Lia Wins Another Mod Tour Race in Connecticut by Mike Twist
TC Finishes Second, Was He Beat By the Rain or a Dominant Car/Driver Combo?
Lia was born and bred on Long Island, New York.  He learned to race a Modified on the Island at Riverhead Raceway.  But more and more, it seems like Lia is becoming a bit of a dual citizen.  Lately, on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, he’s become an adopted son of Connecticut.

Signing on to campaign the 2007 season with what is arguably the state’s most storied race team that is still in operation, Bob Garbarino’s Mystic Missile team , gave Lia a Connecticut connection.  Winning four races within the state’s boundaries over the past 10 months (one at Waterford in his own car and three with the Mystic Missile) has cemented it.

Lia’s latest victory came Thursday night at Thompson International Speedway, where he won the Charter Communications 150, which was actually cut to only 100 laps in length due to showers over the track.
Seeing the Mystic Missile up front is something that is getting to be very common on the Modified Tour this season.  (Rick Ibsen Photo)
Halfway across the Long Island sound, there is an imaginary line across the water that marks the border between the state of New York and Connecticut.  You can cross over it during a ferry ride, but you never know quite where it is.  To a mapmaker, this line might be important but, to Donny Lia it is becoming more and more seamless.
“I wanted to win a race in Connecticut and that was it, now we’ve won a few,” said Lia.  “Waterford, Stafford and now Thompson.”

Before the start of the season, Lia had come close to winning at both Stafford and Thompson in a Tour car, but never sealed the deal.  He was capable of winning both places – having visited victory lane with an SK Modified at Stafford and in a RoC Modified race at Thompson, but bad luck or freak occurrences would keep the same result from happening on the Mod Tour.  Now, nobody has beaten Lia at either track in a Tour car in the last three events at the two tracks.
That is even beyond Lia’s own wildest dreams.

“I’m pretty much numb at this point,” said Lia.  “When we won Stafford, it was incredible.  Then we won Stafford again.  Then we came here and won.  All of that hasn’t really sunk in.  I’m not sure if it will sink in.”

Lia started fourth in the race, but early on all eyes in the house were on the Raceworks rockets of James Civali and Eddie Flemke, Jr. who were bobbing, weaving and trading the lead frequently.  Sometimes even more than one time per lap.  So while officially, the box score ‘only’ shows five leads changes in the first 28 laps, you have to keep in mind that was only at the start finish line.  In reality, fans were treated to one of the best Modified battles of the year anywhere early at Thompson.

“It was pretty fun,” said Flemke.  “I enjoyed it and we were only running at about 80 percent at that point.  That is why we could do it.  I’d get a little slow and he’d pass me and then I’d pass him back.  It was what we supposed to be doing.”

Like the fans in the stands, Lia had a great view of the action.  But he wasn’t sitting back and just enjoying it either, he was formulating a plan – one that would first get him by Flemke and eventually, on lap 33, get him by Civali for the lead.

“I was following those guys and in my head, I was thinking back to the movie ‘Top Gun’ and the line ‘Maverick, engage, engage.’ But I just didn’t want to do it at that moment,” said Lia.  “They were ready to wreck at any time and they almost accomplished that goal of wrecking in turn two

Lia in victory lane.  (Mary Hodge Photo)
when they got together.  Eddie checked up and I got by him there.  After that, it was go time.  I had to get the #28.  I was a little bit tight, so I was searching around.  He was getting loose, and I don’t think that he wanted to take the chance of racing too hard.  It was still early and his car was going away, so I think that he let me go.”

Lia led every lap from there on, holding off Ted Christopher to be out front when the rains came.

“After that, it was a matter of hitting my marks and getting good restarts,” said Lia.  “The restarts were key.  I could have lost the race on any one of them.”
Christopher came from the back of the field because of the fact that his team changed a tire between the time they qualified ninth and when the race started.  After the race, TC wasn’t shy about the fact that he thought a race that went 150 laps in distance would have had an entirely different outcome.

“It was disappointing in one sense, but I’m happy in another [to finish second],” said Christopher.  “But this was definitely a case of where the fastest car didn’t win.  Not when you pass 35 cars.”

According to Christopher, his passing tally would have also included Lia if he knew about the weather situation.  When asked if more laps would have won him the race, TC didn’t mince words.

“---- yeah,” said Christopher.  “If I knew that the rain was coming, I would have carved the ------------ up earlier.”

But according to Lia, another 5, 10 or 50 laps wouldn’t have mattered.  The best car did win the race.

“He had plenty of time behind me when he finally got to second,” said Lia when he was told about Christopher’s claims.  “Did he ever reel me in?  So how did the best car not win?  He had plenty of chances to pass me and he didn’t, so I can’t see how he can say that the best car didn’t win.”

“He tried all he had, and he didn’t know the rain was coming?  There were lightning bolts in turns three and four every lap.  I think he and his spotter need new glasses.”

Lia and Christopher have a history of not-so-friendly fire.  They’ve both beat each other, wrecked each other and talked smack to each other at tracks from New Smyrna to New Hampshire.
2007 might be shaping up to be a season where Lia and Christopher keep entertaining fans with their rivalry.  So far, Lia leads Christopher three to nothing in the win department, but next up is New Hampshire International Speedway, where Christopher has a record of four Mod Tour victories to his name.  It is a track where Lia has not won at yet.

Then again, Lia had never won at Stafford or Thompson before this season started either, and now it seems like nobody can beat him at either place – at least for the time being.  So this could be starting to get very interesting.

