Sandbagging For Wins Brings Unfortunate Bad Look To Short Track Competition

Matt Hirschman salutes the crowd at Lee USA Speedway Sunday after winning the Bullring Bash 100

Matt Hirschman salutes the crowd at Lee USA Speedway Sunday after winning the Bullring Bash 100

The first race of the much ballyhooed Tri-Track Series has come and gone, and by most accounts Sunday’s Bullring Bash 100 proved a rousing success at Lee USA Speedway.

There was a quality car count, a stout group of big name competitors and a major event feel to the festivities at Lee.

The most unfortunate part though was that in the end, the actual race lacked something important: Dramatic racing.

It’s no knock on race winner Matt Hirschman Not even close. He played the game to win by the rules set before him and he accomplished just that.

And it’s no knock on the organizers of the event. They put forth a set of rules that unfortunately based on the elements at play with the facility and the factors in play these days with some of these events, played right into the hands of drama sapping the event.

Let’s be straight up honest: Hirschman sandbagged to a win. There’s no sugar-coating that. He laid back, way back, and saved saved saved his tires on the rough tire-eating surface at Lee until he could wait no longer. Then he went to the front of the pack with ease. And unfortunately while he saved, many in front of him were in saving mode too, pedaling around Lee well below 100 percent.

It’s a type of event that has become a scourge on short track racing. The one where everybody plays the waiting game, everybody tries to save, and in the end the guy that ultimately was able to go the slowest for the longest time ends up winning.

Doesn’t that sound totally contradictory to what the sport of auto racing is about? The guys that was able to go the slowest for the longest time wins?

That’s essentially what happened with Hirschman, who at times during the event far lost touch with even the second-to-last car in the field as he half-pedaled slowly around the .375-mile oval. Hirschman even remarked after the event that while he was trying to slow to a minimum, the leaders were slowing right along with him and running the same lap times as he was trying to go slow.

Is that any kind of event to keep fans clamoring to come back for more? Ultimately, the object is to win? But at what cost for the fans?

There’s few other sports where a competitor or team can essentially not even make an attempt to be competitive for the first three-quarters of an event or game and still have a chance to win at the end.

Some might say that the banzai run to the front that a driver must make after using the no effort for the bulk of the race strategy makes up for the lost drama.

Unfortunately, in short track racing today, with lowered car counts across most all events – including many big dollar open shows – that factor is often eliminated by a number of factors. By the time the one playing the slow game makes the charge there often ends being little or no drama left to the run passing cars because there’s few left to pass and many of the one’s being passed can’t even put up anything worth a fight.

Yes, cars were sent home on Sunday, but there likely should have been more cars on the track. It would not have been outlandish to possibly start 30 cars, or even 32 instead of the 26 that did start. Face it, decades ago when there were open shows, the bulk of the field was close. That wasn’t the case Sunday with a field stretched from quality Touring teams used to competition on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Valenti Modified Racing Series, to weekly SK Modified teams.

It’s no knock on those low dollar operations that were in the field, but the fact is, it changes how the whole scenario plays out in a show like that, and played perfectly into the hands of a driver like Hirschman, who knows going into the event that three-quarters of the way through the show, most of those guys won’t even be left on the track to pass or won’t have anything to even put up a minimal fight.

That seemed to be the case Sunday. When Hirschman turned it on and decided to go he went from the back to the front in the blink of an eye. There was no wow factor to it. Even the pass for the lead was made to be a forgone conclusion by numerous rehashed restarts where Hirschman kept easily being Steve Masse for the top spot before another caution would come out before the lap was completed.

What are the answers? Right now the solutions actually, and unfortunately, probably don’t exist in racing. More competitive cars are needed for a show like that at Lee to stop a team or multiple drivers from laying back.

But until the fix is made, fans in the grandstands are the one’s that will suffer watching events where those that are the best at going slow for the most of the event have the biggest advantage at the end.

