Monday November 14, 2005

  ARCHIVES

By Brian Danko                       
 

For the second straight year and for the fifth time in the past 11 season, the NASCAR Whelen modified tour championship will reside in Northampton, PA.
 

When Tony Hirschman took the checkered flag at the Thompson International Speedway, he capped off another championship season but for the quite champion, it looked as though he might have to settle for the runner up position.
 

Hirschman trailed Ted Christopher heading into the final event by 36 points and while that isn't a whole lot of points, there isn't a whole lot of wiggle room. Hirschman's year turned on lap 11 when Ted Christopher slammed the wall hard after another competitor moved in front of the driver from Plainville, CT. and ended Christopher's championship dreams.
 

When Tony was reached and asked on what this title meant to him, he said it was whom he beat that makes it special.
 

"The big thing was going against the 13 team (Christopher) and all of the resources that they have." Hirschman said thinking back. "Now Teddy and I don't agree on a lot of things but it wasn't him that I wanted to beat, it was his crew chief, Barry Kuhnel."
 

Hirschman, who might be the most soft spoken champion in the history of NASCAR, has been harboring a grudge against Kuhnel since they won the title together in 1999. Then in mid season of the following year, Hirschman was fired as driver of the Gary Cretty owned #25 and replaced with Ted Christopher.
 

Hirschman feels that it was Kuhnel who got him fired.
 

"Do you know how it feels to be the defending champion and then you're out of a ride the following year and you have to hunt for a ride to finish out the year?"
 

"It wasn't Gary Cretty who got me fired but he took most of the blame from the media and others, it was Kuhnel, he didn't want me there."
 

Hirschman opened up more as he continued to think back to that strange summer. "This has been burning inside of me for five years. I gave him (Kuhnel) his first title and now I kept him from getting another."
 

Hirschman said that his championship team used just one car all season long and once again he prepared the car at his shop with the help of his son, Matt and the only other helper at the shop, Frank Gasper, the co-crew chief.
 

"Yeah, we did it with just one car and two motors." Tony said with pride in his voice.

Hirschman talked about the Kehley's whom he won the title for last year and said that they are given what they need to do.
 

"They give us what we want but we don't waste money. We use what we have and we make the most of it. We're not there to put on a big show."
 

The car owners are from New York City, not the place you figure a modified team would be based out of but when it comes to working on the car, that is done at Hirschman's garage in Pennsylvania.
 

"Matt does most of the set up on the car. He does a great job with that. I have showed him some things but pretty much the whole set up is done by Matt." Tony said beaming with pride.
 

"We also keep Matt's car here and sometimes during the year, his car would be neglected because my car is the first one to get done."
 

The championship car of Hirschman was once again sponsored by Kamco Supplies and Key Material, a company that the Kehley's own.
 

Hirschman said that the Kehley's do appreciate everything more because they have been racers for most of their life.
 

"They tried doing it on their own and they couldn't do it. They lose a brother at a race. They certainly spend a lot more money than they are getting back from it, but they enjoy doing this."

Tony said that Kamco, the main sponsor on the car is also appreciative of what they have accomplished.
 

Not only was it another banner year for Hirschman, Matt won the Race of Champions points chase meaning that Brenda, Tony's wife and Matt's mother have two champions living under the same roof.
 

When he was asked if it would have been awkward with Matt winning the championship and he didn't?
 

"Yeah it might have been." Tony said laughing, "I'm suppose to be the big dog and here he is winning the title, it would have been a little funny."
 

While Hirschman winning a title is nothing new, with son Matt, looking to further his racing resume, it meant a little less Matt at the track and that was tough on the whole family.
 

"You know we've been doing this since Matt was a baby. We'd pack up for the weekend and head to the track but now Matt is branching out and Tony, Jr. (Matt's brother) is doing some spotting for several teams, so now it's Brenda and myself at times."
 

The fifth title for Hirschman means he is just one behind Mike Stefanik but Tony insists that if he comes back and run the full tour again, that isn't what he would be shooting for.
 

"Let's face it, Mike left to run the Busch North and if he was here or decided to come back, he could win another modified title so going to tie Mike isn't something that's on my mind."
 

"Besides, we still have Richie Evans and Jerry Cook ahead of us, just to be mentioned with those three drivers is good enough."
 

Hirschman said that when he captured his first championship in 1995 that he was never imagined four more titles in the years to come.
 

"I was happy when we won the first title and if I never won another title that would have been all right with me."
 

When I was doing a little research on Hirschman, one website listed him as a 'modified legend'; I asked him how he felt about that.
 

"I'm not big into all that stuff. I'm just glad that everyone appreciates what I have done over the year."
 

When NASCAR named the top ten modified drivers of all time, Hirschman was on the list with the biggest names in modified history.
 

