Monday October 1, 2007

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By Brian Danko
STAFFORD, CT-----It was a day for the old folks on the NASCAR Whelen modified tour and for Mike Stefanik, it was a long time coming. Stefanik, of Coventry, RI, the seven time modified tour champion and the defending champion notched his first win since winning the 2006 season opener Icebreaker last year.

Stefanik, in the # 16 owned by Eric Sanderson and sponsored by Diversified Metals took control of the lead on lap 92 and then held off the charges of fellow 'old guys' of Tony Hirschman and Ted Christopher to win the 35th annual Carquest Fall Final.

It was also the day that longtime modified car owner, Bob Garbarino realized his dream of capturing the championship when Donny Lia finished seventh to win the first title for both owner and driver.

"We've struggled. There is no doubt about it." Mike told the media after celebrating his 19th victory at the Stafford Motor Speedway and the 68th of his illustrious career. "It was so bad that several teams came over to us and offered to help us out. This win is great for the team, it keeps the moral up especially with the season that we've just had."

Stefanik started the race in 14th position and said before the race that he wasn't sure what the race might hold. A fan told Stefanik during the pit party, that he had him in the pool, Stefanik replied, "better hope for a lot of wrecks." When a driver like Stefanik, who is used to winning, the losing is hard and it has taken its toll on the seven-time modified champion and nine-time NASCAR champion. "I'm not a pessimist or an optimist, I'm a realist and this year has been tough. I am not used to being a field filler and that's what it felt like many times this year." Stefanik said smiling, thankful to get back into victory lane. When Stefanik was asked if he thought that maybe the last win would be your last win, he replied, "I will remember this one because of all we went through but your right, your last win might be your last win."

Stefanik pitted for tires on lap 60 but a few drivers including Tony and Matt Hirschman along with Donny Lia elected not to pit. Both Hirschmans showed just how good their cars were by finishing second and fourth with Tony right on Stefanik's rear bumper. "The car was real good." Tony said about his day. "The car was good so why pit. We didn't wear out our tires. I didn't think that anyone would pit when they did and then I thought that we were in trouble but we were just riding and the car felt good." Hirschman was happy to finish second and to see a fellow veteran get the win. "The old guys did good. I'm happy for Mike and me and Teddy, we kept all the kids behind us today." A few times he was right on the bumper of Stefanik but said, "I wasn't going to make a move to jeopardize Mike from winning, just like I know he wouldn't have done it to me."

Both Stefanik and Hirschman, who between them have 12 modified tour titles, were thrilled for both Lia and Garbarino. "Tony and I have won a lot of championships and to finally have a guy like Bob win the championship is great. Here is a guy who is dedicated to the modified tour and modified racing. Bob has probably spent four million dollars to get to where he is today but I am thrilled for him. He and his crew are great guys, they never cause any problems and are a first class team." Mike said as he congratulated Donny Lia.

The race started right on time and it was Todd Szegedy, the defending champion of the race, powering right out front on the opening green but a quick couple of cautions slowed the field. Szegedy, who entered the race second in points with an outside chance for the title looked to be in for another easy day despite being challenged by Matt Hirschman and Donny Lia. A caution on lap 35 slowed the field again but on the restart, Tony Hirschman moved past Donny Lia for third as he set his sights on his son, Matt, running in second as Szegedy continued to set a strong pace. Eric Berndt spun for the second time with a little help on lap 57 and that sent many of the leaders into the pits for tires with Matt Hirschman, his father and Lia remaining on the track. Teddy Christopher was the first car out of the cars that pitted and
lined up fourth on the track and many felt it would be short work before the guys who didn't take tires would fall by the wayside. Jerry Marquis nightmare season continued when the past champion hit the wall on lap 69 ending his day with Matt Hirschman still in control. On lap 75, father Tony went back past into second as Todd Szegedy also went past Lia dropping him to fifth. On lap 81, Tony made a couple of moves on his son, but Matt was up to the task holding off dad. All this time, Mike Stefanik was moving to the front. A caution on lap 84 involving Wade Cole and others would change the race as on lap 92; Mike Stefanik would get past Matt for the lead and never look back, despite charges from Tony Hirschman and Ted Christopher. On lap 97, Todd Szegedy spun all by himself in turn two and that would be the start of a tough rest of the day. At lap 100, it was Stefanik, Christopher, Matt Hirschman and Tony Hirschman followed by Donny Lia.  On lap 103, Tony showed Matt the quick way around as he went past his son into third and on lap 112 moved under Ted Christopher for second while Stefanik had the car on cruise.

