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Whelen Modified News & Notes: Riverhead

Lia Returns To Home Track Looking For A Win
By Jason Cunningham, NASCAR
July 23, 2012 - 12:15pm

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour heads to Riverhead Raceway this week, two-time tour champion and native Long Islander Donny Lia will look to get back to his winning ways at the track that launched his racing career.

Lia, from Jericho, N.Y., got started in auto racing at Riverhead in 2000 as the track’s rookie of the year in the Legends division. He made a significant jump to Riverhead’s famed NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Modifieds the following year and once again took home Rookie of the Year honors.

Since first racing with the Whelen Modified Tour in 2001, Lia has been more successful than any active driver at the tight quarter-mile. In 12 events, he’s posted four wins, an additional pair of podium finishes, and has led 30-percent of all the laps he’s turned there. Riverhead is where three of his first four tour victories came, and Lia’s fourth home track triumph was part of his first Whelen Modified Tour championship season in 2007.

Lia’s Whelen Modified Tour success at Riverhead is so pronounced that his current streak of three-straight starts there without a win is the longest of his career at the track. Since that 2007 win, he finished third in 2008 and had DNFs in 2009 and 2011.

As this Saturday’s Riverhead 200 rolls around, Lia will actually be looking to end another drought as well. The tour’s return to Long Island will mark the 11th race for Lia since his last win in the 2009 Fall Final at Stafford Motor Speedway, his longest stretch without a checkered flag since a 22-race span in 2005-06.

The reunification of Lia and Mystic Missile Racing, with which he won both the 2007 and 2009 Whelen Modified Tour championships, has produced mixed results. After four races this year Lia and the No. 4 team sit fourth in the standings with four top 10s, but has yet to contend for a win, something the pairing did 10 times in 29 races together prior to this year. At 54 points behind leader Doug Coby, the team remains squarely in the hunt for a third crown with more than half of the campaign remaining.

With the Whelen Modified Tour back at his home track, the Riverhead 200 could just be the perfect venue for everything to come together for Lia and the “Mystic Missile” to find their way back to Victory Lane.

RACE: Riverhead 200
PLACE: Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway
DATE: Saturday, July 28
TIME: 8:30 p.m. ET
TRACK LAYOUT: .25-mile, banked asphalt oval
2011 WINNER: Justin Bonsignore
2011 POLESITTER: Howie Brode
EVENT SCHEDULE: Practice 2-3:30 p.m., Qualifying 5 p.m., Qualifying Race 6:30 p.m., Driver Autograph Session 7 p.m.
TRACK CONTACT: Bob Finan, 631-842-7223,
TRACK TWITTER: @RiverheadRacewa
EVENT HASHTAG: #Riverhead200
NASCAR CONTACT: Jason Cunningham, 704-201-6658,, Twitter: @NASCAR_NE


The Race:
  The Riverhead 200 will be the seventh of 14 races on the 2012 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule, and the lone trip to Riverhead Raceway.

The Procedure:  The starting field is 28 cars, including provisionals. The first 16 cars will have secured starting positions based on two-lap qualifying. Positions 17-23 will be filled by the seven highest-finishing cars in the 25-lap qualifying race. The remaining five spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The feature is scheduled for 175 laps.

The Track:  A quarter-mile banked asphalt oval, Riverhead Raceway opened in 1949. The track has held a total of 50 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races since the series began in 1985, and is one of only two venues to play host to the Tour in each of its 28 seasons.

Race Winners:  There have been 23 different drivers to reach Victory Lane at Riverhead, led by Mike Ewanitsko’s 11. Justin Bonsignore took the checkers last year, and among active drivers, Mike Stefanik has the most wins with six.

Pole Winners:  Twenty-nine different drivers have won the pole at Riverhead, led by Ewanitsko’s eight.  Ed Flemke Jr. leads active drivers in the category with four. Riverhead weekly competitor Howie Brode earned last year’s pole. Chuck Steuer set the qualifying record at 11.546 seconds (77.949 mph) in 2000.

Preece Gains Big Riverhead Win:
  Ryan Preece took the checkered flag in the Baldwin Evans Jarzombek Memorial 77 on Saturday, July 1 in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action at Riverhead Raceway. Competing on a nearly-full-time basis at Riverhead for car owner and four-time track champion Bill Park, Preece led 53 laps for his second victory of the year at the bullring.

Shake-Up for Christopher:  The future for Ted Christopher, the third-winningest driver in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour history, will be up in the air following this week’s Riverhead 200. Christopher’s former tour car owner Eddie Whelan, for whom Christopher drove to the 2008 championship, announced recently he has closed up his racing operation. Christopher will compete in this week’s Riverhead 200 for car owner Wayne Anderson, who he races for part-time in Whelen All-American Series action at Riverhead, but has no current tour plans for the remaining seven events. Christopher has five runner-up finishes in Anderson’s No. 15 at the quarter mile this year.

Local Flavor for Riverhead 200:  With Riverhead’s Whelen All-American Series Modifieds very similar in specs to those of the Whelen Modified Tour, the tour’s trip to the Long Island oval often attracts local competitors to defend their home turf. The Riverhead 200 entry list has the potential to grow with local competitors in the days leading up to the race, but the current roster officially includes a pair so far in Howie Brode and Ed Brunnhoelzl III. Brode earned the Riverhead 200 pole a year ago and has 14 top 10s in 55 career tour starts. Brunnhoelzl has just two previous tour starts, both at Riverhead in 2002. Bill Park also has his Riverhead No. 20 entered for the race, but is unsure if he’ll ultimately have the car in the race.

HOME TRACKS: Rogers Leads Empire State
Riverhead Raceway’s Tom Rogers Jr. led the New York State NASCAR Whelen All-American Series points as of the latest standings posted on July 10 with five wins and 10 top 10s in 13 Modified starts. In fact, 13 of the top 14 drivers in the Empire State standings hail from Riverhead. In the track’s weekly program on Saturday, July 21, Shawn Solomito moved ahead of Howie Brode in the track’s Division I point standings, 346-334. Riverhead is a charter member of the Whelen All-American Series, now in its 31st season of competition.

LAST TIME OUT: New Hampshire
The most recent NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race was held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 14 in Loudon, N.H. Here are some highlights from the Town Faire Tire 100:
• Ron Silk earned his second pole in a row at the “Magic Mile” and swapped the lead 17 times through the course of the second half of the event with Mike Stefanik, but Stefanik came out ahead of Silk by .003 seconds for his first win of the season.
• The victory was the eighth of Stefanik’s career at NHMS, which established the Whelen Modified Tour record.
• The .003-second margin of victory is the second-closest in 56 all-time Whelen Modified Tour races at the track.
• Steve Dickey and Ryan Blaney made their Whelen Modified Tour debuts in the race. Both were involved in accidents, Dickey finished 23rd and Blaney 33rd.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will head to Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway for the third of four events at the historic half mile this year with the Stafford 150 on Friday, Aug. 3. Ted Christopher is the defending winner of this race, but Doug Coby has captured the checkered flag in both of the tour’s previous trips to Stafford this season. The tour will join Stafford’s five divisions of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series competition on that night’s race card.