Story & Photo By: Kyle Souza
Matt Hirschman is no stranger to winning at New Smyrna Speedway. He’s been doing it for years as part of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, winning multiple championships, and is back in search of more glory this year.
And he’s off to a good start. With two finishes inside the top-three so far, you would think Hirschman would be overjoyed with excitement. And he might be. But he isn’t showing it.
Instead, he’s airing frustration over the current rules package in place for the Tour Modified division — specifically in the engine department — where Hirschman feels like he’s getting beat on the track. Hirschman was vocal after the race on Tuesday night about the current package and where he feels like he’s getting beat.
“That’s not the issue,” Hirschman said when asked if a weight-break, to assist the Spec Engine thrive, would be helpful. “It’s the straight-line horsepower and gear. It’s just clear as day. It’s so obvious. It’s frustrating for me. I’m heading a separate class of cars out there. If you want to put us (the Spec Engine cars) out there together, we will put on a good race. There are some changes that were made, with Tri Track (Open Modified Series) changing something in one of the motor combinations for 2021, but we are still in 2020 down here. There is some questionable stuff here right now.”
Teams have the opportunity to run multiple different motor combinations in their car, including a 23-degree, 18-degree, NASCAR spec, and more. Each motor package has a specific carburetor and spacer they must run. A large portion of teams are running a built motor, which has more horsepower compared to the Spec. Engine It was also evident to the eye on Tuesday night.
The goal of the rules, similar to the Open Modified ranks building in New England, is to allow drivers from various different Modified divisions to race together, in one race, with minimal changes to their car. It is only asked that teams follow the rules of their respective series they come from. For instance, a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour car must follow Whelen Modified Tour rules, a Tri Track Open Modified Series car must follow Tri Track rules, etc.
Hirschman says the rules needed a change prior to Speedweeks, and he can’t be shot-down, because other touring divisions in New England have elected to already make those changes. Tri Track elected to make the rules more uniform by making sure the 23-degree motors run the same carburetor as the others, putting them at the same horsepower level. The Spec Engine is down on horsepower compared to the 18-degree, 21-degree, 23-degree and others. There were also a few other small tweaks to package rules in the last three years to make it more equal.
Some tracks, like Stafford Motor Speedway — who run four Open Modified races of their own each year — don’t allow the Spec Engine to compete at all. But it is becoming the normal that teams just follow their respective division rules and race competitively.
Hirschman says Ricky Brooks, a well-known tech official who worked for New Smyrna before parting ways at the end of 2019, helped save the Tour Modified division at the World Series — and he’s right. Prior to Brooks’ arrival, car counts were falling, but after a few years of work, they started to soar again. More than 40 cars showed up for the 2021 edition. Champions Racing Association (CRA) officials are running the overall World Series but are no part of the technical inspection. The New Smyrna Speedway website mentions teams should contact Tour Modified Tech Inspector Robert Pettit.
“I bit my tongue last night but after two nights of it I’m going to speak my mind,” Hirschman said. “I’m experiencing it and I know what’s going on. This deal here was going down the tubes until Ricky Brooks turned it around and built it up. We had a lot of positive momentum. CRA officials were knew last year and they did a good job in their first year, but we didn’t make any changes for 2021. It’s magnified right now… something needs to happen. It’s just not right.”
Tour Modifieds competed in a 50-lap feature on Monday, won by Craig Lutz, and a 35-lap feature on Tuesday, won by Patrick Emerling. Both were driving built motors. Hirschman is hoping that extended distances on Wednesday (76 laps) and Friday (100 laps) will allow the Spec Engine to be more of a factor, when others burn their tires off, and he saves his equipment.
“Keep lengthening the race without putting tires on the car,” he said of what could help. “It helps our chances. When they can’t use the power as well as the equipment wears off, it will show up some. But good luck passing them. I’m being vocal… the other guys with a SPEC are not touching them either. If they aren’t frustrated, they don’t have the same passion that I do. I know when it’s fair and when it’s not.”
After a discussion post-race, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Dave Sapienza, who also has a Spec Engine, told My Race News he’s also seeing the struggle in a straight-line, but his car was lacking suspension turn. There were also multiple others in the field that said the same.
Hirschman also feels like there isn’t much officials can do on the spot, with two days already down, and a bunch of cars already meeting their rules package, to make a major difference.
“There is, but it’s tough,” Hirschman said. “You’re going to have to tell people they need to make changes and they are going to say no and say the rules were the rules when they came here. It should have been done before we came here.”
Tour Modifieds return to the track on Wednesday night for the John Blewett Memorial 76-lap race, live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.