NASCAR WHELEN MODIFIED TOUR-Charter Cable Internet & Telephone 150 Results
Thompson International Speedway
Thompson, CT
Lap length: 0.625 miles
(Start position in parentheses)

NOTE - Finish revised by NASCAR Timing and Scoring on Saturday, June 23rd.

1. (4) Donny Lia, Jericho, N.Y., Dodge, 100 laps, 60.403 mph, $7,400.

2. (9) Ted Christopher, Plainville, Conn., Chevrolet, 100, $4,000.

3. (7) Bobby Santos, III, Millis, Mass., Chevrolet, 100, $2,700.

4. (5) Tony Hirschman, Northampton, Pa., Chevrolet, 100, $2,050.

5. (27) Todd Szegedy, Ridgefield, Conn., Ford, 100, $3,150.

6. (8) Ronnie Silk, Norwalk, Conn., Chevrolet, 100, $2,250.

7. (2) James Civali, Meriden, Conn., Chevrolet, 100, $2,250.

8. (15) Jimmy Blewett, Howell, N.J., Chevrolet, 100, $2,025.

9. (21) Kevin Goodale, Riverhead, NY, Chevrolet, 100, $1,475.

10. (32) Woody Pitkat, Stafford Springs, Conn., Pontiac, 100, $1,850.

11. (31) Jamie Tomaino, Howell, N.J., Ford, 100, $1,525.

12. (30) Rowan Pennink, Huntingdon Valley, Pa., Chevrolet, 100, $1,075.

13. (23) Matt Hirschman, Northampton, Pa., Dodge, 100, $1,450.

14. (24) Eric Beers, Northampton, Pa., Chevrolet, 100, $1,740.

15. (13) Mike Stefanik, Coventry, R.I., Chevrolet, 100, $2,436.

16. (12) Danny Sammons, Trenton, N.J., Chevrolet, 100, $1,400.

17. (18) Carl Pasteryak, Lisbon, Conn., Pontiac, 100, $975.

18. (25) Dick Houlihan, Bridgewater, Mass., Chevrolet, 100, $1,650.

19. (33) Wade Cole, Riverton, Conn., Chevrolet, 100, $1,325.

20. (3) Eddie Flemke, Southington, Conn., Chevrolet, 100, $1,400.

21. (29) Glen Tyler, Hampton Bays, N.Y., Chevrolet, 100, $875.

22. (17) Anthony Sesely, Matawan, N.J., Chevrolet, 100, $1,250.

23. (22) Rick Fuller, Auburn, Mass., Chevrolet, 100, $1,225.

24. (6) Richard Savary, Canton, Mass., Chevrolet, 99, $1,550.

25. (20) Ron Yuhas, Groton, Conn., Chevrolet, 98, $1,190.

26. (34) Joseph Hartmann, Calverton, N.Y., Chevrolet, 98, $750.

27. (35) Jake Marosz, Middletown, Conn., Chevrolet, 98, $750.

28. (11) Jerry Marquis, Broad Brook, Conn., Chevrolet, 97, $1,550.

29. (28) Eric Berndt, Rocky Hill, Conn., Chevrolet, 80, accident, $750.

30. (19) Renee Dupuis, Glastonbury, Conn., Chevrolet, 80, accident, $1,150.

31. (1) Ryan Preece, Kensington, CT, Chevrolet, 64, $750.

32. (14) Bobby Grigas, Marshfield, MA, Chevrolet, 64, $1,450.

33. (16) John Blewett, III, Howell, N.J., Chevrolet, 50, accident, $1,450.

34. (26) Billy Pauch, Jr., Frenchtown, N.J., Dodge, 49, accident, $1,550.

35. (10) Zach Sylvester, Lebanon, Conn., Pontiac, 38, rear end, $1,450.

Failed to Qualify: (3) Charlie Pasteryak (#5), Ken Bouchard (#55), and Jon McKennedy (#73).

Time of Race: 1 hrs., 2 mins, 5 secs             
Average Speed: 60.403 mph     
Margin of Victory: Under Caution

BUD POLE AWARD:  Richard Savary *, 21 Superior Oil/Lombardi Inside Out Chevrolet

FEATHERLITE MOST IMPROVED DRIVER AWARD:  Ted Christopher, 36 Al-Lee Installations Chevrolet

POWERADE POWER MOVE OF THE RACE:  Todd Szegedy, 2 Wisk/Snuggle Ford

SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE RACE:  Bobby Santos, III *, 3 Roby's Propane/Cape Cod Copper Chevrolet


Caution Flags:   Laps 9-12; 40-44; 45-49; 51-57; 75-79; 81-100.  6 for 46 laps.

Lap Leaders:     James Civali 1-12, Eddie Flemke 13-21, James Civali 22, Eddie Flemke 23-26, James Civali 27-33, Donny Lia 34-100.

Total Laps Led: Donny Lia 67, James Civali 20, Eddie Flemke 13.  5 changes involving 3 drivers.

Unofficial Top 20 Driver Points: Donny Lia 764, James Civali 745, Jimmy Blewett 744, Todd Szegedy 728, Matt Hirschman 712, Ronnie Silk 649, Mike Stefanik   627, Jamie Tomaino 623, Ted Christopher 597, Jerry Marquis 591, Eric Beers 579, Zach Sylvester 577, Dick Houlihan 569, Eddie Flemke 568, Kevin Goodale 535, Richard Savary * 532, Billy Pauch, Jr. * 525, Danny Sammons 518, Bobby Grigas * 517, Ron Yuhas 491

Next Race:Loudon, N.H.

Christopher took his best shot at Lia (Top - Hodge Photo), but couldn't get the job done before rain stopped the race at lap 100.  (Bottom - Howie Hodge Photo)