At the finish, Stefanik earned the popular win with Tony Hirschman second, TC in for third with Matt Hirschman fourth and Ronnie Silk, last weeks winner fifth. The rest of the top ten was James Civali, Donny Lia, Rick Fuller, Bobby Santos, III and Reggie Ruggiero.

Ted Christopher finished a strong third but wasn't too talkative in victory lane despite the fact that earlier in the day, he captured yet another SK modified track championship. "The stagger closed up on us. Mike made a jump on the restart and that killed us."

In qualifying for the 35th annual Carquest Fall Final, Eric Beers captured the pole with a lap of 18.267 seconds, 98.538 MPH just edging out Doug Coby, driving the Dick Houlihan #46. Coby timed in at 18.270, 98.522 MPH. Points leader, Donny Lia was third quickest with Todd Szegedy fourth and Ronnie Silk fifth. The rest of the top ten was Ryan Preece, Tony Hirschman, Matt Hirschman, Ted Christopher and James Civali.

Jerry Marquis was in a back up Mike Boehler machine as he lost the motor in his Joe Brady #00 car last week.

A total of 36 cars attempted to qualify for the second to last race of the year.

There are many rumors already floating around the NASCAR modified pit concerning 2008 and it appears that Ronnie Silk will step out of the #19 car and into the #12 car that is being vacated by Jimmy Blewett. Blewett will then drive the #19, strange but true. According to several insiders, Doug Coby is rumored to replace James Civali in the Don King #28 car for next season. Civali is working on a couple of Busch Series rides for 2008. It would be Coby's second go
around as driving for King. Look for Coby to drive a back up 28 car at Thompson.

The modified tour is off this coming weekend before heading back to the Thompson Speedway for the annual 14 division, 3-day extravaganza known as the World Series of Auto Racing on the weekend of October 12-14th.


Bob Garbarino has been a modified car owner longer than most people have been alive and yet each spring, Garbarino and his Mystic River Marina #4 would be on the track chasing victories and possibly a championship. Victories would come and go but the championship; something missing from Garbarino's impressive resume would elude him every year. That is until now.

Garbarino, owner of a marina and a man dedicated to modified racing finally got his dream when driver Donny Lia finished seventh and that was more than enough to wrap up the title as Garbarino, one of the most popular people in the pit area was mobbed by well wishers.

In the media center, Bob was beaming from ear to ear and the man who claims to be 70 but looks like 50, basked in the limelight of the championship while his driver was talking to the media on the other side of the media center.

"This is unbelievable." Bob said. "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 chemistry and I believe that. We just all have clicked together and this is the result."

Garbarino has had the whose who of modified drivers race his car but something would always deny the likable and approachable car owner a title.

Donny Lia got together with Garbarino when it was rumored that Garbarino was going to call it a career after releasing Jerry Marquis as driver in January.

"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."

Garbarino said that he felt that right from winning the Spring Sizzler, that something special was in the air. "A car owners job is to assemble people. Donny brought some young blood to the team and the chemistry began to form." Bob said.

While Lia said he never thought about the points, even as the victories were rolling in for the Lia/Garbarino team. "I never worried about the points because I knew that they would take care of themselves. I can't believe what we have done but I have to thank Bob for the opportunity to drive for him."

We'll have a lot more on the new modified tour champions next week.

Modified Tour Photos Courtesy of:
Fran Lawlor,