Merrick, New York's Donny Lia, a 24 year-old Rookie of the Year candidate on the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Series, recorded his best finish ever in that series when he was seventh in Sunday's Service Electric 100 run at the one-mile Nazareth ...
Merrick, New York's Donny Lia, a 24 year-old Rookie of the Year candidate on the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Series, recorded his best finish ever in that series when he was seventh in Sunday's Service Electric 100 run at the one-mile Nazareth Speedway. Lia was the best finishing rookie in the race, and now leads the Rookie of the Year standings. He also moved from 21st to 16th in the series points standings.
This is a 180-degree turnaround from last year," Lia said of the partial schedule he ran in 2002. "Finishing these races is the key for us. We're not tearing up equipment, and that's important. We're not that far from shooting for top-five finishes, and the points will come. We come into this season with a lot more experience, a better motor program and a crew that just works so hard."
Lia had to overcome tire trouble before he turned in his best FMS run, though. After posting the ninth fastest speed in the morning practice, a bad right rear tire made the car almost undriveably loose in Saturday's qualifying session, and he timed in sixteenth best out of the 36 cars entered. Since series rules require drivers to start the race on the tires they qualified with, the LMI Racing Chevrolet was very loose despite the team's efforts to tighten the car up before the start of the race.
A relatively early caution saw many cars come to pit road for tires and adjustments. Lia's crew changed the rear tires on his car and got him out in fifteenth, three positions ahead of where he came in.
"It was a different race car after the pit stop," Lia said. "My crew chief Richie Neimeic got the chassis just right on and it was really comfortable to drive, and I just started picking cars off one by one. The draft played a big role, and I didn't really have a lot of experience with the draft going into this race."
Lia picked up a lot of drafting experience following another one of the Modified Series' young drivers through the field.
"I was following Chuck Hossfeld, just letting him open doors to make moves and I'd follow him on through," he said. "But he went under Zach Sylvester and the two bumped and bobbled, and I was able to get underneath both of them. That got us up to tenth at that time."
He spent the late stages of the race as one of the last cars in the lead draft, in seventh place, following Jerry Marquis. "Positions got harder to get the closer to the front I got," he said. "I'd get a good run on someone and pull out of line, but because the draft was so strong, it was real hard to complete the pass. You had to be patient, but I was just driving just as hard as I could. I wanted to keep making moves, but I also didn't want to lose what I already had."
Lia held on through two late red flags and a green-white-checker finish to hold on to his seventh place finish.
"This is such a drastic difference from last year," he said. "Running at New Smyrna (Fla.) this February was key to improving our program. You can't put a dollar figure on what we learned running there. I came from the small quarter-mile Riverhead Raceway and got to run a bigger track, a faster track, and got a whole lot of seat time, which is what helped the most. It helped me get comfortable in the car, and I've learned that once you're comfortable in the car, it's a lot easier to know what the car's doing and what it needs so the right changes can be made."
Next up for the Lia Motorsports team is this Friday night's Haynes Connecticut Classic 150 at Stafford Motor Speedway.