Monday June 25, 2007

By Brian Danko                                              Click On Photo For Full Size Version                            

THOMPSON, CT---------Right now, Donny Lia of Jericho, NY is one such a roll, he hopes the train doesn't stop. Last Thursday night at the Thompson Speedway, Lia captured his third race of the season winning the Charter Cable 150 when thunderstorms and rain forced the race to be called on lap 100. The win was the eighth of his modified career but even this incredible run of good luck has him stunned. "I just can't believe it." Donny told the fans as they poured into the parking lots as lightning danced around the racetrack. "I never thought that we'd win three of the first five races of the year."

The rest of the top five was Ted Christopher, Bobby Santos, III, Tony Hirschman and Todd Szegedy.

While his crew and well wishers were congratulating Lia, Ted Christopher wasn't a happy man. "Well, here is an example of the fastest car not winning the race." TC said in the media center, "Second really sucks." Christopher was forced to start in the pack of the 36 car as his car developed a flat tire while the cars were impounded. Christopher was weaving his way through the field and took over second on lap 68 getting by Eddie Flemke, Jr. who was falling backwards after a strong first 50 laps. He then closed the gap on Lia every lap and as most drivers and crews, he had his eyes on the track and on the skies. "It was just a matter of time." He added, before how long it would have taken to pass Lia while steaming over the second place finish. When Christopher was asked if he would have had enough, he replied, "I passed 30 something cars, I think I could have gotten one more" and then added, "I didn't expect it to rain."

The night at the Thompson Speedway started with clear weather but threats of afternoon storms are always on the horizon. Thanks to Thompson Speedway regular divisions running smoothly, the modified tour feature started right at the advertised time of 8:30 p.m. with rookie Ryan Preece and James Civali on the front row. Civali, who won the season opening Icebreaker took control with Eddie Flemke, Jr. moving into second on the third lap and this turned out to be quite a show between the student, Civali and the teacher, Flemke.

The first caution came out on lap 9 when Jerry Marquis couldn't quite make it to pit road after he and Mike Stefanik came together a couple of laps earlier. On the lap 13 restart, Flemke used a nice cross-over move to take the lead from Civali while James used to same move to lead the 15th circuit before Flemke crossover again to take the lead on lap 16. Civali, the points leader heading to the Thompson race then passed Flemke on lap 22 and these two driver were pulling away from the field before Flemke retook the pin on lap 23. While the duo of Flemke and Civali were battling and encountering slower, lapped traffic, Donnie Lia was making his was to the front, in a hurry. On the 34th lap, Lia got by Civali and Flemke at the line as lightning was lighting up the skies to the northeast. Zach Sylvester running in the top 15 then slowed on lap 38 and pitted while two laps later, a spin involving John Blewett, III, brought out the second caution. Once the teams went back to green on lap 45, a Billy Pauch, Jr spun slowed the field again.  As in racing in particular, cautions breed cautions and again on a lap 51 restart, pole sitter Ryan Preece was hit by Ted Christopher, overcorrected the car and shot up the turn two banking in front of the rest of the field. John Blewett took the worst of it and was done for the remainder of the night, although Preece would continue after making some repairs. Several drivers decided to pit, most likely confident that that rains wouldn't come and included Civali, Mike Stefanik, Matt Hirschman, and Ron Yuhas.

Members of the media were watching the Doppler weather on the computer, watching a line of thunderstorms moving from nearby Worcester, MA towards Thompson, CT. Finally, after wasted laps of parading under caution, NASCAR threw the green and Christopher spent little time getting by Flemke for second with Bobby Santos, III, following TC. As the fans, drivers and crew were watching the scoreboard click off laps, 76 were needed for an official race, and within the top five were Lia, Christopher, Santos, Tony Hirschman and Todd Szegedy. A spin on lap 75 by Joe Hartmann brought out another caution but an official race was also in the books. Mike Stefanik pitted a second time tonight while other drivers gambling and pitting were Richard Savery, having a good top ten run along with Eric Beers, Rick Fuller Danny Sammons and Richard Houlihan. While it was now spitting outside, it wasn't a threat and the race went back green but a hard wreck in turn four took out Renee Dupuis and Eric Berndt. While both cars suffered damage, especially Dupuis, both drivers walked away. As the drivers circled the track, the rain began to intensify but NASCAR officials, hoping this shower would blow by kept the cars on the track to keep heat in the track. After getting to lap 100, NASCAR officials continued to have the cars stay on the track but stopped counting cautions and finally, it became apparent that the track was lost, NASCAR brought the cars into pit road. The Thompson Speedway Jet Dryer was then brought out but it was too late and Lia was declared the winner as fans ran towards their cars hopping to avoid heavier rains, which by the way never came. "I knew the rain the coming and I wanted to get to the front." Lia told the media and fans, "I then wanted to hold them off once I got the lead, we were going all the way then." Lia also took over the point's lead, just about one third through the 2007 season. When asked if he could win the championship, which would be a first for longtime modified car owner, Bob Garbarino, he replied, "Yes, but you need to take it one race at a time and need to stay out of trouble." Lia is certainly hot but to win three out of five races is something even Lia didn't think was possible. The rest of the top ten was Ronnie Silk, James Civali, Jimmy Blewett, Kevin Goodale and Jamie Tomaino.

Bobby Santos, III, the next superstar in racing was third and thrilled with having a good run in the Mike Boehler owned #3."I wish we ran to the end, I needed a 10 to 15 lap run to get going but we had a real good racecar. The crew has done a great job repairing it." Santos is under contract with Bill Davis Racing and besides running several Busch series events along with a few ARCA races, the versatile young driver also runs in sprints, midgets and modifieds. "We have a pretty busy year. I'll run 20 races for Bill Davis and then fill in my schedule with other divisions." When asked if it was hard running different divisions sometimes on one day, Santos smiled and said, "No, its fun. It really isn't difficult."

I wish someone in NASCAR would let me know why they continue to parade cars under caution for a minor spin. It doesn't just happen on the modified tour but Cup and Busch. At Thompson, with the threat of rain a reality, a driver spun and it took six laps before going back to green while the spin and safety trucks were off in one lap.

The purse for the Charter Cable 150 was $86,595. Lia won over $7,400 with the win and took over the point's lead. Christopher earned $4,000 while Santos garnered $2,700 for third.

Woody Pitkat made his debut in the Hill Enterprises #79 and it was an interesting night to say the least. The primary car developed engine problems and they rolled out the back up and Pitkat got into the wall. While the damage was repairable, he had to take a provisional but he did finish 12th.

38 cars attempted to qualify for the race and two veterans didn't qualify including a past winner at Thompson, Charlie Pasteryak and Kenny Bouchard.

The modified tour heads to the 1.058 mile New Hampshire International Speedway and will again be the best show at Loudon, NH on next weekend. The modified tour is scheduled to take the green at 1:10 p.m. and will be taped for Speed to air in July.

The Charter Cable 150 was the second of five modified tour events at the 5/8ths mile Thompson International Speedway.