While Hirschman edged out Christopher for the title, Ted won more races, seven to Tony's five and while the two dominated the tour, their driving styles are very, very different.
 

"We all know how Ted drives and we all know how I drive. I don't like a lot of the stuff that he does but we have a respect for each other and what we do."
 

When speaking of respect with other modified drivers, he cites both Mike Stefanik and Reggie Ruggiero.
 

"These are two guys that you can run lap by lap, side by side and not worry about anything happening. There are some on the tour that you can't do that with."
 

Now that the leaves are falling off the trees, winters first snow can't be far behind and as champion, there are many special functions that Hirschman will attend. That includes being a guest of honor along with the other NASCAR regional tour champions at the Nextel Cup banquet in New York City.
 

Hirschman said in the beginning he felt uncomfortable at some of these events but he is getting used to it.
 

"Yeah, I did feel out of place. I am one of the little guys and I know where I came from. I always took care of my equipment so being with all these big owners and sponsors, I did feel out of place."
 

Tony says one of the nice things about the New York experience, besides having NASCAR pick up the tab for him and his wife is meeting the other champions and just talking racing.
 

"We do have some photo shots that we do but pretty much, we get to sight see a little and talk with the others. This year should be a little more enjoyable because we know what to expect."
 

Once he returns from New York, he will be crowned officially the champion on Friday night, December 16th at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT and then it will be doing different auto racing trade shows.
 

"It does get pretty busy but it makes the winter go by quickly and before you know it, it's time to go racing again."
 

MIKE CHRISTOPHER RELEASED

Mike Christopher who drove the Roger Hill Enterprises #79 Pontiac was released following the North South Shoot-out in Concord, NC.
 

Christopher is the twin brother of Ted and while the team struggled on the modified tour, they finished ninth in the points with two top five's and six top tens.
 

No word on who might replace Christopher but with the Don Barker owned #50 driven by Chuck Hossfeld selling out; it could put the Buffalo, NY driver in the seat.
 

SHAKE UP AT MYSTIQUE MOTORSPORTS

It was announced this past week at Mystique Motorsports, that Barry Kuhnel, crew chief for Ted Christopher will not be back with the #13 Chevrolet.
 

When Christopher was asked about the status of the team in 2006, Ted said, "We will know in a week or so what will happen. Jim (Galante, car owner) will decide what he wants to do."
 

There has been speculation that the team might not return and one rumor has Christopher running a Busch series car in 2006 but Christopher denies that.
 

CENSORSHIP AT ITS BEST

The NASCAR modified tour is lucky enough to have a good website called Mod Series Scene.

But lately, the people who monitor the message board have decided who and what the many people who visit the site on a daily basis will see.
 

The whole flap recently was started when Shawn Courchesne, the Motorsports writer for the Hartford Courant wrote a critical piece on modified driver, Donny Lia.
 

Since the modified message board is sponsored by another website that has Donny Lia as one of its clients, it told Courchesne that his posts were no longer welcomed and than any other posts on the Lia subject wouldn't be put up.
 

Now lets face it, Lia has talent but he is viewed as a rich kid with no respect or regard for his other competitors.
 

The modified tour is lucky to have the states largest paper cover auto racing on a weekly basis and besides covering the modified tour, he also covers events at Stafford, Waterford and Thompson Speedways, all located in Connecticut.
 

You may or may not like what any individual writes but you should have the opportunity to read and make up your own mind.
 

I just thought that this being Veterans Day, that I would honor them in what they have fought and died for and one of the rights we have because of them is the right to free speech, I guess that isn't so anymore.
 

NEED CHRISTMAS IDEAS?

If you are looking for gifts for the hard to get race fan. Coastal 181 has come out with their holiday catalogue and every imaginable book for your racer is available
 

If you haven't read Richie, The life and times of NASCAR's Greatest Modified Driver and written by long time friend and modified fan, Bones Bourcier will keep you laughing and just marvel at what an incredible driver Richie was with the stories behind the scene. The book is just $25.95.
 

Another great read is Life Wide Open by Dave Dion with Dave Moody. It basically is the life of Dave Dion, one of the classiest drivers on the Busch North circuit and how he and his family raced and what they went through as a family to continue racing. The book lists for $19.95.
 

They have many other books on such legends as Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Tim Richmond and modified champion, Bugsy Stevens.

You can order online for any books at www.coastal181.com or call them for a catalogue of books at 1-877-907-8181 or 1-877-906-8181

BRIAN DANKO'S COLUMN CAN BE FOUND EACH WEEK IN AREA AUTO RACING NEWS.  FOR THE MOST IN AUTO RACING NEWS SUBSCRIBE BY CLICKING ON THE LINK BELOW.