Donny Lia Finds Perfect Time, Situation For Return To Whelen Modified Tour

(Press Release from NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications)

Donny Lia during a test last year with Boehler Racing Enterprises at Seekonk Speedway (Photo: Courtesy of Mike Boehler)

It’s been nearly five years since Donny Lia last competed with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

On April 1 at Richmond Raceway, that all changes.

Lia, a two-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion in 2007 and ’09, is returning to the series on a limited basis this season thanks to a new relationship with Boehler Racing Enterprises.

A return to competition has been on Lia’s mind for some time, but now everything has come together to make it a reality.

“I’ve been thinking about it awhile,” Lia told “It’s just timing. Timing with the right situation. I was looking for a no pressure situation where we can go out there and have fun with guys I have known for a long time. It just all kind of lined up recently.

“I really need to thank Michael Boehler and all the guys on the No. 3 deal for being open to having me come race with them. It means a lot to me. I really appreciate them taking a shot with me as someone who hasn’t really been in a race car in a few years and believing in me enough to go out there and give this a shot.”

Lia made his last NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour start in 2017. Driving Tommy Baldwin Jr.’s No. 7NY., Lia finished fourth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He explained the decision to step away was a combination of family and business obligations.

“Things were just kind of piling up for me. My children were really young at the time, so I just felt like I needed to focus 100 percent on my kids and on work,” Lia said. “I still feel that way today, but things are just a little bit different today where I’m able to do this. It was tough. I had to fight off…I had to say no to some rides and to go racing with Tommy. That was really tough, but at the time I felt like I was doing the right thing, and I was.

“Now I have more of a clear head and scheduling-wise it works right now in my life.”

The agreement for Lia to return to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour began to develop last year when, while watching a Tour event, he noticed the famous Ole Blue No. 3 of Boehler Racing Enterprises wasn’t in the field.

That’s when he reached out to team owner Michael Boehler.

“He reached out probably late summer or early fall just to check in. I hadn’t talked to him in like a year,” Boehler explained. “We go way back since when he started running modifieds in like 2000 or 2001. He was just checking in. ‘Hey, how you guys doing? Watching one of the tour races and saw you weren’t out there. What’s happening? How’s things?’”

Boehler explained to Lia that his team had scaled back and wasn’t running the full NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule. That’s when Lia said the magic words.

“He was like, ‘Hey, if you ever want to talk about doing something, give me a call.’ So it just kind of worked from there,” Boehler said.

Lia got his feet wet with the team last November when he tested at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts. Boehler said Lia was still on the fence about returning after the test but eventually decided he’d give it a shot.

“He tested and was kind of on the fence, just trying to figure everything out. We talked a little more around the first of the year and we put something together,” Boehler said.

The 43-year-old Lia is no stranger to fans of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. In 191 Tour starts he earned 17 victories, the last of which came in 2013. He also has a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory, which came in 2008 at Ohio’s Mansfield Motor Speedway while driving for Kevin Buckler.

Of his 17 Tour victories, 12 of them came aboard the famous Mystic Missile No. 4 owned by Bob Garbarino. For Lia, it makes perfect sense for him to return to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour aboard another legendary race car, the Ole Blue No. 3.

“They’re both legendary cars and car owners,” Lia said. “Lenny Boehler (original Ole Blue No. 3 owner) and Bob raced against each other for many, many years. There is definitely a connection there.

“At the end of the day for me, personally, I just look at it as I’m very fortunate to have driven some of the most iconic race cars in modified racing period. Not many guys can say they’ve driven the Mystic Missile, Ole Blue and then to drive for Tommy Baldwin my last year I raced.

“To be able to look back and say I’ve driven those cars is definitely an honor, a huge honor, for anybody racing modifieds. I just consider myself very, very fortunate to have the opportunities to drive any of these race cars.”

Lia is tentatively scheduled to compete in six NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races this year beginning with the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 150 at Richmond. The team plans to run the entire Tour schedule, with Lia sharing the No. 3 with rookie Jake Johnson for the remainder of the year. Ryan Preece drove Ole Blue during the opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway last month, finishing ninth.

Richmond has always been a bucket list track for Lia, so making his return to the Tour at the 0.75-mile oval is extra special for the New York native.

“I had some tracks that I really always wanted to race at. Richmond was always one of them,” Lia said. “It’s probably one of the reasons I’m even coming back. During my career the Tour happened to not be racing at Richmond for those years. To be able to go to Richmond and race a modified there is really something I’m looking forward to doing.”

Lia is also tentatively scheduled to compete in the Tour races at Pennsylvania’s Jennerstown Speedway on May 28, New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 16, Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on Aug. 17 and Oct. 8 and Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 27.

In terms of expectations for his return, Lia doesn’t have any. He’s just thankful to be back in a race car with a group as dedicated as Boehler Racing Enterprises.

“Right now, we need to go out and we need to run our first race together and then go from there,” Lia said. “Do I think if everything lines up just right and all goes really, really well, can we be competitive? I think it’s possible.

“I still feel like there are some good years left. I’d like to go out there and find out if that’s the case.”

The Virginia is for Racing Lovers 150 at Richmond Raceway is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.. ET on April 1. The race will be streamed live by FloRacing.

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