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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Bugsy Stevens, Tony Hirschman and Wayne Anderson. Those are just three of the many historic modified names that come to mind when you think about the history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
All three of those drivers captured wins and championships with Boelher Racing Enterprises, while sitting behind the wheel of the famed Ole’ Blue No. 3. The blue paint scheme with the bright yellow number has been a staple in the modified ranks for more than five decades and continues to be today.
“I’ve been around a while. I raced myself and grew up around the sport, but I really started helping my dad Lenny when the tour started in 1985,” current team leader Mike Boelher said. “I was only 13 or 14 years old, but I went to all the races and I helped in the shop.”
In 2017, BRE Racing is celebrating 60 years of competition in modifieds. They have built their own cars since the outset and continue to do the fabrication in the shop -- even to this day.
Mike’s father, Lenny Boelher, pioneered the early years of the team, beginning action in 1957 at the Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts with Tony Cortes behind the wheel. He was known for building his own equipment in the shop and bringing it to the race track with the upmost of confidence. Although originally Boelher wasn’t as successful as he would have liked, he quickly was paired with Bugsy and the two started things off well.
The combination won races and championships in New England, being especially successful at Seekonk in the late 1960s before moving to the NASCAR National level. Stevens and Boelher combined to collect three straight championships at one point.
Although Stevens was successful with Boelher, the two parted ways and Fred DeSarro took control of Ole’ Blue shortly after, capturing more checkered flags. After that, Leo Cleary, Ronnie Bouchard and Mike McLaughlin teamed with Boelher for runs. Other historic names that have piloted the car include Tom Cravenho, Jerry Marquis and others.
When Lenny passed in 2001 of cancer, Mike took control of the team and still leads the way today with driver Rowan Pennink. The team has six NASCAR championships, with the most recent of them coming in 1996. All of them came with Lenny leading the way. The first of the titles came in 1967 – which started a stretch of three straight with Stevens sitting behind the wheel. Once the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour was formed in 1985, the success continued for the BRE Racing team.
McLaughlin finished second to Richie Evans in the inaugural NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season in 1985.
In 1994, Wayne Anderson drove the car into championship glory in his first year behind the wheel – capturing one victory in the NAPA Fall Final at the Arute-family owned Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut.
After that, Tony Hirschman – who sits second on the all-time list with five career titles – captured two of them with Boehler in 1995 and 1996. The stretch helped Boelher captured his sixth and final title before Lenny’s passing in 2001.
“Lenny gave me a call when I had nothing going right then. I won two championships in a row with him and it was quite an experience,” Hirschman said. “We went up against a tough field of cars. If you look at what we used and what we had to work with against what we were going up against, everything we did is remarkable.”
Hirschman says that working with Boelher was different than working with other teams. He was successful with multiple car owners in his career, but something about BRE fit him well.
“They were just so laid-back compared to some of the other teams I drove for,” Hirschman said. “When I was driving for them, Lenny was still doing a lot and the whole team was just old school compared to the other teams. They built their own cars then and they still do.”
Tony Hirschman Jr. won the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour titles in 1995 and 1996 driving the Ol' Blue. BRERacing.com
Since the last championship, the team has had multiple different drivers sit behind the wheel in hopes of keeping the tradition alive – something that is important to the family.
“It’s cool. We do it all as a family,” Mike Boelher said. “My cousin is the crew chief and my mom still owns everything – I just help keep it heading in the right direction. There are just so many people involved over all the years to make sure it kept going.”
Over the last decade, names like Ted Christopher and Matt Hirschman have climbed behind the wheel of the famed No. 3. More recently, in 2015, the team brought young driver Troy Talman onto the team and he scored a best finish of fifth that season.
In 2016, Pennink teamed with BRE Racing and competed in all 17 events -- capturing two top fives and eight top 10s behind the wheel of the famed modified. Pennink finished a best of third in the Spring Sizzler at Connecticut's Stafford Motor Speedway last season and was a threat in multiple events.
“We had an up and down first season,” Pennink said. “But I think we have grown a lot together as a team. I feel like we know how everything works now with the setup and they know what I need in the car.”
So far in 2017, the 31-year-old from Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, is off to a strong start. He led 38 laps at the half-mile Myrtle Beach in the season-opener and after starting third, he came home with a seventh place finish behind the wheel of the Cape Cod Copper Chevrolet. For Pennink, it’s a dream come true to even sit behind the wheel.
“It’s been an honor to be behind the wheel of an historic car like Ole’ Blue,” Pennink said. “It’s an honor for them to even consider me to drive the car. I can’t thank all the guys enough. They really put their heart and soul into it for every race. We had a good run down at Myrtle Beach and I’m hoping that we can continue that success for the entire 2017.”
Mike Boehler, who is currently 44 years old, still runs the team to this day and wants to continue to be involved for many years to come. For him and the entire family, it’s about keeping memories alive – and creating new ones.
“We’re basically doing all of this to keep my dad’s memory alive. We try to do it the same way he did,” Mike Boelher said. “If we had to go out and buy other people’s cars and not make them in our own shop like my dad did we would shut the door. We have basically taken the team to the next-generation but the cars are built in the shop the best we can. We want to remain competitive and run up front.”
BRE Racing will continue their 60th season celebration on April 9, with the running of the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Bugsy Stevens piloted the No. 3 to the NASCAR Modified championship from 1967-69. BRERacing.com