Monday December 3, 2007


By Brian Danko
When Donny Lia strolls to the podium to collect the lion's share of the NASCAR Whelen modified tour points fund as the 2007 champion, he will become the unlikeliest of champions over the past few years. It isn't that Lia and car owner Bob Garbarino weren't deserving because they were certainly the best team throughout the season, winning a total of six times. It was the manner that they came together in mid-January when all rumors had Garbarino retiring.

It was a cold call the eventually brought Lia, who was looking to just drive instead of being owner/driver and the veteran car owner as a team at the end of January. "This is just an awesome car and an awesome team." Lia told the media after winning the Spring Sizzler in April. "I don't even know when I first talked with Bob about the ride but I told him to keep me in mind if he was going to do something. It was a set of circumstances that brought Bob and I together. In my mind, I knew that if I could just focus on driving that we'd be better off."

The Sizzler win was just the start of a roll that continued until Lia captured the championship at the Fall Final in September. During that stretch, Lia and Garbarino proved almost unbeatable winning at Stafford on Memorial Day weekend, at Thompson Speedway the following month and in the process taking over the points lead which they wouldn't relinquish and a week later, winning at the New Hampshire International Speedway. "I can't believe this right now, I know that I'll wake up soon." Lia said after winning at Loudon, his first career win at the one-mile oval.

While Lia was steam rolling through the competition, he still owned a slim 53 point lead over Matt Hirschman after finishing fourth at the second of the three 'Flash' races at the Twin States Speedway. Lia also proved that old adage of 'I'd rather be lucky than good' when he captured the race at Riverhead Raceway when Ted Christopher got into the leader of the race, Mike Stefanik in the waning laps of the race and won. Lia was minding his own business in third when the fireworks started in front of him. Lia would only win one more time the remainder of the season but it might have been the biggest event as Lia won the modified race at the Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. While he only visited Victory Lane at Martinsville the second half of the year, it was his consistent top five finishes that earned Lia the drivers' championship and Bob Garbarino his first ever car owners championship in 46 years of modified racing.

When the modified tour returned to the Stafford Speedway at the end of September, Lia and Garbarino knew that a good finish and if Todd Szegedy, who was second in points got into trouble, that the title, the long overdue title for Garbarino could be theirs. Lia finished seventh and Szegedy, who kept pursuing Donny all summer did indeed have problems clinching the title and making the season ending World Series at the Thompson Speedway just a formality race. "I can't say enough about these guys on the crew as well as Bob and his wife, Joan. It is so easy to come out and run up front each week when the car is prepared the way it is. I can't believe what we have done, but I have to thank Bob for the opportunity to drive for him." When it was official that Lia won the title, Garbarino was greeted by well wishers who know what this man has meant to the modified tour and to what the title meant to him and his wife. "This is unbelievable." Bob said after Stafford. "We've been at this a while and to have Donny do it in his first season is unbelievable. What brought us the championship is the team chemistry and I believe that. We just all clicked together and this is the result."

The season tally for Lia will show six wins, (2 at Stafford with one win at Thompson, Riverhead, New Hampshire and Martinsville) to go with 11 top fives in 16 events and 13 top tens.

While it is almost a certainty that Lia is leaving the modified tour for a ride in the Craftsman Truck series, it is also believed the Garbarino will announce his retirement from modified racing at the season ending banquet at the Mohegan Sun Casino on Friday night, December 14th. But it was a season that the stars all aligned themselves just right for Lia and Garbarino and they were rewarded with the ultimate reward. A championship in the NASCAR Whelen modified tour series.

Photo Credit-Howie Hodge