By Brian Danko
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.
MOD TOUR NOTES
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.
GARBARINO FINALLY GETS A CHAMPIONSHIP
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
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: