By DINO OBERTO
(LEHIGHTON 4-6-19) Matt Hirschman opened up Mahoning Valley Speedway’s 2019 Opening Night the same as he left for the season finale Octoberfast 2018 by parking his No. 60 in Victory Lane.
The talented driver who travels and wins throughout the Eastern Seaboard, came to the track that sits closest to his Northampton home, making the 30-minute trek a profitable $3000 one after he secured victory in the 100-lap contest.
Hirschman would come from 8th on the 19-car grid, taking the lead from Earl Paules while engaged in heavy lapped traffic. He then had number of close restart battles with eventual runner-up Austin Kochenash but by the later stages it was clear the race was his to lose.
Hirschman crossed the finish line several car lengths ahead of Kochenash for his 17th win at Mahoning, 13 of them coming in 100+ lap events. Kyle Strohl showed good strength late in settling for third while Todd Baer ran consistently steady in securing fourth. Anthony Sesely in his return to Mahoning after a number of years away rounded out the top 5.
“It was a great night. The last several Opening Nights here I watched from the grandstands and this was a lot more fun for sure although a lot harder work,” said Hirschman, who was fresh off a win a week early at Richmond International Raceway and third consecutive.
“I enjoy the traveling thing but it is nice to race close to home. We had a lot of supporters who came out tonight from many different states and we’re having a great start to the season but there’s a long way to go. I look forward to be back here later this year for a few more shows.”
Determined by luck of the draw and leading the field to the green was two-time and defending track champion Brian DeFebo with Kochenash flanked to his outside. DeFefo would jump out front early on while Kochenash, Paules and Hirschman began a tight battle right behind.
By lap 10 Paules was getting a good run on the top side and began reeling in DeFebo. Three laps later the leader had a glitch coming off turn four which allowed Paules to seize the lead. One lap later Hirschman was second and for the next 22 laps it was close action with that pair.
With no cautions during that stretch lapped traffic became a factor and for the strong running Paules it would ultimately be his downfall after what appeared to be a very promising night.
As lap 36 was recorded the leaders came upon a group of cars running two abreast. Paules was holding a line to the outside but just before clearing there was contact made after the car of Nick Baer shot across his path due to a bump that he received. Paules wound up spinning while miraculously Hirschman stayed low enough to just barely avoid the situation.
“My eyes where definitely looking out the right side and it was just one of those things were we caught some lapped cars that were racing ahead of us and they were telling them on the scanner to try and get signal file but it didn’t happen and unfortunately for Earl (Paules) he kind of washed up some and got clipped. I just missed him and I’m glad we did otherwise we would have been wrecked too,” explained Hirschman.
When the field was reset Kochenash was now second and through a series of restarts he made some valiant attempts to sneak underneath Hirschman for the lead, successfully doing so on one of those tries only to be thwarted on the ensuing lap.
“I knew on the restarts I felt pressure from behind and we got a little crossed up a couple times but once we got going the car was great but you can never let your guard down here at Mahoning,” said Hirschman.
It would be perceptible over the final 25 tours that Hirschman had a lock as he was hitting his stride with each passing lap.
For Kochenash he showed that 2019 has the makings of a rewarding season as he ran the entire race from no lower than third.
“We just ran the tires off near the end and the clutch began slipping early on so that hurt quite a bit and it just didn’t play out today. Second (place) is not bad and well get some money and go on to the next one,” said Kochenash.
For defending Late Model champion Frankie Althouse, his Opening Night win wasn’t just a repeat of the previous year that was the springboard to his title run, it was also a bit of good relief too as heading into the season he had dealt with some personal team issues and getting the win was very relieving in many ways.
The 25-lap event would run caution free and during each of those laps it was a torrid showdown between Althouse and two-time champion Mike Sweeney. Althouse had to be very shielding in keeping his place as Sweeney put quite the pressure on. Also making a strong presence was talented Broc Brown who would closely shadow the pair before settling for a respectable third.
Randy Schlenker may have won the Street Stock feature from the pole position but far and away this was an intensely fought race. Schlenker had to overcome an onslaught of aggressors from start to finish which included the likes of defending champion Mark Deysher as well as Jared Ahner and eventual runner-up Jon Moser. They all tried relentlessly to make a pass, some winding up spinning while others, such as Moser, racing him hard right down to the wire. But despite the blitzing Schlenker held strong in notching his 33rd career win.
