Monday April 2, 2007

By Brian Danko                                 

NORTHAMPTON, PA.-------When Matt Hirschman was born on November 29th, 1982, his life was pretty much pre-destined for him. He knew that someday, he too would be a racer, just like his father, and Matt couldn't have written a better script. "I've always said that this is what I wanted to be. Even in grade school when the teacher would ask you what you wanted to be, I always said a race car driver. I wonder how many of my classmates can say they are doing what they wanted to do?" Matt said recently."

One might think that growing up in a family that has know only traveling to a race track each weekend in spring, summer and fall, that naturally Matt would want to settle into some role in racing. But he was never pushed by his father, Tony, voted one of the top ten NASCAR modified drivers of all time and certainly not by his mother, Brenda. When Tony, Sr. was asked if he ever encouraged Matt he said quickly, "No. If that's what he wanted to do, I wasn't going to stop him and his mother never really said anything but she probably wished he hadn't gotten into it."

Tony joked that once he quit racing that he and Brenda might do a little traveling that didn't include going to a racetrack each weekend. "Now instead of winding down, it starting all up again." Tony said with a slight hint of laughter in his voice.

When Matt was asked how his mother, who met Tony at a local race track many years ago felt, Matt said with a laugh, "I think she knows that she can't talk me and my dad out of it, it just consumes your life. This is what I want to do and she knows that. She also understands I grew up around this so she never tried to talk me out of it." Matt said he feels sorry for his mother "because she's getting the short end of the stick." While many fathers in America are pushing their sons into sports that many times the child doesn't want to participate in, that wasn't the case with Matt. "My father never pushed me into anything." Matt said, "I thought that maybe he would have but I never started racing until I was 17 even though I was at a race track all my life. I wish I had started sooner because I do want to move up in racing."

Matt proved the old adage that the apple always falls near the tree because Matt has shown the same sort of steady style of driving that his father has used in amassing five NASCAR modified tour championships along the way. Matt has shown a lot of maturity for only being in racing for just a few years and that most likely comes from his upbringing.

His father has watched his son go from racing local tracks in Pennsylvania to winning the Race of Champions series title to running on the NASCAR Whelen modified tour. "Matt gets along with everybody and he certainly has a lot going for
him. He has good equipment. This is a big year for him." Tony said and added, "I've been stuck in the modifieds my whole life, I never got the big break, hopefully, something with break for him."

Tony did dip his feet in the old Busch North series many years ago, even winning a race, but it never turned into anything and Tony returned to the modifieds. That is what Matt is hoping for in the next couple of years that someone might notice him, unfortunately, so aren't thousands of other racers across the country. "I have confidence in myself and I know that I can get the job done." Matt said, "I just need to have a good year and be noticed."

Matt will have not one but two car owners on the NASCAR Whelen modified tour and Matt couldn't be luckier or happier. "I'll drive for Ed Bennett and Wayne Darling. The owners have merged the teams to run the full-modified schedule. The crew chief will be John McKenna and each car will bring their crew members to the races each week." Matt said. "We have a good group of guys and girls on the team. Everyone really gets along well and we have gotten really close and we know the future can be bright."

This year he has one of the most ambitious schedules set and it might even make Ted Christopher a little envious. While the NASCAR modified tour will be the main focus for Matt with the white and black #59 cars, Matt will also branch out and run some Race of Champions tour races with his own car. He will also run some SK modified races at Thompson Speedway driving for the Delvito brothers, John and Peter. To keep his driving skills sharp he will run at the local Pennsylvania tracks when his schedule permits for James and John Gouldey.

While the Hirschmans tally four in the family, besides Matt, Tony and Brenda, the oldest son, Tony, Jr. is involved in racing as a spotter and is currently working with Roush-Fenway driver David Ragan on the Nextel Cup scene. "My brother and I are doing different things but doing it really well. I've always wanted to drive and Tony never wanted that, he was always into spotting and now he is doing it at the highest level." Tony has also spotted for drivers on the IRL, Craftsman truck series as well as the Busch series and spots for his dad, when his equally busy schedule permits.

While Matt has a lot on his plate this year, the determined driver has set some lofty goals for himself and his teams. "I always set high goals and expectations for myself. If you don't achieve them you only have to work harder to realize them. I think also there is a lot expected from me." Matt said after discussing his fourth place finish at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina. While Matt works at his fathers fabrication shop, he sees first hand the driving force of auto racing, money and lots of it. "I see what teams are spending on motors. Right now it's a known fact that the Ford Motors are making more horsepower and everyone is going to them. Why not keep the Chevrolets on equal footing with the Fords and keep everyones cost down.

This could have been controlled but the teams who have the money are spending it and it doesn't matter. It's not good for the sport and it should have been policed but it hasn't and now to be competitive you have to get one." Matt also realizes that all tracks aren't big horsepower tracks but many like Stafford, Thompson and New Hampshire International Speedway are.

While most of the talk was on the NASCAR Whelen modified tour, Matt also talked about the Race of Champions circuit and the True Value Racing series. "They are both good tours for local guys wanting to stay close to home." Matt said but said the best thing for both series is that the modified tour stay strong.

Matt knows that racing on the modified tour will make him better "because to be the best, you have to race the best." "No matter where I am racing, I welcome the competition but if it means spending more to race, that isn't good. If others buy the capability to outspend you, it hurts everyone."

Matt knows that because of his late season success last year with wins in the North-South Shoot-out and the race at the South Boston Speedway, that many eyes will be watching him closely. That is just fine with him, he's hoping that it's someone who can further his racing career. "The life style I'm living is what I want to do, I'll race for five different teams. I just love it. I'm grateful to my family and the teams who believe in me and are giving me a chance to do what I want to do."

Matt Hirschman has always been a mature youth who has turned into a well-rounded adult. He has all of the tools necessary to do well in racing and with his family and friends supporting him, everyone knows that he will succeed.