COBY VS. LIA TAKES CENTER STAGE AT THOMPSON by Mike Twist
Both Drivers Mad & Upset, Both Had Their Own Thoughts About It All
If you take two young and hungry drivers with a chance to win a very prestigious NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race that has 30 years of history behind it and you throw them into that race with less than 10 laps to go, it could be the recipe for a great finish.
Or it could be the recipe for disaster.
That is exactly what happened when Donny Lia and Doug Coby mixed it up with a handful of laps left in Sunday’s Sunoco 300 at Thompson International Speedway (CT).
Coby and Lia were racing for second place within a stone’s throw of race leader, and eventual winner, Ted Christopher. They raced hard to beat each other. Maybe too hard according to one of the drivers involved and maybe just right considering what was at stake, according to the other.
While battling for position inside of 10 laps to go, Coby took the bottom lane of the racetrack while Lia stayed in the top groove. Coby slid up the track a few times and Lia took evasive action a few times. One final time, contact was made between the two cars and Lia was not happy about it. Was it hard racing at the end of the race or something else? Both drivers have differing opinions.
“There were 10 laps to go and he was doing whatever it took to win his first Modified race,” said Lia. “He ran me up the track three or four times. The last time, we touched and it knocked the toe on my car off an inch and a half. I don’t race like that and if he wanted to pass me, I would have given him all of the room in the world top or bottom. I just ran my line. I never tried to squeeze him or anything. My line wasn’t good enough I guess, he needed more.”
Coby claims that what he was doing was just hard racing and nothing more.
“Somebody who has no respect for other people can’t take a little bit of racing,” said Coby. “I was on the bottom and I took him up the racetrack. We bumped a little bit. He told other people that I took him up in turn two and almost put him into the wall. But did I put him into the wall? No. I did what I needed to do to get by him with 10 laps to go in one of the biggest races of the year for the Modifieds.”
As the field went by under caution, Lia told Speed51.com that he was moved back into second place by NASCAR. It turned out that Coby’s pass for position occurred after the caution flag actually waved. As Lia moved up to take the correct position on the restart, he turned right into Coby’s #77. Lia claims that his intent was only to nudge Coby to show disapproval for what happened on the previous lap. However, the contact was hard enough to turn Coby into the frontstretch wall in plain view of a packed grandstand. The right front corner of the #77 was heavily damaged and Coby could not finish the event and, intention or not, it was because of the action taken by Lia.
“I got to the point where after three or four times, I needed to send a message to him,” said Lia. “I honestly did not try to wreck him. I only wanted to nudge him or rub him to show that I was not happy with the way that he was racing me. Whether I hit him too hard or if he moved down while scrubbing his tires, I don’t know. It was enough to wreck him and I feel awful about that. I apologize to Doug, I apologize to the Chase team and I apologize to the fans. That is not who I am.”
After exiting his car, Coby walked towards the car of Lia, which was circling the track under caution. He was restrained by a NASCAR official before reaching Lia’s car.
The Donny Lia (#18) and Doug Coby (#77) battle took center stage at Thompson on Sunday. Did Coby drive Lia up the track or not? That is what Lia thinks. Coby disagrees. (Pete Montano photos)
Meanwhile, NASCAR immediately parked Lia. After the race, he was also given a time penalty that moved him to the 20th finishing position, one spot behind Coby.
Coby was understandably upset after Speed51.com caught up with him following the conclusion of the race. After all, he saw the possibility of winning his first career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event in one of the season’s toughest events turn into a 19th-place finish with a bent racecar.
“Donny is stupid,” said Coby. “He can say what he wants to say. I’m not going to swear or make a big deal, but he’s dumb and I don’t like him. Donny has got a big problem now because I’m not somebody who is going away. I’m not racing for my first and only win that I’ll ever have. I’m going to be there at Stafford, at the next few races here and he’s not going to like it. If he thought that I took him up then, I’m going to do it more now.”
After the incident, Coby (left) went after Lia, but was held back by a NASCAR official. (Howie Hodge Photo)
It also appears that the problem between Lia and Coby might have been simmering for awhile.
“That is probably the third or fourth time at Thompson alone when he has raced me that way,” said Lia. “It was no different this time, so I should I expected it but I was a little surprised because up to that point, it had been a very clean race. I hadn’t really seen anyone to that point really use anybody up.”
“It doesn’t surprise me when Donny does stupid things,” added Coby. “I don’t think that it surprises anyone in the garage area. If you ask them if they were surprised to
Officials came down onto the track and told Lia to park his #18 after the incident. (Pete Montano photo)
have Donny do something stupid, I think that they would say ‘no.’”
Lia issued a statement on Monday evening after the race apologizing for the incident and giving his side of the story. [Click here for more]. Speed51.com attempted to contact Coby for a reaction to Lia’s comments, but we were not successful. However, given Coby’s thoughts immediately after the race, any apology might be too little and too late.
“There’s no excuse for what happened,” said Coby. “He can try to justify it all that he wants, but it’s not right. His crew was even embarrassed it seemed. They were pitted right next to us and they didn’t know what to say.”
After the dust settled, there were no winners in this incident. Both drivers saw their chances to win would have been the biggest race of their careers so far vanish. The #77 team had to repair a racecar wrecked unnecessarily and fans were robbed of the chance to see two of the brightest young stars in Modified racing take on a master like Ted Christopher for a race victory.
It’s likely that these two drivers will have more close battles in the future and after the events of Thompson, you can bet that the results will be much different when that happens. Until then, both drivers are left to wonder what could have been – at least until the next race.