Monday May 28, 2007

By Brian Danko                                                              Click On Photo For Full Size              

STAFFORD, CT-----------It's funny how in Victory Lane, you'll hear drivers thank God, the crew and the sponsors but usually never thank lady luck. But, Donny Lia of Jericho, NY knew that his second win of the young season had a lot of luck in it as Lia proved to be the class of the field winning the 17th annual Connecticut Classic 150 at the Stafford Motor Speedway.

The rest of the top five was James Civali, Eddie Flemke, Jr., Zach Sylvester and Todd Szegedy.

First off, Lia, has been trying to win at the tough Stafford Speedway since he broke onto the modified tour five years ago and now, less than one month after winning the Spring Sizzler at the famed Connecticut oval, he follows it up with another win. "Just luck." Donny told the media after winning his second straight race at the speedway and became the first repeat winner in 2007. "You know it's just racing and racing, like a lot of things goes in cycles but it was luck."

The big part of Luck, was how he missed driving into the back of leader Eric Beers when Beers lost his car heading out of turn one on lap 114. "I bet you I didn't miss him by an inch or so. If I was higher on the track or closer, who knows, it was just luck." Lia said of his seventh career win but his second for car owner, Bob Garbarino. Lia was running second as the lead pack of cars thundered into turn one when Beers lost his car, sending others scattering quickly out of the way but it turned out not so well for former champion, Tony Hirschman, who suffered severe front end damage, ending his night. Any athlete will tell you, that they'd rather be lucky than good. Another of the reasons for Lia running strong has been that he his now just a driver, not owner/driver. "Mentally, I have a clear head. I just drive. I don't have the big responsibility of working on the car, getting it to the track, I just drive it and I can't thank Bob Garbarino enough." Donnie said of his $7,200 win.

While luck and driving for Garbarino were key components for his newly found Stafford success, Lia knew it wouldn't have been possible without the fast pit stop his crew pulled off. "We had a great car, just an awesome piece of machinery. I got three tires and we were dialed in for the second run. As long as I didn't do anything stupid, we were going to be all right."
James Civali tried to give Lia a challenge at the end but he knew it was almost impossible to beat him "Donny was really good, I caught him with the help of lapped traffic but once I got to him, I couldn't do anything. He was really, really good." Civali who again is driving for car owner, Don King, has shown marked improvement since hooking up with the veteran car owner. Civali headed into Stafford third in points and moved up one spot with his consistent runs, the only bad race being the 'Flash' event at Wall. "I was fast and the car was great but at the end I just ran out of tires. We had a good pit stop to get me into the top five, I was lucky to pick the right road to go on when Eric lost the car in turn one but I had nothing for Donny." When the race started on a warm, somewhat humid day, it was Civali and Ronnie Silk bringing the field to green with Civali grabbing the lead. On the third circuit, Ted Christopher, the all time winningest driver at the speedway made it look simple and powered into the lead. The first caution came out on lap 22 when Billy Pauch, Jr spun off the backstretch. The caution flew again just 10 laps later, when Chuck Hossfeld hit the wall off turn two. In the meantime, Christopher had the car on cruise control each time the green flew. At lap 50, it was Christopher, Civali, Silk, Lia and Tony Hirschman. Donny Lia then began to move in on Christopher as he went past Silk for third on lap 55 and then into second on lap 65. With the help of lapped traffic ahead of Christopher, Lia and Civali were able to cut the 12-car length lead for Christopher to a mere bumper. On lap 82, Ronnie Silks good run came halt when he spun off turn four bringing out the caution. All of the leaders went in for tires but it was the pit stop from hell for Christopher as he went in the leader and came out 14th, a move that would prove costly for Christopher and team. Jimmy Blewett stayed out and assumed control the lead, as he pitted on one of the earlier cautions. On lap 91, Eric Beers passed Blewett for the top spot but one lap later, Frank Ruocco got loose heading into turn three, over corrected the car and collected Ted Christopher, sending Teddy hard into the wall ending both their nights. Todd Szegedy, the former series champion pretty much just rode outside the top ten until the late race pit stop and then with good pit work was suddenly in contention as he went under Blewett for second on lap 99. Blewett, winner of the Wall event then was trapped on the outside and fell to sixth. With Beers leading at lap 100, the rest of the top ten was Szegedy, Lia, Tony Hirschman, Civali, Blewett, Reggie Ruggiero, Dick Houlihan, Jerry Marquis and Mike Stefanik. On lap 104, an incident occurred that saw Reggie Ruggiero and Jerry Marquis tangle as they were trying to get around Blewett, who was holding up a gaggle of cars behind him. Ruggiero was loose, spun into Marquis, who got airborne momentarily and then Reggie looped the car at the start finish line facing the oncoming traffic and was hit head on by John Blewett, III, who had no where to go. The incident eliminated many possible contenders from action and thankfully no one was injured. When Reggie was asked about the incident he stated, "the 12 car (Jimmy Blewett) was all over the race track because he was out of tires, I slowed to a bit and was hit. He never gave us a lane." Jerry Marquis went into the pits with some damage but continued. As the field rumbled into turn one, Eric Beers lost his machine as cars scattered to avoid the spinning cars and this is where 'Lady Luck' shined down upon Lia as he assumed the lead. While in the lead, Lia set a comfortable pace all the while a hectic battle behind him was raging for second and third. Matt Hirschman, who quietly ran in the top six most of the race, was now in second after dispatching Civali on lap 119. The final caution of the night came out on lap 122 when Jon McKennedy slammed the wall just before the pit gate entrance and hit drivers' side first but Jon walked away from the crash.On the restart, Bobby Grigas, who had the strongest showing of his modified career was able to get Matt Hirschman for second and one lap
later, Civali would get Matt loose and take third while Hirschman slipped back to sixth. As Civali was closing the gap on Lia, Zach Sylvester and Eddie Flemke were moving into third and fourth. On lap 146, Flemke with a nice move, took over third in turn one as Bobby Grigas great night ended when he coasted into the pit area. Civali was up on the rear bumper of Lia but to no avail as they crossed the checkered flag. While it wasn't a good night for Jimmy Blewett, who ended 13th, he maintained his points lead. He leads James Civali by a mere three points with Matt Hirschman five out of first and Lia just 18 markers off the pace.