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  1. Jason McGuire says

    Start throwing some drama into the fix, element of suprise. Put on a race but don’t tell how many laps the race will be, just say the race could be anywhere between 75 to 125 laps (in 25 lap increments). And at lap 55 to 60 draw a pill that will say how many laps the race will be and announce it to the drivers on the one way radio. So that will keep everyone fighting to stay up front, because you never know when the race will end and lessen the excessive tire management. Just a thought tho.

  2. So, you were bored? Have you not been aware of Matt Hirschman’s success at these bigger purse races? History is just repeating itself. He and his team have figured out what it takes to win. Isn’t that what they are there for? It is what it is. If you want racers to entertain you, then let’s start paying them accordingly! The high-purse special events are great for the winners, but not so much for the rest of the competitors. Spread the wealth around, that could be part of the “fix” you need. Start with giving everyone a reason to put on a race, not just the winner. Matt did his homework and he wins.

  3. Sandbagging? I thought saving your car till the end was how you win.

  4. Butch Valley Jr. says

    Short track racing needs less laps. Its that simple. 50 lap races. Hey if you have todo twin 50’s it would be better for everybody. And yes higher purses, but that’s a whole other can of worms

  5. darealgoodfella says

    Sandbagging? Nah, it’s saving the tires for go-time. It is simple but shrewd strategy. Coby has been doing it the last couple years. He hangs back then comes out of seemingly nowhere to compete for the lead. TC does it, albeit a bit differently. He runs his car kinda hard around mid-race to see what it needs for the conditions, runs the original set of tires as long as possible, then comes in for a late-as-possible pit stop for tires, stagger and other adjustments. His car is then usually very strong for the finish. It’s all about the attempt at the economics of tire rationing. If the tires are going to be limited, then the race distance has to be such that there is unfettered racing for the usable racing life of the allotted tires. If there is a 150 lap race, then the tires have to be allotted so there can be real racing for all those 150 laps. What that really means is that there shouldn’t be a tire limit. With these tire rationing rules, these events are racing tires, not racing cars. I say forget the tire rationing rules. It only hobbles the competitive cars, the non-competitive cars won’t need more tires anyways. Let the series have unrestricted tires. The only other option is to reduce the length of the races to about 50 laps so there will be real racing for the entire race.

  6. Unlimited tires? Apparently, you don’t have to buy them. Racing mods is expensive enough as it is. And by theway, the purse was pretty good. Would you raise ticket prices? Only solution is a better tire that doesn’t fall off so much so a new right rear isn’t such an advantage. The down side to that is lots of follow the leader racing. Tire wear creates speed differential and drivers have to decide when go time is. Cup racing is no different. Fastest laps are usually at the end of the race.

  7. There isn’t any sandbagging in weekly SK Mod racing or any weekly division, its every lap like its the last. Forget these open shows and support your weekly tracks.

  8. I thought it was a pretty exciting race.

  9. I

    I was not at the race but let me ask this question, how many lead changes were there and how many other battles for position was going on during the race? Dont matter how fast they are going just need racing. If the tires are the problem then the competitors should speak up and ask for a harder tire – not more tires

  10. “If the tires are the problem then the competitors should speak up and ask for a harder tire – not more tires”

    I would agree with that, but most drivers would never ask for a harder tire. They are addicted to the gobs of traction that the gumballs provide like it was crack cocaine. The MRS tried a harder tire a few years ago, but most of the drivers complained about it so they went back to the “crack”. Even the few WMT drivers that used to come out to Oswego for the 200 stopped coming when the RoC series switched to the American Racer tires.

    So I guess if you are going to keep those p.o.s. tires that are only good for 50 laps (probably only 35-40 at an abrasive track like Lee), then I guess these races need to be shortened to 50 laps or so, like someone else already mentioned. There’s no reason a special event has to be 100 or more laps anyway. The dirt mods run many high paying specials in the 50-60 lap range.

  11. harder tires !

  12. What about taking money from the final purse and adding it to lap bonus money? Would give more of a reason to fight for the lead rather than just sit in the back and save your stuff.

