at New Smyrna, and Hirschman took the checkered flag in that 200-lap race. He followed it up with three more wins during the World Series’ Tour-Type Modified racing.
While he did not compete on the SMART Modified Tour full-time in 2022, he led the points early in the season after three early victories at Florence Motor Speedway, Southern National Motorsports Park and South Boston Speedway. That momentum carried him into Stafford for the big Spring Sizzler win in April.
“There were some big moments, some big wins. It started with the Whelen Tour opener at New Smyrna, which was a first-time, sold-out event. It continued with the Spring Sizzler, other big wins in the summer.”
Of course, the big highlight in the summer in Hirschman was the Racetrack Revival at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Hirschman finished third on the first night of Modified racing while Ryan Newman took the victory. On night two, Hirschman claimed the win and took the famed elevator ride to the rooftop victory lane.
“One of those highlights was the Revival at North Wilkesboro. That was a unique experience and to get to take the elevator ride on the second night to the roof. That was probably the highlight of the summer.”
The momentum did not slow there, as Hirschman continued to pick up victories. The exclamation mark on the season came in November, with wins in both the North-South Shootout at Caraway Speedway and the Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium.
“We finished it up with big wins in November at the North-South Shootout and the Turkey Derby, which is always special to close the year like that. I think I’ll remember it best for the complete season it was, from start to finish.”
All told, Hirschman scored 28 wins, 41 podium finishes, 44 top-five finishes and 47 top-10s in 49 Modified starts. Whether it was with his own team in the Northeast or competing with Pee Dee Motorsports based out of South Carolina, Hirschman was the driver to beat every time he strapped into a Modified.
“It certainly takes a team effort. We did this with multiple cars and teams, so to speak. The Pee Dee Motorsports 60 got big wins on the Whelen Tour and SMART Tour, and the North-South Shootout. My own 60 program got big wins in the Spring Sizzler, with Tri-Track and Race of Champions and local stuff here in Pennsylvania.”
Along with his own results, Hirschman was encouraged by the growth and progress he’s seen in the world of Modified racing in recent years.
“This division as a whole is in a much better place than it was 10 years ago or five years ago. I only see it building in a positive direction. Look at the car count for the Spring Sizzler with that open format, what that was. Look at the Revival of North Wilkesboro and the support and fan turnout for that.
“The payouts are getting better. Again, the Spring Sizzler, that was a record payout for me winning that race. I hear talk of bigger things coming down the road. On the dirt side, there’s more money and larger crowds and more support, but I think the asphalt side is going in the right direction. We’re gaining ground and some of the numbers you’re seeing on the dirt side, I hope we can close that gap and see more growth like they’re experiencing.”
Other award winners from the 2022 Racing America Short Track Awards include:
Future Star of the Year - William Sawalich: Sawalich impressed in both Pro and Super Late Model competition in 2022, with double-digit wins over the course of the year.
Headline of the Year - Racetrack Revival at North Wilkesboro Speedway: After more than a decade without a race and more than 25 years since the NASCAR Cup Series last visited, North Wilkesboro welcomed racing back in August during the Racetrack Revival. Over six nights of competition, the racing delivered every time, culminating with an electric atmosphere of close to 20,000 fans for the CARS Late Model Stock Tour event that saw the return of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to Late Model competition.
Following the incredible success of the event, NASCAR will return to North Wilkesboro for its All-Star Race in 2023, bringing the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series along for the ride. And yes, there will be more Late Model racing during the week leading up to the All-Star Race as well, including the STARS National Tour and the CARS Late Model Stock Cars.
Race of the Year - ACT Fall Foliage 200 at White Mountain: Patrick Laperle took the checkered flag in a race to remember, beating and banging with D.J. Shaw and Tom Carey for the victory.
Legacy Award - Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: There's been little reason to question Earnhardt, Jr.'s commitment to short track racing with the success JR Motorsports' Late Model Stock program has enjoyed over the past decade, spearheaded by Josh Berry. However, 2022 saw that commitment reach a new level. From his tireless efforts to bring racing back to North Wilkesboro - even if it only started with a selfish desire to scan the facility for iRacing - to returning to Late Model racing at North Wilkesboro and Florence Motor Speedway in front of sellout crowds, he left an indelible mark on the grassroots scene in 2022.