The DIRTcar Summit Modified Nationals history book has been stolen. Or maybe handed over… Either way, it’s been in possession of Nick Hoffman throughout the 2021 season as he rewrites his own history.
With his recent victory at Richmond Raceway, the 29-year-old from Belleville, IL earned his 17th win in 18 starts this season (his previous win record in a year was 13) and his 55th career victory overall – moving him ahead of six-time Series champion Mike Harrison for the top spot on the all-time wins list.
“It’s really cool,” Hoffman said in Victory Lane at Richmond Raceway. “Really didn’t start on this whole Hell Tour deal until like , so to pick up that many wins that quick is pretty cool for us.”
With the book still open and pen filled with ink, Hoffman is poised to continue his winning chapter, July 30-31, during the prestigious Prairie Dirt Classic weekend at Fairbury Speedway. He could also take his historic trek to another level as he’ll pull double duty, driving his own #2 Modified and Scott Bloomquist’s Late Model.
He picked up his sixth win at the quarter-mile Illinois track with the Modified Nationals tour in June but admitted Fairbury is one track on the schedule that makes his winning confidence flutter.
“I’ve won quite a few races at Fairbury but the best guys in the country show up there,” Hoffman said. “You worry about Fairbury, Tri-City, Spoon River, there’re quite a few of those nights you get almost 40 cars, 40 really good guys. There’re a few I thought would be easy. None of them come really easy, though. You still have to put everything together. You have to put a whole night together.”
Hoffman and his team have mastered that. He currently holds a 314-point lead with eight races remaining and has yet to finish worse than second.
As far as “new” on his Elite Chassis this season, he said there’s not much different from years past. He’s found a baseline setup that requires simple tweaks from track to track. Having won the Modified Nationals tour championship three times now, he knows what’s needed to survive the grueling schedule – more than 30 races in an eight-week stretch – and what’s needed to win.
“A lot of things,” Hoffman said. “Everything has to go your way, that’s for sure. The biggest thing is qualifying good at the beginning of the night and that sets up the start of your whole night. I’ve been able to be Quick Time in our group every night. Somehow, I get lucky and draw the one or the two (pill) most nights and that puts me on the front row.
“You just can’t have any issues. Maintenance every single night. Make sure nothing is going to fall off or nothing breaks. I think that is the biggest role with the Modifieds and the Late Models. It’s so grueling and a long tour. You just can’t have any issues.”
The biggest issue Hoffman has had to face this year is his rival, Mike Harrison. The fellow Illinois driver denied Hoffman of his 16th victory in a row at Tri-City Speedway by claiming his second Modified Nationals win of the season. Harrison has been a dominant force on the tour since joining in 2011, holding the most titles in Series history.
The two went toe-to-toe for the win at Fairbury in June but Hoffman prevailed by doing what he said was key. He survived while Harrison broke.
Now, having taken the top spot on the all-time wins list from Harrison, Hoffman said he doesn’t see it as a passing of the torch. More of an upper hand in their friendly rivalry.
“I get along with him alright off the racetrack and I talk with him every now and then,” Hoffman said. “It’s more of a rivalry. He wants to beat me, and I want to beat him. Every good sport needs a rivalry. It’s all fun and games. He’s a hell of a race car driver and won a lot of races.”
The fact that both of them, along with drivers like Kenny Wallace, are from southern Illinois – Illinois in general – is no coincidence to Hoffman.
“Through the ‘90s and early 2000s, I grew up in that area watching my dad and guys race. I feel like in that time period [southern Illinois] was one of the toughest parts of the country, I felt like, as far as dirt Modifieds,” Hoffman said. “Now, I’d say central Illinois is the tougher area, Fairbury and that area. Just the racetracks around there breed really good race car drivers. Illinois in general.
“You look at [three-time World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model champion] Brandon Sheppard, he’s on top of his game. He’s from Illinois. All of these different guys, Bobby Pierce and on the Modified side, Mike Harrison. Southern Illinois has died off a little bit. You lost some heavy hitters. But there are new kids who are coming up through and are really good. Like Drake Troutman, he’s from PA, but the kid is only  years old and he’s really good. Kind of all across the country there’s a lot of good guys coming up through and I think Illinois is still the hotbed for it.”
All of that talent will be on display at one of the most iconic quarter-mile tracks this weekend. However, Hoffman will still be holding the history book with confidence, ready to write his name on another line.
“When you roll on the racetrack and know that you’re the guy to beat every night, it for sure helps,” he said.
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