Money.. Big Money.. Tony’s boy.. Call Matt Hirschman whatever you want, but don’t call him anything less than the current king of the opens. This talented driver does nothing, but win when big purses are on the line. Before the event took the green many were expecting he’d come out on top when the checkered flag fell. Later in the event as Hirschman layed back to the point where some were believing he might have mechanical issues, it soon became clear it was all strategy. A well thought out plan that, like the Opens days gone by, needed some help from lady luck and the ability to say “when” at the right time.
Let’s get one thing straight and out of the way. Any crying that sandbagging ruined the BULLRING BASH is nothing short of nonsense. Anyone who’s raced at Lee or has spoken to those who have competed at Lee USA Speedway (VMRS, Late Models, Ministocks, etc..) will tell you the track is a low grip facility that eats your lunch where the right rear tire is concerned. This well known fact with a low grip facility amplifies what strategies are used making it extremely telling early in the run what type of strategy any team has decided upon. It’s also what creates some interesting and extremely dicey racing. Strategy is a live by the sword die by the sword deal with much depending on luck. If Hirschman made his stop too soon or too late, if the caution never came out in the last 40 laps, if, if, if goes on until the checkered flag falls. That’s the BEST thing about racing in general and the greatest thing about extra distance big money short track racing.
Sandbagging does not just occur in Open events. It takes place in all forms of racing and in the Modified division just the same. Opens, NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour events, the Race of Champions events, Valenti Modified Racing Series races and throughout the decades upon decades of Modified events all have seen their share of sandbagging.
How many times have we witnessed a late race pit stop and charge to the front or a “lay-back” and stay out of trouble until it’s time to make that charge? Richie, Geoff Bodine, Charlie Jarzombek, Greg Sacks, right up to Doug Coby, Matt Hirschman, Tommy Barrett, Jr., and Steve Masse have all done it and in damn fine and exciting fashion to boot.
From all those in attendance, fans, competitors, and officials, the consensus was that the BULLRING BASH was a spectacular event filled with tons of passing, some three wide at times. The BULLRING BASH ended with a tangle stemming from a battle between Ryan Preece in the Boehler #3, said to be a car built for the VMRS shows and VMRS hot shoe, Steve Masse. The end result was Preece going on to nab second and leaving Todd Annarummo, in his VMRS mount, no where to go besides up and over Masse, literally taking the top off Masse’s Mod.
The field was filled with a handful of Race of Champions teams, Star Speedway, SK, and Sunoco Modifieds. The Modified of eventual winner, Matt Hirschman, is believed to be used strictly for Open shows. The Valenti Modified Series was well represented however, only ONE full time NASCAR Modified team showed and that was the North Carolina based Hill Enterprises team that competes on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. We’ll get to that lack of WMT team support later.
With that said, I pose the question to you.. What do you do with a “low buck” Thompson Speedway Sunoco Modified during one of many off weeks? If you’re Dennis Perry and his crew, you took a shot at the BULLRING BASH this past Sunday at Lee USA Speedway. Everyone’s eyebrows on the speedway grounds met their hairline and if by chance you go “chrome dome”, by age or by choice, then those eyebrows made it over the head and disappeared down the back of your shirt collar. Dennis and his team’s amazing performance was the very definition of what Open Modified races from the past and present define; ANSWERING THE BELL.
With a new spec motor in their 2012 Troyer ( their last engine blew up at the ICEBREAKER), a four barrel carb, and a change in gear, Dennis and the crew headed to the BULLRING BASH.
Before the last lap incident that took out Masse and Annarummo, the low buck Sunoco Modified team was a solid 5th. But after that accident Dennis Perry was posing with a grin from ear to ear and a third place Modified with the front end resembling a pug dog’s snout; “First thought was ‘I hope that was the end as I just killed this car!’ They said in the drivers meeting the race would end under green no matter what and when I saw Matt had taken the checkers I was just hoping the race was over.”
