Monday October 9, 2006

By Brian Danko                                  CLICK IN ANY PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

WATERFORD, CT---------Donny Lia of Jericho, NY has never backed down from a challenge before and Sunday night at the Waterford Speedbowl, the Long Island driver wasn't about to start. In a classic short track race, Lia and eventual runner up Eddie Flemke, JR of Southington, CT showed what open wheel modified racing is all about.

Lia fought for over 50 laps to get by Flemke, who led from the opening green but Lia's persistence finally paid off getting by Flemke on lap 128. He was never headed in securing his first win of the year in winning the Whelen Volunteer Fire Department 150 at the Waterford Speedbowl. Third went to Ted Christopher with Mike Stefanik fourth and Zach Sylvester was fifth.

"That was fun." A drained Lia told the media after a hectic battle with Flemke, certainly not one the easiest guys on the tour to get by for any position, let alone for the top spot. "He is as tough as anyone to pass. He knew where to crowd me and I just stayed right with him." Donny said. Flemke, who arrived at the media center before echoed Lia's same thought and although he finished second, he was thrilled for Lia and his continued drive.

"Persistence finally paid off for Donny. I am really thrilled for him. He's a gentleman and he races like a gentleman, he did a great job." Flemke nearly twice the age of Lia said. While Lia has struggled all season with nagging problems that would lead to poor finishes; Lia was quick to credit his crew for the win tonight.

"Right now, I am just numb. We have had so many things go wrong and my crew stuck by me all season. I also want to dedicate win to Charlie Bradberry, a Roush gong show driver who was killed on Saturday." Lia said that Bradberry was like him, just trying to do what he loved and move up the racing ladder. Flemke and Lia are both winners at the tight Speedbowl in the past but the track officials began laying down a sealer on the outside lanes of the track a few months ago to promote more passing on the outside lanes
and did it work.

Once Lia got into second, he then began to pressure Flemke and the two battled high, low and side by side thrilling the race fans who endured an almost 100 minute delay when a portion of the turn three lights malfunctioned.

Finally, Lia was able to get the car to stick off turn four and after a couple of side by side laps was able to pull away for the win. "I knew it was just a matter of time before I got him but it was fun out there battling with Eddie. He crowded me but he was doing what he needed to do to protect the lead. Once I got to him, I tried to go on the inside but once I got by him, he saw how much he was holding me up." While Flemke has come close to winning several times, he was happy with second.

"This was a good day for us. We picked up just a few points on Mike Stefanik and Teddy. If you can pass on the outside here you deserve everything you get."

The race was scheduled for a 5:15 green flag but several delays in the program pushed the started back until 6:45 but then the lights in turn three wouldn't light and that made a late day even later.

Eddie Flemke and Mike Stefanik brought the field to the green and it was Flemke quickly using the inside lane to grab the top spot but a couple of quick cautions slowed the field. As the leaders clicked off lap 30, Ted Christopher had moved up 18th positions to the 7th spot and showed that he would be a threat for the win as he tried to cut into Stefanik's point lead.

Matt Hirschman brought out a caution on lap 46 when it appeared that he and several others spun heading into the third turn. When racing returned a great battle for the second spot was going on between Lia, Ron Yuhas, Rob Summers, Christopher and Stefanik. On lap 64, Christopher pushed off the fourth turn and caught the rear of Rob Summers who spun and hit the wall in turn one, collecting Todd Szegedy in the process.

As the leaders of Flemke and Lia raced side by side, Lia then tried a new tactic of trying to get Flemke loose as he hounded the rear bumper of Eddie after trying to grab the lead on the outside. On lap 93, several cars tangled to bring out the caution but because the race restarted on lap 100, the race went single file talking away, only for a short time, the advantage Lia was using on the outside. By lap 107, Lia was again all over the rear bumper of Flemke and many felt that Flemke, using the inside lane would be able to hold off the charges of Lia. But Donny got a great bite off turn four on lap 124 and was finally able to get the lead four laps later and then pull away for the win.

Flemke finished five cars back with Christopher a distant third, Stefanik was fourth and Sylvester fifth. The rest of the top ten was Chris Pasteryak, Ron Yuhas, Eric Berndt, Anthony Sesely and Jim Storace.

Teddy Christopher of Plainville, CT might have been the fastest car on the track tonight and certainly passed more cars than anyone but a poor qualifying effort sidelined the point's contender to a third place finish.

"The car was great in the beginning but then it got tight off." TC, who started 25th, said. "It was fun running on the outside. Everyone was being a bottom feeder so I decided to run on top and it was great. The track did a good job with the sealer."

TC also said his many years of running at Waterford helped him pick off cars early in the race but then the tightness of the car hampered his finish as he did manage to pick up a hand full of points on Mike Stefanik.

Jerry Marquis captured the Bud Pole for the Whelen Volunteer Fire 150 and set a new track record in the process. Jerry circled the speedway in 13.618 seconds, 99.133 MPH.

Defending modified tour champion, Tony Hirschman crashed hard during time trials. Most observes feel a tire sent down sending Tony into the wall and doing severe damage to the #48. While Tony's crew was hard at work, other crews from several teams pitched in and got the car back in running order quickly. While they may race hard, they also watch out for fellow competitors in time of need.

Pete Zanardi, one of the true pioneers in covering auto racing retired as director of Public Relations for the Speedbowl. Pete began covering auto racing for the now defunct Hartford Times and was always a person anyone in racing looked up to and respected. I know that I did and will miss Pete.

After a couple of lousy weekends with rain in the forecast, the weather this past weekend just great. Sunshine and cool weather greeted the competitors.

The Whelen Volunteer Fire Department 150 at the Waterford Speedbowl was the only modified tour event at the one-third oval mile located on the Connecticut shoreline. The original event in July fell victim to rain and was canceled.

The purse for the 150lap event was $78,933.

The race was also the 12th modified tour race at the oval that opened in 1951. The Speedbowl is also a charter member of the modified tour family hosting four races between 1985 and 1987.

Several Waterford SK modified graduates will attempt to qualify as Chris Pasteryak, second in SK points this season, Ron Yuhas, Eric Berndt and Dennis Charette take on the tour regulars.

Modified tour regular, Joe McKennedy holds the all time-recorded lap at Waterford when he circled the track in a Supermodified at 12.2 seconds.

Jerry Marquis in the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile has been quite consistent at the 'Bowl with four straight top ten finishes. Marquis also won here in 2000 as well as last year.

Eddie Flemke, JR. has two modified tour wins here. Eddie was also a former weekly competitor at Waterford while his father; the legendary Ed SR also raced at Waterford many times in his career.

Other tour regulars with wins include Rick Fuller, Chuck Hossfeld, Donny Lia, Ted Christopher, Reggie Ruggiero and Todd Szegedy.

The modified tour heads to the Thompson Speedway this coming weekend with the annual World Series of Racing at the 5/8ths mile banked oval.

Photo By Fran Lawlor