DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Rowan Pennink has plenty of motivation on his side as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour heads back to New England for the second race of the season.
The Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, driver missed the season-opener at Myrtle Beach Speedway because of offseason back surgery. Now, with Pennink healed up and ready to get on the track, he couldn’t be heading to a much better venue to get back behind the wheel.
Pennink and his No. 3 Cape Cod Copper/USNE Inc. Chevrolet for Boehler (BRE) Racing are returning to Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park for the Icebreaker 150, one year after capturing the checkered flag in the New England racing opener while BRE celebrated its 60th season of competition.
“We had a really good Icebreaker, winning the race, and then the rest of the races at Thompson last year we had some really good cars,” Pennink said. “The No. 3 team always gives me a good car to drive when we go to Thompson. It makes me even more excited to get back behind the wheel.”
In 2015, after finishing the season 18th in the point standings, Pennink was looking for a ride that would help return him to the winner’s circle. In the offseason, he teamed with Mike Boehler and the iconic No. 3 team — a former championship stable and one of the most recognized numbers in NASCAR modified history.
In 2016, in just their eighth race together, the combination finished second at Monadnock Speedway en route to an 11th place finish in the point standings. Fast-forward to the 2017 season and Pennink is winning for the first time since 2013 and entering the season-finale — right back at Thompson — in mathematical contention for the championship.
“It takes a little bit of time for me to get used to running their home-built car, and it also takes some time for them to figure out how I like the car to handle,” Pennink said. “Last year, we were able to make some pretty good strides with a lot of things. We hope to continue that this year.”
And for team owner Mike Boehler, the tradition of the race team dates back well before his time in racing. Names like the late Ted Christopher, Wayne Anderson, Tony Hirschman and Bugsy Stevens are just a few of the drivers who have been at the controls in the team’s history.
“The competition is definitely tougher, so we are trying to get everything right to keep up with the big teams,” Boehler said. “We need a lot of luck in order to run up front. We are going to get organized and get a little bit better with the time we had off. Hopefully we can pick right up where we left off last year.”
For Pennink, the opportunity to drive “Ole Blue” has been once in a lifetime. Entering his third season, the history behind the iconic ride pushes him to strive for greatness.
“They are a team with a lot of history behind them, and I’m honored to be able to get behind the wheel with all of the other drivers that have driven it since the Tour started,” Pennink said. “I just want to get back behind the wheel and see if we can’t bring the No. 3 team more success.”
Even though he missed Myrtle Beach, Pennink is still optimistic that he will be able to crawl his way back into the fight for the championship. Last year, Ryan Preece missed two Whelen Modified Tour races and still entered the finale with a chance at capturing the crown.
“It definitely makes it a lot tougher, but we just have to focus really hard on making every race count and staying out of trouble. If we finish all of the races and make all of the finishes at least top-10, I think there is a chance we could still be there in the points towards the end of the year.”
And by the sounds of it, Pennink isn’t going to do anything differently when the green flag drops at Thompson on Sunday. The offseason injury isn’t going to slow him down.
“I’m going to go out there and race like I always do. If something happens with my back, I will deal with that as it comes,” Pennink said. “Hopefully the doctor fixed me up good and it was just an injury that has kinda been with me for a while.”
NEWS & NOTES
Tradition: For many years, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park has proven to be the venue for the New England racing kick-off. And this year, with the 44th annual running, the season will once again get underway in Connecticut. The Division I Sunoco Modifieds will be joined by Late Model, Limited Sportsman and Mini Stock in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action. The weekend will also include the Pro All Star (Super Late Model) Series, NEMA Lites, Exit Realty 375 Sportsman Challenge, Lite Modified, Exit Realty ProTruck Challenge and the Valenti Modified Racing Series throughout the two-day show.
Stellar Field: The entry list for Sunday’s Icebreaker 150 has some of the top modified names from up and down the East Coast. With over 35 names on the list, it will be tough to pick a favorite. Former NASCAR Modified champions in the group include Burt Myers, Doug Coby, Ryan Preece, Bobby Santos, Andy Seuss and Ron Silk.
Jon McKennedy A Winner: Coming off a victory in the Performance Plus 150 at Myrtle Beach, Jon McKennedy is heading to Thompson with Tommy Baldwin for the first time. McKennedy had a breakthrough performance at Myrtle Beach, capturing his first tour triumph in his 34th career start. In his career at Thompson, McKennedy has a best finish of sixth, which came last season.
Dowling Oh-So-Close: When the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour visited Thompson in October, Chase Dowling scored his first career pole award and finished second in the Sunoco World Series 150. He led laps in the 2018 opener with a fourth-place finish, and he is heading back to the track looking to begin a consistent stretch towards a run at the title. In his 12 starts at Thompson, Dowling has just two top-10 finishes, but he will look to add another to his resume in the Icebreaker 150.
Ryan Preece Returns: Preece missed the season-opener at Myrtle Beach, but don’t let that make you think he doesn’t have a shot at the championship. The Berlin, Connecticut, driver missed two races last season and still entered the final race in mathematical contention to win the title. After Jimmy Blewett wheeled the No. 6 to a second-place finish in the opener while Preece was in California running in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Preece will return behind the wheel at Thompson. He is hoping to help car owner Ed Partridge win a second straight owner’s championship — and he is heading for Thompson having won two of the last four races on the high-banks.
Up Next: Following the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will return to the track for the NAPA Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway on April 29.