Dennis started racing part time back in 1987 in the wonderful world of the old school enduro racing and like so many young aspiring drivers before him he may or may not have fibbed just a little about his age; “Then I went to ministocks in 95 to 97 Sportsman in 98 and late model in 99 thru 2008 when I semi retired to get my son started. I got into mods for 1 open show in 2011 at TIS (Thomspon International Speedway) and then went Sk at TIS driving for my cousin in 2012 where we won rookie and finished 3rd in points and again in 2013 where we were 4th in points.”
I asked Dennis if it was his first time competing at Lee and how he and his crew decided to take a shot at the BULLRING BASH; “In a mod yes. It was actually the first short track I ever drove a mod at as TIS is 5/8th of a mile. I did run a couple of shows in the late 90s in ministocks and loved the place. I love how the track doesn’t have a lot of grip and makes you drive on the right rear tire. It fits the way I like my cars and I am just very comfortable there. The Racing Guys are good friends of our team and as soon as we heard about the race we promised to support them. Then when we saw the rules package for the Sk’s we felt we would be very competitive especially at the end. The bullrings help to equal the cars and then the rules package they put forth kept us close.”
As if his landing on the podium with a Sunoco Modified wasn’t enough of a “feel-good” story, Dennis’ support team and crew at Lee was made up of friends and family; “Norm Perry is the car owner and engine builder. He owns APE (out of Ashway, RI) and is also the crew chief. Norm is legally blind and I am always amazed by what he does. Then it was a few friends and family. My cousin Shelly Perry. Chris Williams, my spotter who did an awesome job! Chris Garside, Mitch Bombard, and Brendon Parenti helped in the pits. My 12 year old son Jacob was involved heavily too as he helped Norm and I pull the transmission after issues on Saturday practice. Our sponsors are limited, but we had Shantok Motors out of Uncasville and Groton, CT, who stepped up the day before the race and paid for tow fuel. Treats Pools and Spas in Uncasville, CT has helped with a couple tires at Thompson this year other than that we race on what we win.”
After wrecking in qualifying and having to make the field through the consi Dennis and his team had to come up with a strategy for the 100 lapper; “We started 22nd right behind Preece and outside Matt and decided that we would do what Matt does. When we went green we found a hole and saved what we had. Matt took his change of tire earlier than we wanted so I rode around a little longer and I guess that cost us in the end. With 19 laps left we were in 19th and the car was great just not a lot of room to maneuver. The cautions kept killing us I think there was a few cars I passed 4 or 5 times only to have a caution come out and have to do it all over again. At the end I think we were the only car with the Speed and handling left to give Matt a run but Masse, Preece and Todd were running each other hard and there was just no where to go so I dropped back in line and waited to see if I could capitalize if they made contact and as it happens that’s how the race ended.”
That underfunded team of Dennis and crew, Sunoco Modified and all, plan to run the SBM IV at Star Speedway on June 14th and Modified Madness at Seekonk Speedway on July 24. That’s regardless of whether Dennis has ever seen Star or run a single lap at the Cement Palace. It’s not surprising after his team’s amazing performance at the BULLRING BASH. And what besides the Tri-Track Open Modified Series, are the team’s plans for the rest of the season?; “Survive! With limited funds we plan the next two open shows and the rest at TIS but money determines everything. This was a race that could have taken our entire seasons funding if we did not make the show and as we race on our winnings the payout will be a welcome bonus. Would like to run an MRS show or two at TIS and Lee but without putting a paying sponsor on the car it seems unlikely.”
Dennis, with third place trophy and $2,500.00 to show for it shared his view on what it says about the open shows when a team like his earns a shot against the very best in the division and winds up turning heads; “I think the fact that a no name, low buck team like ours that ran with the top dogs will make the other Sk teams take notice and hopefully bring more teams to support this series. I feel a lot of teams showed disrespect by not showing up after they said they would. These guys, Jim Schaffer, Dick Williams and the rest did something for the racers that has not been done in a long time and not enough racers supported them. All the teams and drivers these guys have supported through the years need to apologize to them for not showing up and supporting the best paying series there is. As for competition, I believe Matt was in a ROC car, Ryan was in a Whelen Car, my Sk and Rowan with his MRS ride were the top 4. If that does not speak to rules parity what does?”
