History will always show that Jan Leaty won the final Race of Champions tour modified race at the original Shangri-La Speedway on August 25, 2005. That 200-lapper was the last race ever run at the historic track down in the valley.
Now another Race of Champions event is at hand in Tioga County, and the veteran Williamson, N.Y. driver would like nothing better than to complete the circle with another victory lane celebration, this one on the concrete of Shangri-La II Motor Speedway, George Swansbrough's new facility on top of the ridge three miles away. Jan and his son Mike Leaty were both top-five finishers in the 2009 RoC series standings and both will be in the field for the 75 lap ROC'n Concrete Rumble on Sunday, May 16.
Jan, who won the 1982 Late Model championship and the 1989 Modified title at the old track, admits he has never set foot on the new speedway. Several members of his family race team have, and he's studied it through the internet. "I've gone to some websites and I've watched a couple of videos from there on YouTube," he explained. "While it has more banking, it really looks a lot like the old track in shape and size," he added. He's right, although Shangri-La II is a full, measured half-mile, while the old track was a few yards short of that mark.
The saying "The acorn doesn't fall very far from the tree" definitely applies to Matt Hirschman, the defending champion of the Race of Champions paved track modified tour that arrives at Shangri-La II Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 16, for its premier showing on the concrete half-mile oval.
His father, Tony Hirschman, is a five-time champion of NASCAR's open-wheel division, and one of the talents he passed on to his son was the ability to "read" a new race track. That is, the knack of looking at the track, deciding how it is similar and how it differs from well-known tracks, and setting up the race car to go fast the first time it rolls off the truck.
Many of the rivals Hirschman will face in the 75-lap ROC'n Concrete Rumble, which is also the opening race for the series in 2010, have experience on the unique layout. Some, like track champion John Markovic, are weekly regulars at the Concrete Castle and have hundreds of laps under their belt, even though the track just opened last July. Others, including former series title winner Pete Brittain, have made only scattered appearances, but their crew chiefs have the invaluable setup notes on file. Hirschman's closest encounter has been sitting in the stands at Shangri-La II's Concrete Duals season opener on May 1.