Dirt Mod winner Ricky Yetter was actually questionable on coming out to race as all week long he was battling the flu. However, with some proper medication he not only made it to the track but took the best remedy to overcome his malady by scoring a hard fought victory.
Yetter started from the pole but afterwards was being hounded by champion Mike Stofflet. Nose-to-tail they would battle until the final lap when Stofflet went for broke and attempted to move underneath Yetter for the lead and win. With not enough track space to pull off the pass, Yetter kept his line while Stofflet looped his car which allowed Corey Edelman to gain a career best second.
In the Pro 4 race Jake Kibler won his second straight class season opener and fourth such time of doing so. The ’18 champ was a bit lucky in his win. Cody Kohler was riding in the lead after taking the spot from Bobby Kibler Sr. on lap eight. However, when Kibler Sr., attempted to regain the position just four laps from the finish, he spun Kohler in the process and for his part was sent to the rear for the restart. J. Kibler went from third to first and on the win.
The Hobby Stock feature was a very exciting one as the race for the lead was very close between Trisha Connolly and Shawn Kistler. Connolly was holding her own nicely but as the final laps rolled around Kistler had a burst of momentum and passed her for the top spot just a few laps from the end and in doing so claimed back-to-back Opening Night victories.
Modified Feature Finish (100-laps): 1.Matt Hirschman, 2. Austin Kochenash, 3. Kyle Strohl, 4. Todd Bear, 5. Anthony Sesely, 6. Gene Bowers, 7. Brian DeFebo, 8. Josh Scherer, 9. Don Wagner, 10. John Markovic, 11. Bobby Jones, 12. Joey Jarowicz, 13. Earl Paules, 14. Heath Metzger, 15. Nick Bear, 16. Austin Beers, 17. Scott Adams, 18. Jacob Kerstetter, 19. Ron Haring Jr.
Late Model Feature Finish (25-laps): 1. Frankie Althouse, 2. Mike Sweeney, 3. Broc Brown, 4. Jeremy Miller, 5. Matt Wentz, 6. Samantha Osborn, 7. Kenny Hein, 8. Geno Steigerwalt, 9. Avery Arthofer, 10. Rick Smith, 11. Mike Senica, 12. Brian Romig Jr. DNS: Taylor Schmidt
Street Stock Feature Finish (30-laps): 1.Randy Schlenker, 2. Jon Moser, 3. Josh Mooney, 4. Todd Ahner, 5. Stacey Brown, 6. Mark Martini, 7. Corey Edelman, 8. Randy Ahner Jr., 9. Eric Kocher, 10. Jamie Smith, 11. Johnny Bennett, 12. Ken Erney III, 13. Jill Long, 14. Bobby Kibler Jr., 15. Jared Ahner, 16. Billy Hunara, 17. Mark Deysher, 18. Rich Reichenbach, 19. Shayne Geist, 20. Aaron Kromer DNS: Jeremy Schlenker DNQ: Jake Kibler, Tucker Muffley, Cody Geist, Brennen Coulter
Dirt Mod Feature Finish (25-laps): 1. Ricky Yetter, 2. Cory Edelman, 3. Colton Perry, 4. Bill Sittler, 5. Mike Stofflet, 6. Louie Horvath, 7. Larry Beers DNS: Frank Parastino
Pro 4 Feature Finish (20-laps): 1. Jake Kibler, 2. Tyler Stangle, 3. Cody Kohler, 4. Bobby Kibler Jr., 5. Jeremy Guerra, 6. Tucker Muffley, 7 Josh Kuronya, 8. Randy Schaffer, 9. Chase Hoffman, DNS: Matt Clark
Hobby Stock Feature Finish (25-laps): 1. Shawn Kistler, 2. Trisha Connolly, 3. Devin Schmidt, 4. Travis Solomon, 5. Al Arthofer, 6. Lyndsay Buss, 7. Peyton Arthofer, 8. Jacob Boehm, 9. Rich Mutarelli, 10. Kassidy Altemose, 11. Tad Snyder, 12. Peter Maier, 13. John Petro, 14. Cody Boehm, 15. Mallory Kutz, 16. Terry Peters, 17. Philip Sabatine DNS: Daryl Rex
Walt Smith Photo