by Dana Rowe
Matt Hirshcman rolled into Seekonk with a fat, $1500 bounty on his head. He’d won all three of the previous Tri Track Modified events on the 2017 season and so the Tri Track officialdom said, oh, boy! We’re gonna throw a wrench in his gearbox. So they offered up a bounty on anybody who could unseat Hirschman in the fourth and final event – the Haunted Hundred – at the Cement Palace. Just to be sporting, they allowed that Hirschman could have the bounty if he beat all the bounty hunters to the checkers.
So, that’s what he did! Hirschman grabbed all the marbles in the contest – a contest which undeniably was one of the best modified events at the venue in recent memory. There was always something going on among the many cars up front and then there was the suspense as Hirschman worked his way from fourteenth place at the drop of the green toward the brawl going on at the front.
The grand finale saw Hirschman and Anthony Nocella, in an outright brawl down to the finish line, bumping and pressing as best a pair of open-wheel vehicles can safely muster. And a couple of times, they almost did each other in. But at the end, it was Nocella dropping under with three to go and rushing to the front, along with some traded paint. Not to be outdone, Hirschman dropped under Nocella with more sparks flying and battled his way back to the front. It was the final circuit and Hirschman escaped Nocella to win the Haunted Hundred and steal the prize from the many bounty hunters who had turned out to dethrone him.
At the outset, Ron Silk leapt off the pole and Steve Masse, who had the outside at the front, gave chase. Tommy Barrett came from low in the second row, looking under Masse, but the latter escaped to give chase to Silk. Masse settled in at the head of the pack along with Rowan Pennink, Derek Ramstrom and Nocella. Silk and Masse broke away, leaving most of the field still running parallel lines behind them. By lap five, Silk had engineered a four-car lead, but Masse, undaunted, pulled back up to within a carlength by lap eight. They had a straightaway lead over the field on lap ten.
The two leaders roared on until lap 15 when Pennink got under Woody Pitkat and ran ahead as Pitkat spun out of turn three. Woody immediately made for the pits to replace a right rear tire which appeared to be the cause of the spin.
Silk and Masse took the front and Silk popped out into the lead as the green fell. Pennink got under Masse and Barrett was under Ramstrom behind them. But two laps later, Masse was around in turn four after dropping under and his rear snapped out, leading to an eight car pileup. The wreck sent six-time Seekonk champion Vinny Annarummo off on the hook as well as Bobby Santos. Several cars pitted, including Richard Savary who emerged after hasty repairs, came out the pit entrance, then went immediately back up the pit exit. He was able to return to action after more attention.
Silk zoomed away again. Steve Hersey saw Ramstrom run under to second. This time, a tight pace-line formed with Silk leading Ramstrom, Hersey, and Pennink, nose-to-tail. Barrett and Jon Kievman followed. But Hersey went under Ramstrom into second as Pennink tightened up on Ramstrom’s bumper then shot underneath on lap 22.
Silk and Hersey now dueled at the front Hersey looked to the outside then dropped under, gaining the lead in turn four of lap 27. But the lead did not last as Keith Rocco spun in turn four, three laps later.
Hersey won the duel for the lead on the lap 30 restart and Pennink grabbed third after a short debate with Ramstrom. The leaders thinned out and the top seven were running single file ahead of a paired-up field. By lap forty, the top 7 (Hersey, Silk, Pennink, Kievman, Hirschman, Ramstrom and Chris Pasteryak) were running single file ahead of the field.
The field itself became strung out by lap 46 and two laps later, Hersey was enjoying a lead the length of a straightaway. In the meantime, Les Hinckley was on the move and bridged up to the head of the chase pack. He pulled out and began to overhall the breakaway group. He was on Pasteryak’s bumper on lap 53 and Masse was closing on the first slow competitors to begin lapping. Pennink, running second, dropped under to pass but Ryan Preece went around in turn two.
Hersey had the lead on the lap 55 restart after some door-to-door with Pennink. But Hirschman now ducked under him and stole second. Hinckley got past Kievman into sixth.
Preece’s spin on the backstretch brought caution number five and Hersey lined up with Hirschman on his outside. They went wheel-to-wheel, then Hersey went to the front in turn four. A tight line formed with Hersey, Hirschman, Pennink and Nocella going bumper-to-bumper. Savary and Hinckley were on their tails, running side-by-side, inches ahead of Hersey.
Hirschman looked underneath on lap 78 and they came out of turn four dead even. But Hersey got his lead back in turn two. Hinckley was still working the outside, while Nocella was troubling Pennink over third. But by lap 80, Nocella had nosed under and then taken over the position. Hersey and Hirschman loomed a half-straight ahead.
But Blake Barney lost power in the low groove in the middle of the pack and elected to drop off turn four to the infield to avoid a wreck, bringing caution on lap 90.
On the restart, Hersey and Hirschman came out of the starting box running even. But Hirschman’s back end came loose momentarily and Nocella got his bumper into Hersey, sending the latter around in turn three. Hirschman and Nocella lined up for the restart with Pennink and Savary behind them, followed by Hinckley and Rocco.
Hirschman shot ahead and Nocella knifed between him and Pennink to take second. Hinckley was on Pennink’s bumper, followed by Savary and Masse. Hirschman grabbed a one-length lead as the top eight quickly went single file. Nocella tightened up and was all over Hirschman’s bumper.
With three laps to go, Nocella was looking under and gave Hirshcman a bump. Nocella went ahead in turn four; but Hirschman quickly returned the favor and dropped under with a bump which gave him the option to go through and retake the lead. They jockeyed all the way to the checkers with Hirschman flashing across the stripe in front. Pennink had run third since lap 23 and was able to claim that position, while Savary picked up fourth and Hinckley claimed fifth. The remainder of the top ten went to Masse, Andrew Krause, Rocco, Ron Frees and Pasteryak. Local driver Colby Fournier grabbed the eleventh spot.