Pole Speed Disputed, Lia Clinches Award & Coby Comes Back Strong
The first day of on track activities for the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Series season closing event, The World Series at Thompson Speedway (CT), ended with a little bit of everything.  There were some interesting entries and driver changes, a surprise pole winner, controversy and some good teams and drivers going home early.
Some of those racers were successful.  Some were not. 

Summers and Long both failed to crack the starting grid.  They weren’t alone.  Jimmy Kuhn finished fourth at Thompson earlier this season, but DNQ’ed this time out.  Also not making the cut were Brian Crammer, Tommy Cloce, Tony Ferrante, Jr., Carl Pasteryak, Jim Storace, Mike Molleur and Ronnie Silk.

Hoag qualified 16th, Santos barely made the field with the final starting position based on speed and Andrews was awarded the pole position.
First of all, there were a few changes to the series roster since the last race.  Doug Coby was released in the middle of the week as the driver of the King Motorsports #28 car.  His replacement was Reggie Ruggiero, whose limited season ride with Dick Barney’s #41 car did not include Thompson.  Coby put together a last minute deal to pilot the Curt Chase #77 car and the team had instant success with a fourth place qualifying run.

“It’s nice to get together here at a track that I know well and a place that they have an incredible set-up for,” said Coby,
How Andrews got the pole was a topic for discussion.  His first qualifying lap of 20.051 seconds would not have been quick enough to make the starting field.  His second lap of 18.777 seconds put him commandingly up front.  In fact, it was nearly a full mile an hour quicker than runner-up Donny Lia.

Immediately after the lap, several observers complained that their stopwatches showed a slower lap.  NASCAR rechecked their scoring tape and stood by the initial call.  A handful of drivers marched to the NASCAR hauler and voiced their opinions behind closed doors, but it did not do anything to change the result.
who along with the team thrashed through the night to get a car together for the race.  “I remember two years ago in my first World Series, John (Blewett, III) just about lapped the field in this car.” 

Meanwhile, Ruggiero’s maiden voyage in the #28 was not as successful.  The team did not qualify.  But they were not alone with a total of 18 teams having to pack up early from the event.

Other unfamiliar faces on the entry list were Rob Summers in the back-up car of Donny Lia, the #34 entry with Bobby Santos, Jr. behind the wheel, Jim Long, Jr. hoping to make his season debut in the #22, Race of Champions Modified driver Alex Hoag showing up on an off weekend in that series and Riverhead Raceway's (NY) Mike Andrews, Jr. hoping to make his Modified Series debut.
Doug Coby settled right into his new ride.
“This is going to be what it is going to be,” said Lia.  “They’re not going to go back on anything.  The clock showed a lap time that was good enough for the pole and whether he (Andrews) ran it or not, it doesn’t matter.  I guess that we’ll just take second.  It is what it is.”

The silver lining for Lia was that the outside pole position broke a tie breaker with Ted Christopher for the season long Bud Pole Award.  Lia’s start at Thompson ensured him of the post season honor.
Qualifying second clinched the 2004 Bud Pole Award for Donny Lia.
Unfortunately, the whole incident either tarnished the first pole award for a young driver new to the series or it kept Lia from rightfully earning the pole award.  Either way, the truth of qualifying will probably never be known.

“I don’t know what to say really,” said Andrews.  “We went out there and did the best that we could.  Many drivers came up to me and said whether it is a malfunction or not, to take it.  That’s what I’m going to do.  I don’t know if it was or wasn’t.  They’ve checked over it four times, so I believe that exact time.  If not, that’s the way that it goes.”

Lia took the situation in stride.
The Thompson race is the final event for the Featherlite Modified Series (Whelen takes over as the title sponsor next season) and a class photo of the entrants was taken on Saturday.
Modifeds and changing leaves are a fall tradition in New England.  (51 Photos)
“Our goal for today was the win the Bud Pole award for the year,” said Lia.  “We accomplished that goal, so we’re excited and happy.”

At least one of Lia’s competitors was very glad that he did win the award.

“Donny Lia was the pole winner,” said Doug Coby.  “They’re just lucky that Donny got the tie-breaker (for the Bud Pole Award) and that he got the $5,000 because that’s a big deal.
It's something that we all race for all year long and it means a lot.”
Coby really doubts that the official time from Andrews’ lap was possible.

“I don’t know Mike Andrews at all.  He’s from Riverhead and I’m sure that he’s a great driver, but we all know Donny Lia was the fastest car here,” said Coby.  “The #48 (Tony Hirschman), the #50 (Todd Szegedy) and we were fast.  It's just not going to happen that someone shows up out of the blue and puts an 18.7 on the board.  They gave it to him, so he gets it, but I don’t understand why we don’t have some kind of back-up system in place.  That’s why they make transponders.  People with stopwatches knew what the time really was and it wasn’t an 18.7.  But that’s the way that it goes.”

Another major storyline for the weekend is the championship battle between Tony Hirschman and Eddie Flemke.  Hirschman holds a 30-point lead over Flemke going into Thompson – a track where both drivers have had plenty of success.  In qualifying, Hirschman was third quickest while Flemke will have a little more ground to make up on Sunday from his 24th starting position.

Stay tuned to Speed 51 for continuing coverage of the action at Thompson throughout the World Series.