RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — Arguably the most successful modified drivers to ever strap in, Matt Hirschman heard the whispers. Whispers that morphed to louder social media conversation.
“Why doesn’t Matt come to Riverhead, is he worried he can’t win there?”
Saturday, with as convincing a performance any driver has ever turned in, Hirschman of Northampton, Pa. won the 7th annual Islip 300 for with Long Island based race team, worth $7,000.
The buzz for the seventh annual Islip 300 took flight in qualifying when 12-year-old Paulie Hartwig III was quickest with a lap of 11.445. Hartwig, who only ran 28-laps of practice ranking him ninth must be a quick learned as he nearly eclipsed the track record of 11.272 set in 202 by Tom Rogers Jr.
Fellow Keystone State resident Hirschman was second quick in qualifying at 11.594.
The race would play out in three segments for eventual winner Hirschman. Hirschman hustled his machine to the early race lead with authority, knowing Hartwig had never run a competitive lap at the tough bullring.
With minimal cautions early, Hirschman would break into a comfortable lead in the event with all the action behind him. Hartwig went back to work, after fading to fourth he started to come back to life as the race moved along and raced back to second after getting by both Beatty and Solomtio with the aid of double file restarts.
Hartwig would lead his first lap of the race on lap 170 when he hung tough to the outside of Hirschman on a restart, Matt came back to the inside of Paulie to reclaim the lead on lap 171.
The second segment of Hirschman’s race would start to play out when a multi-car crash in turn three that drew a caution on lap 185. When the pits opened Hirschman, Solomito, Justin Bonsignore and Craig Lutz all came for tires while Hartwig, Mark Stewart, Roger Turbush and Andy Jankowiak chose to stay out with a different pit strategy.
That strategy found Hartwig the new race leader chased by Stewart, Turbush and Jankowiak. Bonsignore, who won the race off pit road, Solomito, Hirshcman and Lutz started from 8th back went to work on getting back up front.
On lap 210 things went south for Turbush as he spun off turn four while running third due to a soft left rear tire. During this caution Hartwig, Stewart and Jankowiak all came to pit road joining Turbush.
When the race went back green Solomito, who just one lap prior to the caution got by Bonsignore for second, was the leader with Lutz third behind Justin Bonsignore and Hirschman fourth. On the 225th circuit Hirschman started to turn up the wick coming to third, not long after Lutz snuck by Bonsignore for second as business started to pick up.
On lap 230 a debris caution for the muffler off the Walter Sutcliffe machine would stack the lead quartet lined up, side-by-side with laps starting to wane. When the race resumed Solomito and Lutz raced hard side-by-side through the first and second turn drifting up the track, opening the inside lane with Hirschman quick to move his car left and under the dueling duo for the race lead.
Thus, the third and final segment of Matt’s race began.
Despite a hefty 60-lap in the contest remaining once Hirschman had his machine back out front, he was not going to surrender the top spot. Solomito would be as close as anyone would get to making a bid on Hirschman for the win, staying close with the leader on a few more restarts. When the green flag reappeared each time Solomito tried to stay alongside Hirschman for as long as he could, hoping to execute a crossover exiting the corners. However, Hirschman was able to power off the corner to stay out front.
Soon Solomito’s worries were no longer passing Hirschman.
He now had Lutz, Bonsignore, J.B. Fortin and Stewart within striking distance of him. On lap 285 Lou Strohl lost an engine down the backstretch setting up a restart with 15 laps to go.
On that restart while Hirschman held off Solomito, Stewart was able to muscle his way under Bonsignore after the green waved for third. Then on lap 296 another yellow waved for a J.R. Bertuccio spin, setting up another restart. When the green flag waved Stewart working the bottom again slid under Fortin for third.
Not long after, the former multi-time Super Pro truck champion would again flex his muscles diving under Solomito for second as they raced off turn four to take the white flag.
With all that was going on behind him on the final lap, Hirschman took the checkered flag as the winner of the Islip 300.
“This thing was just fast out of the box today,” Hirschman said. “I have to admit things weren’t going great for us when I got injured. I wasn’t sure if I was right for this Elite Towing team, I am sure they were wondering if I was right for them.
“But we stuck it out and I can’t thank Alan Dering of Elite Towing the car owner and the Baker Racing group that wrenches on it, I bring some guys, they have guys and it all worked out.”
“The Hirschman family has been racing here since 1989 I think, a lot of times we left here cursing that Indian at the street,” Hirschman continued. “This is one that a lot of people thought I’d never check off the list, I’m really thankful for the opportunity.”
1. Matt Hirschman 2. Mark Stewart 3. Timmy Solomito 4. Riger Turbush 5. Kyle Ellwood 6. Owen Grennan 7. Paulie Hartwig 8. Dylan Slepian 9. Jack Handley Jr. 10. Dave Sapienza 11. Justin Brown 12. Matt Brode 13. JR Bertuccio 14. Justin Bonsignore 15. Craig Lutz 16. Chris Young 17. JB Fortin 18. Chase Grennan 19. John Beatty Jr. 20. Lou Strohl 21. Andy Jankowiak 22. Allan Pedersen 23. Walter Sutcliffe 24. Tom Rogers Jr.