  13. This is what you get at big open modified races…Try local weekly racing…Its the only “racing” left.

  14. I agree how about paying big money for leading 1/4 way 1/2 way etc. or even a random lap to be voted by the fans. Remember in Cup they used to pay a big bonus for leading half way point

  15. Andy da woodchuck says

    Sandbagging? seriously.. Its called not burning your tires up. If Keith did it, this article would read “the best mod driver in the northeast outsmarted everyone else and saved his tires and zoomed to the front” lol what a joke


    I agree the races are too long but that’s the problem in every type of racing. Make the races no longer than 75 laps long and the shows will improve. I don’t go to tour type races any more the weekly shows are much better, you see heat races and the feature and alot of action on the track. Stafford’s regular Friday night shows are awesome, reasonably priced and a lot of good drivers there specially in the SK division.

  17. I agree with most of this article, which is rare, granted. I agree with the fix suggested with most of comments. Make it a 50 lap race. A true shoot out. Heck, even when the Spring Sizzler was a great race, not just another ho-hum tour show, it was only 80 laps.

  18. Crazy in NY says

    “Face it, decades ago when there were open shows, the bulk of the field was close.”

    Decades ago when you were not covering racing? That statement is ridiculous.

    In any era there were 8 to10 or so guys that were a treat to win any race ,Sunday

    at Lee they may have been more. Sandbagging? Stroking? Ha!!. Those words

    are appropriate for for points chasers but hardly apply to an Open show iof this type.

    Matt told you he played the hand dealt him. If he had TT and started on the pole do you

    think he couldn’t have wired the field WMT style? What he did still came with great risk

    as any time he could have rubbed wrong with someone resulting in a wreck or a spin.

    ( like almost happened with Savory), Matt is one of the best strategy , set up men

    in the game today and he can win from anywhere. ( as he’s shown) . Blame the

    gumball tires of today I agree. It would suit me fine if they ( the Mods) were on the

    Firerocks of days past. Guess what? The best in the game would still be up front

    competing for the wins. Too bad Shawn you couldn’t write about what a great

    race Steve Masse had after all the problems he over came to eventually lead

    this race. Like your article after the doom and gloom heat race that Barrett “won”

    at Lee last year it’s not indicative of heat racing in general. Keep turning over those


  19. You want drama? Call TC

  20. darealgoodfella says

    I don’t think races are too long, they are being micromanaged to run economically. Racing by its very nature is not economical. Give them tires, let them have what they need to RACE! Tires are needed to race and they are being withheld. What if gasoline was next to be limited? The cars would have to go very slow to conserve fuel until the last couple laps. They go slow now until go time to conserve tires… and we complain about freight trains and the lack of passing until go time.

    Look… there are two classes on the Tour. The Haves, and Have-A-Little-Lesses. If tires were allowed to be unlimited, those that can will, and those that can’t won’t, and those that can will race for real, and it won’t affect the overall pecking order. It will make pits stops exciting again.

  21. Crazy in NY says

    Get real dareal. Your comparing fuel to tires? The problem is those sticky tires.

    ( and gobs of power). I’m old enough to remember when tire strategy was not a huge

    factor in a 100 lapper on a bullring. Today it is and that’s sad.

    If tire cost were not a factor to teams ( of course it is) then the car count on the

    Tour wouldn’t be suffering like it is. ( it’s only one factor but a biggie).

    The racing that day was very good in spite of what Shawn wrote. How many of

    those not there know a 14 year old won his heat…..beating Matt, Justin, Szegady

    and more. More good that day than bad.

  22. Racerjoe says

    I actually thought is was a pretty decent entertaining race.

  23. B.C. BRENNENSTUHL says


  24. Two horse trainers were talking in a bar before a big race was to go off. First trainer says Hows your horse doing. Second trainer says she’s a real nag today, I can run faster than this nag. She hasn’t got a chance. First trainer responds… Its gonna be a real slow race today……..

