February 13, 2014 — Audio and story by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — photo courtesy SBNation — NORTHAMPTON, PA — When you see Matt Hirschman race for the first time, there’s two things you learn really quickly.
First, they don’t call him “Money Matt” for nothing.
Second, he was born to race.
Hirschman, out of Northampton, Pennsylvania, is the son of five-time NASCAR WHELEN Modified Tour champion Tony Hirschman, and knew from the time he was a little kid that his life would lead him behind the wheel of a race car.
“I’ve always said that this is what I wanted to be, what I wanted to do,” Matt said in an interview with Race Chaser Online during Florida Speedweeks. “Even when I was in grade school and the teacher would ask us what we wanted to be, I always said a race car driver. Somedays I sit and wonder how many of my classmates can say now they are doing what they wanted to do.”
Hirschman has been a blazing force on the Tour-type modified circuit over the past decade, making his mark on some of the biggest and highest-paying events in the modified world. A two-time winner on the NASCAR WHELEN Modified Tour, where he finished second in points in 2008, five-time winner of the prestigious North-South Shootout, two-time winner of the Turkey Derby and and two-time winner of the Modified Race of Champions now held at Oswego Speedway, there isn’t a lot that Hirschman hasn’t done in recent years.
The only mark missing is a WHELEN Modified Tour championship.
Hirschman hopes to change that this season.
Splitting a full schedule between his family-owned modified racing team and the recently-vacated Darling Racing No. 52 (Doug Coby most recently drove for the team and won the NWMT championship with them in 2012), Hirschman hopes that returning to work with team owner Wayne Darling will further kindle the racing spark that has led the now-31-year-old driver to so much success over the years.
“Wayne wanted to cut back for 2014, and with Doug (Coby) still wanting to run a full schedule, it opened the door for us to come in and rebuild that partnership from when we last raced together (in 2008). We nearly won the title that year and it really made the modified racing fun; I’m hoping we can have that same feeling again for 2014.”
Hirschman last ran a full NASCAR WHELEN Modified Tour schedule in 2011 driing the famed No. 3 car, affectionately named “Ole Blue” for Len Boehler and the BRE Racing stable. The team had limited success, finishing sixth in points that year, but nowhere near the standards that Hirschman sets for himself on a weekly basis.
“There’s always high goals and expectations no matter what as far as I’m concerned. If you don’t achieve them you only have to work harder to realize them. I think there is a lot expected from me but that only pushes me to get better and better as I go along.”
While not running a full season behind the wheel of the No. 52 car for the Darlings, Hirschman is not concerned that switching back and forth between two cars will affect his championship performance.
“Yeah, we’ll fill out the races we don’t run with Wayne with running our own car, but I’m not worried about that. We’re going to have a shot if we can just stay clean and do what we need to do.”
Hirschman most recently competed at the 2014 World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway as a part of Florida Speedweeks and notched five top-ten finishes in six races, highlighted by a runner-up effort on the third night of competition. While a lot of teams would consider that a stellar effort, by the Hirschman standard, it was disappointing after as strong as he’s run at the track in recent years.
“I love New Smyrna, it’s a fun race track and I gave up Daytona this year in order to compete and focus solely on the World Series, so I’m bummed it didn’t turn out the way we had hoped. Who knows though? Maybe that just means the success is yet to come.”
Hirschman hopes that statement rings true for his WHELEN Modified Tour run this year, and hopes he can put a few lessons learned from his father to good use during the 2014 schedule. The younger Hirschman crew chiefed his dad to NWMT titles in 2004 and 2005, but is quick to remind everyone his father never pushed him to get behind the wheel.
“My father never pushed me into anything motorsports-related. I thought that maybe he would have but I never started racing until I was 17 even though I was at the race track all my life. I wish I had started sooner because I do want to move up in racing.”
As far as Hirschman’s goal of moving up, he continues to expand a resume that speaks for itself. Besides the wins, Matt has raced upwards of 40 races in a single year driving for four different teams and car owners over the course of a single season the past several years. His Tour ride with Wayne Darling will make his slate for 2014 roughly 50 races split between five different teams, including his family operation, and multiple series.
“The life I’m living right now is what I want to do,” Hirschman says emphatically. “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.”
As for winning the championship? Hirschman says there’s always a chance, and this time, he adds, “it’s a good one”.
“They don’t call it the ‘B-52 Bomber’ for nothing,” Hirschman chuckles. “The car’s fast, we know that. This season, it’s all about trying to find out just how fast.”
Listen in as RaceChaser correspondents Jacob Seelman and Kyle Souza sat down for a candid interview with Matt Hirschman on his upcoming 2014 season, his rekindled association with Wayne Darling’s No. 52 team, and his outlook on contending for the NWMT championship: