Lia Scores Exceptional Win in Stafford's Spring Sizzler  by Mike Twist
Great Battle, First Sizzler Win for Mystic Missile and Finally Conquering Stafford Are All High Points
For Donny Lia, winning Sunday’s Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway is likely going to become one of those moments.  For a number of reasons, this one might have meant more than any of the other six NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victories that Lia currently has to his name.

There are a number of reasons for that.  Paramount among them could be the fact that the victory came in only Lia’s second race behind the wheel of the legendary Mystic Missile Modified owned by Bob Garbarino.  Surprisingly enough, it was the first time that a Garbarino-owned entry had won this event, one of the most storied on the Tour schedule.

Lia had a hard time coming up with the right words for what it meant to be the racer to deliver that victory to Garbarino.

“I’m proud,” said Lia.  “I don’t know what to feel about that really.  I’m just glad that he is having me drive his car.  He has been owning racecars on the Modified Tour for 40-something years.  He’s very highly respected and he could have anyone drive his racecars.  The fact that he chose me and has faith in me to drive his car really means a lot to me.
New England's own former Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton waved the green flag in front of a packed house to start this year's Spring Sizzler.  (Rick Ibsen Photo)
Not all victories are created equally.  While it is true that just about any trip to victory lane is a special one, there are just certain moments that a racer will look back at when his career is over and cherish just a little bit more than the others. 
Finally winning at Stafford has been a major personal goal of Lia’s.  He’s had his share of bad luck at the track, including an exciting second-place finish that came on three wheels.  Lia challenged himself to conquer the track, which is acknowledged as the toughest facility to master on the Tour.  He even went so far as to spend a season driving an SK Modified weekly at Stafford, taking the ferry across Long Island Sound every Friday, to learn more about how to go fast there.
“When it comes to tracks that you want to win at, this place, Thompson and Loudon rank right up there,” said Lia.  “This is a challenging track.  It has challenged me and it took me a long time to feel like I had figured it out.  I still haven’t figured it out.  There are always different things to learn here.  It’s a driver’s track.  I’ve won Tour races at Riverhead and Waterford.  I love those two tracks, I really do.  But it doesn’t feel like this.  This track is an icon of the Modified Tour.  To win here really just feels amazing.

“To win so quickly together really says something about this team and without trying to sound cocky, I think that it says something about myself.  I always wondered if I’d even get it done here [at Stafford].  Sometimes you need a day like this to remind yourself that you can do it.”

Lia didn’t just have to beat the track either.  He was also tested by a pair of strong competitors.  On a day when there were 14 cautions periods, one red flag and plenty of rough driving, three racers rose above the pack to put on a great show in the final third of the event.  Lia, Todd Szegedy and Jerry Marquis all took their turns leading laps, but Lia had the best car under him when it mattered the most.  Szegedy copped second with Marquis finishing a close third.

“I liked that,” said Lia.  “I’m really glad that it ended up coming down to the three of us.  I like racing Todd.  He’s a straight shooter.  There’s no BS with Todd.  He’ll run you clean and I really respect him.  Jerry is a real class act too.  It was clean racing.”

“I had a really good time,” said Szegedy.  “We all raced clean.  That is the best type of racing that we can do.  We’re all happy with the finish. 

Donny Lia (#4)  had to battle with the #00 of Jerry Marquis (Top - Jim DuPont Photo) and the #2 of Todd Szegedy (Bottom - Rick Ibsen Photo) to win the race.
"Of course, you want to win, but if you can race hard and know that everyone ran you clean and that nobody snuffed you anywhere, you have fun.  I knew that Donny and Jerry were going to run me clean and I knew that they were going to race me hard.”

“I needed just a little bit more power down the straightaway to stay with those guys,” said Marquis..  “I didn’t need much, just a little bit.”

“I’m really glad that we were able to win today,” said Lia.  “These guys gave me an amazing car today.  It really feels like we accomplished something big here today.  This is awesome.”

Lia and the rest of the Modified Tour will head next to Wall Township Speedway on Sunday, May 6th.

Stafford Motor Speedway
Stafford Springs, CT

(Start position in parentheses)

1. (8) Donny Lia, Jericho, N.Y., Dodge, 200 laps, 55.147 mph, $8,200.

2. (22) Todd Szegedy, Ridgefield, Conn., Ford, 200, $4,800.

3. (10) Jerry Marquis, Broad Brook, Conn., Chevrolet, 200, $3,500.

4. (29) Mike Stefanik, Coventry, R.I., Chevrolet, 200, $4,500.

5. (13) Zach Sylvester, Lebanon, Conn., Pontiac, 200, $3,000.

6. (1) Tony Hirschman, Northampton, Pa., Chevrolet, 200, $2,400.

7. (3) James Civali, Meriden, Conn., Chevrolet, 200, $2,600.

8. (4) Matt Hirschman, Northampton, Pa., Dodge, 200, $2,750.

9. (12) Jimmy Blewett, Howell, N.J., Chevrolet, 200, $2,100.

10. (25) Jamie Tomaino, Howell, N.J., Ford, 200, $1,700.

11. (27) Bobby Grigas, Marshfield, MA, Chevrolet, 200, $1,800.

12. (28) Kevin Goodale, Riverhead, NY, Chevrolet, 200, $1,475.

13. (18) Chuck Hossfeld, Buffalo, N.Y., Pontiac, 200, $1,825.

14. (17) Dick Houlihan, Bridgewater, Mass., Chevrolet, 200, $1,775.

15. (15) Richard Savary, Canton, Mass., Chevrolet, 200, $1,350.

16. (33) Wade Cole, Riverton, Conn., Chevrolet, 200, $1,425.

17. (26) Renee Dupuis, Glastonbury, Conn., Chevrolet, 199, $1,400.

18. (30) Anthony Sesely, Matawan, N.J., Chevrolet, 196, $1,365.

19. (6) Ted Christopher, Plainville, Conn., Chevrolet, 191, $1,450.

20. (31) Eric Beers, Northampton, Pa., Chevrolet, 183, $1,725.

21. (19) Billy Pauch, Jr., Frenchtown, N.J., Dodge, 180, $1,200.

22. (7) Danny Sammons, Trenton, N.J., Chevrolet, 175, accident, $1,275.

23. (23) Eddie Flemke, Southington, Conn., Chevrolet, 174, $1,325.

24. (32) Jimmy Storace, Kingston, N.H., Chevrolet, 172, $1,500.

25. (5) Ronnie Silk, Norwalk, Conn., Chevrolet, 167, accident, $1,450.

26. (2) Reggie Ruggiero, Rocky Hill, Conn., Chevrolet, 165, accident, $1,150.

27. (21) Ron Yuhas, Groton, Conn., Chevrolet, 154, $1,150.

28. (16) John Blewett, III, Howell, N.J., Chevrolet, 124, accident, $1,150.

29. (11) Rick Fuller, Auburn, Mass., Chevrolet, 115, accident, $750.

30. (14) Frank Ruocco, Cheshire, Conn., Pontiac, 114, accident, $750.

31. (20) Rob Summers, Manchester, Conn., Pontiac, 25, accident, $1,150.

32. (9) Bobby Santos, III, Millis, Mass., Chevrolet, 19, accident, $750.

33. (24) Carl Pasteryak, Lisbon, Conn., Pontiac, 19, accident, $1,050.

Failed to Qualify: ( 9) Jon McKennedy (#73), Chris Pasteryak (#5), Glen Tyler * (#8), Rowan Pennink * (#93), Dave Etheridge (#54), Joseph Hartmann * (#05), Ryan Preece * (#40), Gary McDonald (#26), Jake Marosz (#9).

Time of Race:1 hrs., 48 mins, 48 secs           
Average Speed: 55.147 mph     
argin of Victory:.13 Seconds

BUD POLE AWARD:  Matt Hirschman *, 59 Furnace and Duct Dodge

FEATHERLITE MOST IMPROVED DRIVER AWARD:  Mike Stefanik, 16 Diversified Metals Chevrolet

POWERADE POWER MOVE OF THE RACE:  Mike Stefanik, 16 Diversified Metals Chevrolet

SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE RACE:  Bobby Grigas *, 09 Triple G Scaffolding Chevrolet


Caution Flags:   Laps 15-19; 20-26; 48-53; 74-80; 87-91; 110-116; 117-123; 124-128; 135-138; 150-154; 156-158; 159-163; 176-182; 193-195.  14 for 76  laps.

Lap Leaders: Tony Hirschman 1-26, Ted Christopher 27-111, Mike Stefanik 112-122, Jerry Marquis 123-137, Todd Szegedy 138, Jerry Marquis  139-153, Todd Szegedy 154, Jerry Marquis 155-167, Todd Szegedy 168-171, Donny Lia 172-195, Todd Szegedy 196-197, Donny Lia  198-200.

Total Laps Led: Ted Christopher 85, Jerry Marquis 43, Donny Lia 27, Tony Hirschman 26, Mike Stefanik 11, Todd Szegedy 8.  11 changes involving 6 drivers.

Unofficial Top 20 Driver Points: James Civali 326, Jimmy Blewett 298, Matt Hirschman * 297, Chuck Hossfeld 294, Zach Sylvester 289, Donny Lia 283, Todd Szegedy 276, Bobby Grigas * 268, Jerry Marquis 265, Ronnie Silk 253, Kevin Goodale 242, Eric Beers 233, Dick Houlihan 230, Richard Savary * 230, Billy Pauch, Jr. * 227, Mike Stefanik 221, Tony Hirschman 220, Jamie Tomaino 213, Carl Pasteryak 210, Jimmy Storace 209

After the final restart, when there were only five laps remaining in the race, Szegedy did motor ahead of Lia for a brief time.  He pulled under Lia’s car for the lead and held it for a few laps.

“I really, really had a bad feeling in my stomach when that happened,” said Lia.  “ I didn’t necessarily think that I had the race won, but I did have a really good feeling.  You just can’t ever get too comfortable. 

"So we went up there and worked for it again.  It was either then or never.  I went for it at that moment, it was time to go, and it worked out.”

How it worked out was a pass by Lia over Szegedy at the end of the backstretch with just over two laps to go.  Szegedy closed back up to Lia’s bumper on the final lap, but didn’t turn the leader.  He finished as the runner-up cleanly and wasn’t the least big disappointed about finishing second under the circumstances.

“ I was very happy where I finished because even though I had a car to win right after the restarts, once we got going he [Donny] had a better car,” admitted Szegedy.

The battle was hard fought for Lia.  After the victory lane celebrations, the press box interviews and the technical inspections, the young Long Islander took a moment to think about what he had just done and slowly grinned from ear to ear.
Todd Szegedy (red/blue suit) shares a moment with winner Donny Lia (black/blue suit) in victory lane.  (Jim DuPont Photo)
A total of 14 caution periods meant that not everyone had a good day at Stafford.  (Top - Howie Hodge Photo, Bottom - Mary Hodge Photo)