Donny Lia made his debut at the "Magic Mile" at New Hampshire International Speedway for Friday afternoon's New England 125, and showed veteran-like ability to run in the draft and move through the field, coming from his 28th starting position to...
Donny Lia made his debut at the "Magic Mile" at New Hampshire International Speedway for Friday afternoon's New England 125, and showed veteran-like ability to run in the draft and move through the field, coming from his 28th starting position to run in the top ten, but the need to stop for fuel forced the Merrick, N.Y. driver to pit under green and fall off the lead lap, finishing 22nd.
Following an impressive seventh place finish at the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Series' other superspeedway, Nazareth Speedway in May, Lia took on the other mile-long track, which the series runs twice a year. Initial practice found the Lia Motorsports, Inc. team struggling, and the Rookie of the Year candidate could only muster the 28th best qualifying time.
"This is a pretty fun place, but I just can't seem to get a feel for it yet, so we're struggling," he said. "I just need to get laps on it. I can't use as much of what I learned at Nazareth here because the track there is so different from here. I did a little drafting in practice, and it's pretty cool. It's going to take more laps to really get into it."
Lia made up ten positions in the race's first twenty laps, and that set the stage for the event for the team. After struggling with the track all through the previous day's practice and qualifying, Lia found a line that worked for him.
"We got going and I noticed right off the bat that the thing was really good up top, and nobody else seemed to want to go up there, so I did and picked up a bunch of spots right off the start," he said. "After that I fell in line and I picked them off one by one."
He was up to fifteenth at the one-third mark, and wasn't slowing down then. The race remained under green, and kept passing cars. He was fourteenth on lap 40, and eleventh as the halfway point approached. On lap 67, he entered the top ten by passing former series champion Rick Fuller. But the run to the front would get derailed just a few laps later.
On lap 71, Lia, who had planned on stopping under a mid-race yellow for tires and fuel, ran out of gas. He coasted onto pit road where the crew added gas and push-started the car. He was back on the track and up to speed, but two laps down. He continued in the race through a number of late cautions to finish 22nd.
"We were so far off yesterday, we didn't think at all that we were going to hit the setup," he said after the race. "So we were planning on stopping, and didn't put all the fuel in it that we needed. As the race went on going green, we realized that we were going to be in trouble without a yellow, so we went as hard as we could. About a lap before we ran out, they came on the radio and said I should try to conserve fuel if I could. I could try by using the draft, but there was no way I was going to make 20 laps that way."
Despite the disappointing finish, Lia's unsponsored team got a lift by seeing how well it ran against better-funded veteran teams.
"It's a rebound for us," he said. "We've been struggling for the last few races. We showed that we can run with these guys and we'll get going. It gives us a little momentum. The finish doesn't reflect how well it ran, but we'll take that and move on. At least we know now where we fit into place on these kind of tracks. There were some good cars that we could run with and pass here. I was ecstatic at how good we got the car for the race, that we had something to race with. The guys did a good job, and I have to thank all of them, especially my crew chief Rich Neimeic who worked really hard on the chassis all weekend and eventually got it right. I also have to thank Eddie D'Hondt from Tommy Baldwin Racing who was my spotter today, he did a great job for me and I learned a lot having him on the radio."
Lia returns to the track on Saturday, July 26th at the half-mile Adirondack International Speedway. It will be the first time the Featherlite Modified Series visits the two-year old track.