  25. B.C., were you the head writer for mad libs back in the day?

  26. Gnarley Nate says

    Milk bowl style is the way to keep them charging to the front!

  27. darealgoodfella says

    TC runs his starting tires as long as he can, even to the point where he falls back to the end of the lead lap. He stays out when the rest of the field starts to come in for tires. He stays out as long as possible on the original tires so when he gets new tires, his are better than the rest and he flies through the field. And he makes other last minute adjustments too for go-time. Is this sandbagging or shrewd strategy?

  28. Harder tires that lasted would help, but we fight out local track for them to no avail…. Apparantly car count and fan attendance is no longer important to promotors…….

  29. Aaron Kromer says

    People that think it is sand bagging obviously don’t really know racing. Racing isn’t just seeing how fast you can go for the designated number of laps it’s strategy more than anything. Saving tires until they are needed may not be the most exciting thing to watch but when you spend the money these teams are spending the ultimate goal in the end is to go home with the w and the prize money and let’s face it you don’t win the race on lap 1 so why burn up your equipment until you absolutely need to. I’ve watched Matt race many times and have never seen a race he was in or won that I could call boring bottom line is teams do what they have to in order to win nobody out there is running for second place

  30. Everyone has forgotten That Matt is great but at racing not at playing god How did he know on those cautions in the laps after lap 50 and up till lap 75 that the race wouldn’t go green from there? Answer he didn’t he took a chance and it paid off Masse drove great but was a sitting duck because of all the cautions that allowed Matt to start right at the tail with a bunch of cars that were a half second off his pace that’s racing! Maybe if nobody went in and adjusted their cars or took the right rear until Matt Did or even later then things could have been different but we wont know cause it didn’t happen. These drivers know what they are doing out there and they will learn from this but these things will happen! Promoters can tweak it by saving out some of the purse for other things like best competitor or other things like surprise lap money but in the end there was allot of great drivers there and one them won!

  31. i am not quite sure how you can take away from a drivers win all because they are smart all throughout the race. matt hirshman is one of the smartest drivers on the track today and it shows when he parks his car in victory lane each race. you might get your dramatic endings if more drivers used their heads like he does. he and his father realized a long time ago that there is no reason to abuse their equipment in the early stages of the race like most do just to end up losing in the end. kudos to matt and his team for the win he earned by out driving all of the “bull in a china shop” like drivers there are today.

  32. Torpedotom Fecteau says

    You got it Pat. The variables fell his way. Our team has done the same and sometimes its worked, another time you think you’re a genius and chit happens. As a car owner, I like long races on harder tires and 50 lappers max for the soft stuff. 35 lappers would definitely be hair on fire racing.

  33. WOW!
    My guess is three people who have commented on this were actually at Lee Speedway or know anything about the race. I know B.C. BRENNENSTUHL was there because I sat next to him but the rest of you wtf? Lee is known to be extremely brutal on tires so tire management is key. Matt Hirschman didn’t stumble upon some secret nobody else knew.
    Someones comment of taking money and putting it for lap leader bonus, There was lap money to the leader. The purse was heavy through out. To the person who said don’t support open shows is an idiot.
    Matt Hirschman won the race and qualified through the consi so he was taking the sandbagging thing to the extreme. Clever little bastard.
    Steve Maase put on one hell of a show coming through the field. I was at Lee on Sunday and apparently Shawn and I didn’t see the same event.
    Yes it was obvious Matt had Maase’s number on the multiple restarts with 10 to go and the outcome was pretty much decided but that didn’t ruin the event.
    Thank you Dick Williams and James Schafer for making my day enjoyable.

  34. That’s racing in these bigger races. You got to take care of your equipment and tires to be there in the end for a chance to win. Just watch Days of Thunder. Tires are what win races. Even NASCAR drivers lay back at like Dega and Daytona. To keep short track racing interesting should have duel 50s or break it up in 3 segments with a tire rule. Short shootouts is where the excitement is at……

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