Martinsville Win Another Addition to Dream Season for Lia by Matthew Dillner
Mod Ace Beats TC and Southerners & Dedicates Race to Fallen Friend
Lia didn’t see much time on the track during practice. Instead the Bob Garbarino owned #4 sat on jackstands in the garage area. He said the car was perfect right out of the trailer. In qualifying, he may have nearly wrecked on his second lap, but the first one was good enough to take the Bud Pole. He took that pole starting position and dominated the majority of the event.
The Whelen Made in America 300 was basically a three car race. While some great racing went on throughout the field, three northerners, Lia, Ted Christopher and Todd Szegedy truly were the class of the field. While Southern Mod drivers like Tim Brown, LW Miller and Jay Foley saw some action near the front, they were never really a threat to the lead. Szegedy sat in third for a good portion of the race, but didn’t make it to the end after tangling with a spinning Bobby Santos. TC however, made it a race on several occasions.
One of those moments happened right before the 15-minute half-time break. TC used lapped traffic and made a bold move by Lia to take the lead on lap-137 and win the half-
Bob Garbarino is enjoying a career season with his new driver Donny Lia on the NASCAR Mod Tour. (Rick Ibsen Photo)
To say Donny Lia is on a roll would be the understatement of the year. Lia is arguably the hottest short track racer in the country right now. He continued that roll when the Whelen Modifieds of the Northern and Southern Tours took to the track at historic Martinsville Speedway (VA).
way bonus award. He only was able to enjoy the top-spot for a short time once the field returned to green. It wasn’t long before Lia, with fresh tires from a pit stop, hunted him down and re-took the point.
Christopher took on fresh rubber on lap 193. He too charged through the field and looked poised to contend for the win. The impressive Virginia crowd watched as the two cars battled it out to the end. Once again though, it was Lia coming out on top. He led TC and top-finishing Southern Tour driver LW Miller across the line to take his sixth win of the NASCAR Mod Tour season.
“He used me up there before the halfway mark,” said Lia of the battle with TC. “There are 160 laps to go and he’s racing me all kinds of hard getting into the side of me. When you do stuff like that you can rub wheels the wrong way and end up in the fence and it isn’t worth it. So I just said ‘if you wanna lead, go lead and have fun.’ I had a car that could have stayed out front but you only have one pair of brake pads on these things and you have to save your car.
“I was saving everything I had for the end. Teddy will drive you hard. We had a real good race. He didn’t try to do anything stupid, which is not like him.”
Lapped traffic almost gave TC another opportunity to pounce in the closing laps, but the veteran driver says it was to no avail.
“The door opened but then he turned left on me,” said Christopher. “The thing (his #86 car) was skipping the last 75-laps and I just couldn’t do anything with it. Then I try to
Lia and TC battled side by side on a few occasions, putting on a great show for the large Martinsville crowd.
get by him and he turned left on me down the front straightaway. I thought about throwing it in there and didn’t. The motor skipped coming off and all the way down the straightaway.
“We don’t like each other,” added TC. “Look out. Just like he did to me two years ago and cost me the championship. Life’s a bitch. It could be turnaround time.”
Lia did extend that point lead with the Martinsville win. He now leads Szegedy, who finished 25th by 193-points heading into the final-four races.
For Lia, the win at Martinsville had a lot of meaning. Lia and his team were incredibly happy when he pulled the #4 into victory lane. When the Long Island driver climbed from his car, he exploded in tears. After losing fellow competitor and friend John Blewett III in a racing accident at Thompson Int’l Speedway (CT) just three weeks earlier, the win had more emotion than anything Lia had ever experienced in his young career.
“It never really hit me all the way until I got out of the car,” said Lia of the overflow of emotion. “It’s then that it hit me, the whole thing with John. He was a special guy. He was a great racer. He was a nice guy. You could ask him anything and he would tell you the truth while you have some that would just lie to you. We had a lot of great battles together. When I was coming up to victory lane I said that I want to dedicate this win to John. When I got out of the car everything, all the memories hit me at once. It hit me like a ton of bricks. My emotions got the better of me there.”
In a touching moment, Lia bent over while on the victory lane stage and put a John Blewett III sticker on the face of the Whelen Made in America 300 trophy.
“I dedicate this win to John. I figured his name should be on the trophy too.”
While it’s been a season of tragedy for Lia and his fellow competitors, it has also been a dream
season in the performance department for the #4 Mystic Missile Racing team. Lia has won six races in 2007 including some real crown jewels in Mod racing. The Spring Sizzler win at Stafford (CT) started his hot-streak. He has also tasted victory at New Hampshire International Speedway for the very first time during July’s NASCAR Nextel Cup weekend. But the win at Martinsville, a place coveted by so many Modified traditionalists, is something Donny considers tops in his career.
A very emotional Lia climbs out of his car and is greeted by a jubilent crew. (Rick Ibsen Photo)
Lia has four more chances to add to his dream-season on the Whelen Modified Tour and try to do what no other driver has done for car owner Bob Garbarino, win a Modified Tour Championship.
(Speed51.com will have more about the Whelen Made In America 300 Modified Tour event including stories of both northern and southern Mod competitors later this week in our leftovers secion). You can also check out 51's "Trackside Now" coverage of the event (complete with results) by clicking here.
“It’s so special,” explained Lia. “To me it’s almost surreal. I’m numb to a lot of the success I’ve had this year, numb to most of it actually. We just keep taking it one race at a time in saying we have to go out there and run well and be in a position to win. That’s what we do every week.
“I’m numb to winning at Martinsville. I don’t know what I am feeling. I don’t consider myself even in the same category as a Richie Evans, a Charlie Jarzombek, Jerry Cook, Bugsy or all the Legendary Modified drivers who have put on a show or won at Martinsville. I don’t consider myself anywhere even close to the caliber a driver as those guys were. For me to win at Martinsville, the Sizzler and Loudon, I can’t even explain how it makes me feel.
Maybe I am cutting myself short, sometimes I feel like maybe I shouldn’t be winning these races. I don’t come from a racing family and wasn’t born into racing. But here we are! My team and I are winning these races. It’s a great feeling but it’s something
that isn’t setting in yet. Like John’s passing. It didn’t set in until I got out of the car last night and that happened three weeks ago. I am just grateful and so appreciative of the things that have gone my way as a racecar driver. I take it for what it is… a great gift and an honor. We are very lucky to have the year we have had and it’s something I will hold on to and cherish forever. It’s like Mark Martin says; ‘you never know when a win will be your last and that is just racing.’ I just don’t know when it’s really going to all set in.”
Lia takes a moment to put a John Blewett sticker on his Martinsville trophy.