Aaron, you chose Matt Hirschman as your Driver of the Year for 2013. Why was Hirschman your pick out of the Modifieds, and Rob, who would your pick have been?
Aaron: A broken wrist at the UNOH Battle at the Beach in Daytona and flipping out of the park at Spencer Speedway were the only things that seemed to stop Matt Hirschman from contending for a win in 2013. Included in his accomplishments were a fifth North South Shootout victory at Caraway Speedway in North Carolina, eight Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour wins in ten races locking up the championship as well, and 20 wins in 38 starts overall.
And the coordinators of the Motorsports 2014 Show agreed. He along with Keith Rocco were considered the "Northeast Top Winners" for asphalt Modifieds. In addition, Hirschman was asked to give a seminar about setting up a winning race car. Simply put, he knows the ins and outs of these machines.
Rob: Matt Hirschman is a fantastic Modified racer. There's no doubt about that. But to me, Hirschman was not the best of 2013. That title belongs to Ryan Preece, the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion. Yes, Hirschman won a lot. 20 wins out of 38 races he entered. That's an incredible statistic. But most of that was done on the RoC Asphalt Modified Tour against much lesser competition than Preece faced every race on the NASCAR circuit.
Preece scored four victories on the Tour, as well as a dominating win at Bowman Gray Stadium on the Southern Tour. He scored 12 combined wins in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series competition at Stafford Speedway, Thompson Speedway, and Riverhead Raceway. And in many of those races he was still facing the likes of Doug Coby, Ted Christopher, Rowan Pennink and others.
For me, there was nobody better in a Modified in 2013 than Ryan Preece.
Aaron: All valid points. I understand the tracks in New England that the Tour and SKs compete at are no pushover, but neither are the Race of Champions Tour or Mahoning Valley Speedway. The Lehighton, Pennsylvania track had 14 different feature winners in 2013. Hirschman had competition from former Tour racer Eric Beers and the Delange Racing Team as well as Zane Zeiner who drives for 1999 Tour championship owner Gary Cretty during his appearances at the track. RoC may not have as core of a group of full time competitors as the Tour, but once again there are names/families with years of experience like Chuck Hossfeld, Erick Rudolph, and Mike Leaty to outrun during most races.
The only way I feel the two can be fairly compared up to this point would be from the few Open shows that they raced in together since neither driver competes on those tracks regularly.
Here are some statistics from the 2013 Open shows:
Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium Speedway - Hirschman 1st, Preece 4th,
June Star Speedway SBM 125 - Hirschman 1st, Preece 3rd,
Seekonk Speedway SK Modified 75 - Hirschman 1st (with the motor starting to miss for a team he never raced for before), Preece 8th.
Rob: Beers, Zeiner, Hossfeld, Rudolph and Leaty combined for eight NWMT wins between them. Preece has nine Tour wins by himself. Again, Hirschman is a fantastic Modified driver. I fully believe that. But I also believe that the talent level on the RoC Series does not stack up to that of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
But you are correct in that it is difficult to compare Preece and Hirschman head-to-head since they so rarely race each other. The few times they did race against each other in 2013 Hirschman got the upper hand on Preece. Only one time did he not, and that was in NWMT competition at Thompson Speedway's World Series in October where Preece led 33 laps and finished third and Hirschman led just four laps and finished seventh. Fortunately, in 2014 we will get to see Preece and Hirschman race against each other at every NWMT race in addition to any open shows that both may attend.
Aaron: Same could be said for Tour drivers in RoC and I simply believe it's due to familiarity with the tracks and the competition in the corresponding geography. And yes, the times Hirschman didn’t stack up were in the two Tour races he competed in. However, it needs to be noted that Preece is driving for a team that has been competing on the Tour on a full-time basis since 1996. I understand the other side of the deal may not be a fair comparison either considering Preece races in his family’s equipment for the non-Tour shows, which is why I agree it will be great to see them both constantly on the same level in 2014.
Well as was brought up, Matt Hirschman will indeed be on the NWMT full-time in 2014. He will be splitting time in the Darling Racing 52 and his own 60 car. What should one expect from Hirschman splitting time in two different cars?
Rob: I feel that Hirschman will do quite well this year even though he'll be in two different cars for two different teams throughout the season. One of the cars he's going to be racing is Wayne Darling's 52. That car won the championship in 2012, and finished second in 2013 with Doug Coby. Coby scored eight victories in that car from 2011-2013. It's a damn good car.
And Hirschman's own 60 car is no slouch either. He wins in that car just about everywhere he takes it away from the Tour. And he was really fast for the first half of the season finale at Thompson in that car when he chased down Bobby Santos from half a straightaway back and passed him for the lead.
Aaron: I think Hirschman will fair very well. There's a chance he may be slightly outmatched in his own equipment, but the deal that is put together with the Darling team should alleviate any recognizable difference. Pretty much every year of Hirschman's career have been schedules for multiple car owners.
It also should be remembered that he drove the Darling car for part of the Tour schedule near the beginning of his Modified career. The results may not have been there at that time and although he just never had the chemistry with the Boehler team, this will be his chance to shine on the NASCAR level. Nevertheless, there is no doubt in my mind that Preece will be one of the toughest contenders on the 2014 Tour.
So everything considered, who has the better season in 2014? Ryan Preece or Matt Hirschman?
Aaron: I would say overall in asphalt Modified racing, Hirschman still has the better year in my opinion. On the Tour, believe it or not, I have to go with Preece. The Flamingo Motorsports team has years of experience and are currently at the top of the game.
With that said, Hirschman will go into this opportunity with all seriousness and his focus and attention to every detail will net a successful season. We'll just have to wait and see how successful it will be. On the other hand, I hope the continued opportunities Preece may get at higher levels only help rather than hinder his performance at the Modified level. Best case scenario: Hirschman and Preece battle it out for the championship at the Thompson World Series and then it should show who is best in 2014.
Rob: Well it depends on what is meant by "2014 season." Are we talking the every race that either driver runs in 2014 or just the NWMT season? If we are talking over all, I think Hirschman will probably win more races away from the Tour. Hirschman is almost unbeatable at the open competition races. There's a reason his nickname is "Big Money."
But on the Tour side, I think Preece is the best driver that series has to offer. Times are changing. The old guard is being replaced. Mike Stefanik, Todd Szegedy and Ted Christopher are three great Modified drivers and they all currently do not have a Tour ride for 2014. Preece leads the new guard. He's so strong at just 22-years-old. He finished second in the standings in 2012, won the championship in 2013, and I think he has a great chance at going back-to-back in 2014.
Aaron: I think we are both in agreement about 2014 as well as Hirschman & Preece's talents. Preece definitely comes in as the man to beat on the Tour, but if someone can dethrone him Hirschman may just have the best chance.
Rob: I'm still hesitant to say Hirschman's Tour season will be that good. I think the battle for the championship is going to be between the same two drivers as it's been the last two years. I feel it's going to be Preece and Coby once again. With Coby moving over to Mike Smeriglio III Racing's 2 car replacing Todd Szegedy, he's in one of the strongest teams of the past decade on the Tour. That combination should be scary for everybody else.
Aaron: Coby could definitely be a contender, but we have seen in years past some explosive combinations not live up to expectations. Not saying that it will fail, but moreso that it always remains to be seen what can happen. 2014 is going to be a pivotal year for Tour Modified racing.