Eddie Flemke, Jr looked to have a rough day but the veteran driver and crew salvaged a third in a very emotional week for the second-generation driver. One week ago, Eddie's mothers died in her sleep and Ed also lost another close friend a few months ago. "It's been a tough week. I've been through a lot lately and I wish she was here with me tonight, now we race in her memory." "We got the car right at the end. The sway bar bolt had come out and we had to make several adjustments. We were about to go a lap down when one of the cautions came out and saved us and we were able to put the bolt back. The crew did a good job tonight."

The Connecticut Classic 150 was run under warm weather on this Memorial Day weekend but the race has been rained out the last couple of years forcing it to the July 4th weekend. The crowd for the second of four tour races was excellent.

Ricky Fuller, a past champion on the modified tour will run the remainder of the tour after securing sponsorship in the Bear Motorsports car.

According to Ed Cox, modified series director, a meeting will be held Tuesday in Daytona, to discuss the 'Flash' races, most notably, the next one at the Twin States Speedway in New Hampshire. Gary Teto, car owner for Eddie Flemke sent a letter around to all connected with the tour asking them to step forward and force NASCAR to make changes to the 'Flash' races.

Mike Stefanik had a rather forgettable day as the nine-time champion was forced to take a provisional to get into the race and after quickly moving to the front, he settled in and finished 12th. A total of 41 modifieds signed into Stafford Speedway with 31 cars making the field.

Tony Hirschman won the Bud Pole, the 40th of his career, tying him with Mike Stefanik for the most poles by any driver on the modified tour.

The Connecticut Classic 150 was the 84th career modified tour race at Stafford, the second most behind the Thompson Speedway.

Donny Lia became the 26th different modified tour winner at Stafford.

The modified tour heads into another three-week layoff before returning to action on Thursday night, June 21st at the Thompson Speedway.

The tour will then run three races in an 18-day period. We all agreed in the press box, the schedule must have been put together by kids.