The Chrome Horn - Walter Stubbs


Donny Lia
by Walt Stubbs

   I have finally awoken from my long winter nap. Much has gone on in the racing world since I last wrote in these pages after the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour banquet back in December. A lot of it has involved the defending Modified Tour Champ Donny Lia. After being given the Modified Trophy and Champion's Ring at the Mohegan Sun, Lia's racing career has taken as many twists and turns as a road course like Watkins Glen or Lime Rock offers. The twists and turns actually started months earlier, when Lia drove for Bill Davis at New Hampshire in the #22 truck. Things looked good for Lia after his performance at Loudon, but in racing, nothing is a certainty and sure enough, things didn't work out. Then it looked like Lia was going to race for James Harris and the 59 Craftsmen Truck team before those plans were scraped. As Lia recalled before the start of Friday's Truck race at Dover, "We weren't out hunting for a truck ride. It's something that kind of came together. When I was over at Harris' we ran Homestead and then did some testing afterwards to prepare for this year. We hadn't signed a contract yet so I wasn't locked in over there but I had gotten friendly with a few of the guys on the team. When that deal fell apart, one of the guys over there came over here to TRG, my crew chief Jason. Jason wound up working as the car chief on the #7 car (teammate Andy Lally). He told me that TRG was looking to expand to a second team so when the deal didn't work out on the 59, I came down to TRG and met with owner Kevin Buckler. I found out that they really wanted to start a second team. They knew that if they could run a second truck resource wise, we'd get double the tires for testing and everything else, and in turn it would help Kevin to take TRG forward and accelerate the program. I don't think they were quite looking for a rookie since they already had a rookie in Andy. They took a chance on me and it's worked out."
   Worked out might be an understatement. It's not everyday that a rookie team with a rookie driver wins a race, be it at your local race track or in one of the premier series in NASCAR, like the Craftsmen Truck Series. Well, that's what happened a week earlier as Lia and the TRG team won there first race at Mansfield. When asked if he expected to win a race this season, Lia was honest, "No, definitely not. I knew going into this that it would be hard. Like I said, we're a rookie team. We don't even have a notebook to fall back on. If we're struggling, we don't have notes to go on to figure out what we have to change and what we have to work on. If you put everything into perspective; you have a rookie team, rookie drivers in Andy and I, a first year start up deal, and you add the fact that in racing everything takes time, and there's no way I could have ever anticipated winning that soon." The win, though, was not without controversy. Lia came in contact with leader David Starr on the last lap, getting underneath Starr and holding off Todd Bodine. Bodine did not take too kindly to the way Lia won, which surprised Lia. "I had no plan. My plan wasn't to go in and hit David. It was just to try and get around him. I drove down into turn one and got a really good run into the bottom. I heard he had a left front going down afterwards. He should have won the race, with two laps to go he had three or four truck lengths on me. He definitely had a problem. I was able to get to him and I drove underneath him and just pushed up. I went to get back into the gas pedal , shoved the nose and got into him. I let him save it and do what he had to do because I got into him pretty good. I let him save it to the point where he didn't spin out but I also got right back into the gas pedal to try and race underneath him because there was an opportunity and I had to take it. Todd got a run underneath me at the same time so they're yelling three wide down the back straightaway. At that point, in my mind, it was anybody's race. Todd could have cleaned us all out and won the race but he didn't. I'm grateful that we won. It was a special moment for me because you never know if you can get it done until you get it done. I'm extremely surprised by Todd's comments. Todd's helped me a little bit, giving me advice and stuff like that. I don't know if he's frustrated, jealous or what. He has no reason to be because I'm just a rookie trying to make it. I think he should have been a little more understanding. I don't know if I would ever have an opportunity to win a race like that again. It could be months, it could be today or never. You just don't know, which is the bottom line. I'm just disappointed because he came from the modifieds like I did. I don't know if he forgot about that because he called me a hard nosed modified driver. He was once one of those as well. It's not something I'll ever forget, I'll tell you that. If I stay in this deal for years to come and am fortunate to get further, I'll never forget where I came from."
   After his win, many of his former modified friends were on the horn, congratulating Lia on his win. That included Bob Garbarino. "What really made it special about my win was that the Friday before our win Bob won at Stafford with Chuck (Hossfeld). I couldn't be happier for those guys, considering they weren't even sure if they were going to race at the beginning of the year. Now they put Chuck in the car and he's doing a great job for them, leading the points and everything."
   As for where the win ranks in Lia's career, it wasn't a slam dunk answer. "I guess the biggest win for my career was the Truck win but the biggest win for me personally was Martinsville last year in the modified. That's just something I hold and is special to me and that will probably always be the case. I don't know what could top that for me. Obviously as a career booster, unfortunately winning the truck race is a lot more of a big deal than a modified race in this day and age. Like I said, that's unfortunate because I truly feel the talent on the modified series is as good, if not better, than any other Series out there. I think the Cup owners, as well as the Nationwide and Truck owners, need to look at the modified drivers. I think they are overlooked and have been since Steve Park came up. And look who was the guy who saw Park's talent, Dale Earnhardt. That says a lot right there." Winning your first race in your Rookie year also says a lot, which bodes well for Lia as he continues to make a name for himself on the Truck Series.
   At Dover on Friday afternoon, Lia pitted early in the AAA Insurance 200, which caught up with him when Kyle Busch lapped him early on in the event. Lia was not able to get his lap back, and wound up finishing 17th, not a bad followup to his win at a track he had never raced on before this weekend.
NOTES: It will be nice to finally catch a Tour race in a few weeks when the Tour hits Thompson. Scheduling conflicts have managed to keep me away for the first few races but enough is enough.
   Like most from New Jersey, the closing of Wall Township Speedway was a big blow. For someone who grew up at the track, with his parents taking me to the track on most Saturday Nights in the summer, the memories will never be forgotten. You just wish there was a better way. All views and news can reach me at 2 Constituion Court, Unit 501 Hoboken, N.J. 07030.


Source: Walter Stubbs /
Posted:  June 2, 2008

2008 GeeLaw Motorsports/