Well said, Dennis. Well said..
Opinions similar to Dennis’ regarding the BULLRING BASH have been mixed, but not in a negative way about the event itself as all who attended came away with high praise. It was the teams that didn’t show which have received some harsh criticism and rightly so.
There have been complaints over the years by many WMT teams regarding the purses since the series was down graded by it’s sanctioning body many, many years ago. The purses being terrible compared to glory seasons past while the expenses have shot through the roof. Some teams and drivers had very legitimate excuses for being unable to make the trip due to repairs or what not. A few of the drivers who compete on a regular basis on the tour already had rides for the event leaving their WMT seats idle. However, the fact that only one full time NASCAR Modified team showed was quite shocking and downright disappointing.
Much has been said about Jim Schaefer’s dedication to the WMT Riverhead Tour shows along with teams he’s assisted with funding out of his own pocket through the years. He’s worked hard for these guys to put extra money in their pockets over the years. Where were they? The majority of those teams didn’t show and to many it was a lack of respect for someone who has given so much to them. Unfortunately “doing the right thing” is a belief that doesn’t appear to be part their vocabulary or beliefs in some cases and that in itself was a terrible discovery this past weekend and quite frankly heartbreaking.
Those teams without a legit excuse for not showing up, the same one’s who moaned and groaned over the years about poor purses, have landed themselves in the same boat as the legal US citizens, 18 years or older, who cry about the government, but don’t go and vote. The race was put on. The purse money was put up, but you chose to be a no show and now you have absolutely no right to bitch about it. The next time one of these teams breaks out the crying towels of crappy purses or expecting that extra money being placed in their hand which they’ve grown accustom to, don’t be surprised to receive a “have a fresh cup..” type of response. Dennis was right, the organizers deserve an apology. They also deserve answers.
$43,660.00 was taken home by the 26 starters and $5,600 went home with those that didn’t make the field. The real champions at the BULLRING BASH were those in attendance and the organizers who worked their butts off for the division to put on the high paying show.
Les Hinkley had planned to be competing at the BULLRING BASH, but family comes first. He and wife Tracey’s 8 year old son Allen’s medical issues have understandably placed racing on the back burner. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Allen and his family. We’re all thinking of you and wishing you all the best! If you would like to make a donation to help with the tough eight year old’s fight please click here.
Checkered Chatter… This weekend is Indianapolis 500 qualifying. On the opening day of practice the first full fendered driver to attempt to qualify since 1972, Kurt Busch went out and sat 2nd on the list with a lap over 224 miles per hour… A brief reminder. History proves that the more a driver wins the more fans will show up to see them get beat. It’s great for the gate and great for business. So the next time someone calls you a moron because you jeer and give a thumbs down to any driver remember, it’s YOUR right as a fan. YOU are the ones paying your hard earned money for a seat in the stands along with food and beverages. YOU have every right to boo, jeer, cry foul, and point fingers. Don’t sweat the small things nor let those non paying in attendance put you down. It’s your money and your butts in the seats that keeps this thing called auto racing going and makes it so damn great… Dave Shipee, formerly of the Speedway Scene column he co-wrote with John Brouwer titled The B.S. Report passed away this past week. The B.S. Report, much like the old NERF’ers Corner turned a lot of heads and fired people up over the years. It was always an entertaining and tell it like it is corner of the once great paper. One line from the column that always stuck out was; “Richard Petty Enterprises announced that Bobby Hamilton will drive the famous 43 this season. Petty further announced that they have no plans on competing for a title this year.” Gotta love the humor those two put out. Thoughts and prayers to his family and friends… 13 years ago the Modified division lost one of it’s great championship owners and supporters. Lenny Boehler who owned and wrenched the famous Ole Blue #3 won many races with some of the best drivers the division has ever witnessed behind the wheel; Bugsy Stevens, Freddie DeSarro, Ron and Kenny Bouchard, Wayne Anderson, Tony Hirschman, and many more.
Until next week’s republishing of another NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo, have a safe and enjoyable weekend at the races!