He hadn’t driven a DIRTcar UMP Modified in almost 14 months, but you wouldn’t have known it the way Nick Hoffman drove to Victory Lane Saturday night.
Hoffman, the three-time national DIRTcar points champion from Mooresville, NC, was sidelined from Modified action in September 2022 after suffering a serious head injury in a highway crash. After completing his first full-time season on the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series this year, he decided to wind-down the season with a trip to visit a few friends – Volusia Speedway Park for the Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial, piloting a car he built for longtime customer, NASCAR Xfinity Series star Justin Allgaier.
With no prior practice, Hoffman jumped in the Federated Auto Parts, Elite Chassis #7 Saturday afternoon and showed he hadn’t forgotten how to get around in the Modified.
“Allgaier called me and was like, ‘Do you wanna run Volusia?’” he said. “We were gonna run Eldora, and that didn’t work out. I was like, “Yeah, if you wanna drive 16 hours so I can come play, we’ll do it.’
“I can’t thank them enough. They brought me a great racecar. They worked really hard. I was a helmet bag carrier this week.”
He’d won the prestigious event that honors the legendary Reutimann family for the first time in 2021, but this time was different. After winning his Showdown Feature earlier in the program, Hoffman redrew the pole for the main event and took off at the drop of the green, never once relinquishing the top spot as he led all 50 laps en route to collecting the $10,000 grand prize and his second career tractor trophy.
After being out of UMP Modified action for so long, what enabled him to climb back in and pick it up so quickly?
“I think the biggest thing is I know every square inch of every one of these cars,” said Hoffman, who drove Allgaier’s #7 to the 2020 DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals championship. “It makes a big difference, for sure.”
Though he led green-to-checkered, his drive to victory was anything but a cakewalk. For 50 circuits around the half-mile oval, Hoffman was chased relentlessly by several different challengers – the fiercest of which were Mitch Thomas and Drake Troutman.
Thomas, 17, of Oakland, MD, started fourth and drove to second in six laps, putting the first bit of pressure on Hoffman in the early going. He stuck a nose underneath Hoffman on a Lap 23 restart in a bid for the lead, but Hoffman denied his challenge.
By this time, Troutman had already charged up to third, and took second when Thomas slipped up coming out of Turn 2 on Lap 25. From 21st on the grid, he had charged all the way up through the field in only half of the race and was now looking at the rear bumper of only one car – leader Nick Hoffman.
“We just had a good car,” Troutman, 18, of Hyndman, PA, said. “If someone went high, we were able to pick off a few on the bottom. If someone went low, we were able to pick off a few on top.”
After Thomas dropped out after slowing suddenly under green on Lap 32, Troutman next felt the wrath of Florida Modified standout Devin Dixon, who had climbed up from 11th in the Jeff Mathews Motorsports #33x. Dixon took second from Troutman down the backstretch on a Lap 35 restart and held it until the next caution flag on Lap 44, when he slowed under yellow with an empty fuel tank and retired to the pits.
One final restart, one final shot for Troutman in the final laps. Despite his ability to keep pace with Hoffman, Troutman knew it was going to be tough to execute a pass.
“He just didn’t really mess up,” Troutman said of Hoffman. “That was really my only hope. I was like maybe if he messes up, that was the only chance I was getting by him. If not, we’ll be running second.”
Hoffman had controlled the entire race to that point, though he knew Troutman’s Jerry Foster Racing #5 was fast as well.
“I knew he was getting close, especially with two-to-go, I came by and saw him on the board not far behind me,” Hoffman said. “At that point, dad was just telling me to stay smooth. As long as I didn’t make a mistake, it was gonna be pretty tough.”
Troutman was able to chop Hoffman’s gap down from a full second down to under a half-second but was unable to get any closer by the checkered flag. Hoffman cruised to his second Reutimann Memorial victory in the last three years and tied David Reutimann for most wins in event history. Reutimann won the 2015 and 2016 editions of the event at East Bay Raceway Park, matching Hoffman’s 2021 and 2023 victories at Volusia.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
DIRTcar UMP Modified Feature (50 Laps): 1. 7-Nick Hoffman; 2. 5-Drake Troutman; 3. 33M-Jeff Mathews; 4. 88-Cody Thornhill; 5. 3S-Josh Sanford; 6. 07-Eric Moon; 7. 2N-Ty Norder; 8. 54-Zach Hawk; 9. 51-Dalton Lanich; 10. 3D-Makayla Tyrrell; 11. 33X-Devin Dixon; 12. 00B-Buzzie Reutimann; 13. 99S-Austin Sanders; 14. 97-Mitch Thomas; 15. 09-Michael Leach; 16. 54J-Jason Jack; 17. D2-Nolan Dalton; 18. 72-Todd Neiheiser; 19. 16-Rusty Griffaw; 20. 96S-Slade Parsons; 21. 27G-Jason Garver; 22. 43A-Mark Anderson; 23. 2J-Troy Johnson; 24. 24B-Dillon Buhr; 25. 78-Raymond Rogers; 26. J82-Treb Jacoby; 27. 21-Devin McLeod; 28. 8A-Austin Holcombe; 29. 6B-Dave Baldwin