NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – In an ending so tight that track announcers called it “the closest finish in racing,” Anthony Nocella edged Matt Hirschman to win the John Blewett III Memorial 76 for tour-type modifieds on Wednesday night at New Smyrna Speedway.
Nocella stayed true to the bottom in the final vestiges of the 76-lap contest at the .48-mile Florida short track, while Hirschman pounded away at the top in an effort to rail around the outside of the No. 92.
It was a virtual mirror image of the duo’s battle from Monday night, in which Nocella also emerged victorious, however this time around the result was almost literally too close to call.
Coming to the checkered flag, a diamond line through turns three and four saw Hirschman get enough momentum to pull all the way alongside Nocella in the outside groove after fighting tooth-and-nail for most of the final 10 laps.
At the finish line, the two cars crossed in a dead heat by the eye test, having to go to video review due to a transponder issue that prevented Nocella’s scoring device from working properly most of the race.
After a nearly-five minute review of all available video evidence, track officials found no conclusive evidence to overturn their initial call declaring Nocella the victor.
Thus, Nocella’s second win of the World Series of Asphalt Racing stood and the No. 92 parked in victory lane.
“I just tried to get inside him there,” Nocella said of the finish. “We were able to clear him, get by him, used all that power off the corner at the end and had just enough to beat him to the line.”
Admittedly, Nocella himself wasn’t a hundred percent sure whether he beat Hirschman to the line at first.
“We got to the throttle at the same time there, he got some more momentum off the top,” he said. “It was close. I couldn’t really tell. We were pretty much dead even from what I could tell.”
Hirschman disagreed with the decision, pleading his case to the officials, but his appeal wasn’t enough.
However, the Pee Dee Motorsports driver wasn’t too down about the ending, mainly because of the clean, hard racing and mutual respect that he and Nocella have shared throughout the week.
“The toughest way to lose a race is when you get treated unfairly and that’s not the case because that’s a great race,” Hirschman noted. “I’m not going to take anything away from the finish. From my seat, I felt I beat him by about six to 12 inches. I looked at a photo that sure looks like that, but that (Nocella winning) was the official decision, I’m told. I will have to live with it. I disagree but I’m not going to take anything away from the No. 92 or myself.
“It was an incredible finish, regardless of who the winner was.”
Wednesday’s race is run annually during the New Smyrna World Series as a tribute to the late John Blewett III, a legend in the modified racing community.
While Nocella never knew John personally, he is friends with John’s brother, fellow competitor Jimmy Blewett, and admitted that winning the Blewett Memorial is “a little extra special” for that reason.
“Coming from open wheel cars that I’ve ran all my life, that’s the way I think it should be racing, you know? They’ve got nerf bars; you can beat and bang,” said Nocella. “We rubbed a little bit, but we ran there for the win, ran clean, and ran with respect for each other. It shows. We put on a good race for the fans.”
Of note, Champion Racing Ass’n official Glenn Luckett issued a statement regarding how the final result was determined after the racing program had concluded.
“The reason we don’t use the transponder is that NASCAR has a template to where you have to mount it and we don’t,” Luckett said. “We just put it on the left rear frame rail. We always go by: What’s seen at the line. They were side by side for three laps, so we knew we were going to have to watch. I was watching from the tower, so were the scorers, and we agreed it was Nocella.
“We went back at photography, and what we saw on the broadcast, and the final decision came back to what the flagger saw at the finish line.”
Jimmy Blewett, the brother of the late John Blewett III, completed the podium after leading several laps in the second half of the race. He was followed by Ryan Preece, who came from last after a qualifying issue to cross the line in fourth.
Dave Sapienza followed in fifth, with Eric Goodale, Patrick Emerling, Mike Willis Jr., Kyle Ebersole and Tommy Catalano filling out the top 10 at the checkered flag.
Anthony Nocella, Matt Hirschman, Jimmy Blewett, Ryan Preece, Dave Sapienza, Eric Goodale, Patrick Emerling, Mike Willis Jr., Kyle Ebersole, Tommy Catalano, Brett Meservey, Jeremy Gerstner, Craig Lutz, Jim Gavek, Ricky Moxley, Joe DeGracia, Eddie McCarthy, Tyler Rypkema, Anthony Sesely, Rich Parker, Tyler Catalano, JR Bertuccio, Brian Roble, Paul Townsond, Brad Vanhouton, Jeffrey Gallup, Ray Fattaraso, Adam LaCicero, John Gerstner.