The 50th running of the Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium Speedway in Wall, New Jersey was plagued by a number of caution flags throughout the event, but in the end it was pole-sitter ‘Big Money’ Matt Hirschman scoring his eight victory in the prestigious event at the 0.333-mile speedway. Saturday night’s win was Hirschman’s fifth win in the last six Turkey Derby events and secured him a $15,000 payday.
“They advertised the demo derby was tomorrow, but it’s been going all weekend. Nobody’s giving an inch and everybody’s fighting for everything but we wrecked a lot of race cars, spent a lot of time under caution,” Hirschman said after climbing from the car. “Last night I thought we were in the catbird seat for something possibly to happen last night and I did but I just got spun out the lap before that, and tonight we were kind in the same position again and this time we capitalize so I can’t complain. Got one out of two.
“It’s always nice to season with a big win,” he added. “I always say Turkey Derby wins are special, they carry you into the off-season. Just appreciate my whole team, all the supporters that are part of this.
Hirschman was followed by Stephen Kopcik, who overcame an early-race incident and avoided the plethora of other cautions to finish second.
“Second place, can’t complain about that with how tonight went,” said Kopcik. “(We) wrecked too many race cars. It’s a shame. I don’t know what everyone was doing out there. It’s too bad. All-in-all, Turkey Derby weekend, I had a car that could win last night in the Wall mod race and to finish second to Matt here in the big race, really can’t complain too much but we’ll go home and work on it. We’ll get a little better and see if we can contend.”
With less than 20 laps to go, the battle for the lead tightened up between the top three cars, Andy Jankowiak, Andrew Krause and Hirschman. The beating-and-banging at the front of the field continued as the leaders worked through traffic and the laps clicked away.
With just eight laps to go, Krause got into the left rear tire of Jankowiak. The contact sent Jankowiak spinning and Krause tangled up with the No. 73. Hirschman was able to avoid the incident at the last minute by going low in the corner and assuming the race lead with Stephen Kopcik on his back bumper.
On the ensuing restart, Hirschman took off and never looked back.
Hirschman laid down the fastest lap in the day’s qualifying session with a lap of 11.898 seconds, and took command of the race on a restart on Lap 76 of the 150-lap event.
While there was good racing throughout the event, the story of the 50th running of the Turkey Derby was the repeated caution flags and incidents that plagued the event. The first caution flew on the opening lap, and it was far from over from there.
On a restart following the second caution of the night, the yellow immediately flew again for two separate incidents. Coming to the green Stephen Kopcik was spun to the infield while at the front of the field leader Danny Bohn made contact with second-place Anthony Sesely
Race officials penalized Bohn for rough driving for causing the incident, but with Sesely unable to continue due to excessive damage Bohn was disqualified from the event and parked. Despite being out front, Bohn’s race ended after just 28 laps. During the fourth caution of the day on Lap 74, Sesely rejoined the race many laps down.
Most of the field hit pit road under caution on Lap 103, including Hirschman, who was then mired mid-pack behind cars that had hit pit road under earlier cautions, including Jankowiak.
Following that Lap 103 incident, the field had seven cautions in a row when the field attempted to restart. From stalled cars to crashes, the green flag flew only to be followed immediately by the yellow multiple times. These repeated cautions, and a fast car, helped Hirschman work his way through the field and back into contention.
The largest incident of the night took place on a late restart when the front row got together coming off Turn 4 to restart after a string of cautions. Race leader Andy Jankowiak made contact with second-place runner Timmy Solomito, sending Solomito’s No. 66 into the outside wall in front of the entire field. A host of cars piled into the back of the stopped car, bringing out the red flag for an event.
NASCAR Cup Series championship tire changer Ryan Flores worked his way from sixth to second in the final LCQ to advance to the 150-lap main event, but the New Jersey native had an issue in the opening laps of the race and pulled his car into the infield after just seven laps.
Photo courtesy Connor Sullivan, Racing America