It had been a long time since Boelher Racing had been able to celebrate a victory on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Sunday, Rowan Pennink returned the historic ride into Victory Lane on NASCAR’s oldest touring series, winning the prestigious Icebreaker 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. The Cape Cod Copper No. 3 drove into glory with Pennink making a pass in the final few laps to take the lead by Bobby Santos and never looking back.
“The guys gave me a great car. We qualified fourth and was able to get into second right at the beginning. I got underneath Timmy (Solomito) for the lead there early and the car stayed right underneath me the whole race,” Pennink said.
Sunday, for the first time in many years, Ole Blue was the car to beat. Although he qualified fourth, it wasn’t long before it was clear that Pennink was going to be the driver setting the pace. He took the lead away down into the turn on lap 20 from Solomito and he absolutely drove away, leaving the field in the dust. If it wasn’t for a few late race caution flags, Pennink would have most likely won the event by nearly a whole straightaway.
But, like anything else in life, winning doesn’t come easy. A caution for a spin by Jimmy Blewett in the late stages forced Pennink and a few other leaders to pit road, while some drivers elected to stay out. Pennink was mired outside the top five for one of the late restarts — but he wasn’t going to stay there. A few daring moves to the top and the bottom put Pennink back into the top three before long. Then, a drive to the inside into turn one and a knock of wheels put Pennink at the point — just before a caution.
At that point, NASCAR’s rules put Pennink back in second — but he didn’t stay there long. In the final laps, Pennink used the inside groove to slide around Bobby Santos and put the iconic No. 3 back at the point coming to the white flag. While the fans threw their hands in the air, Pennink hit the stripe as the leader at lap 150 and was declared the winner. It was almost like a turn back of time.
For years, the iconic No. 3 with the blue paint scheme and yellow numbers was the car to beat on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. While Lenny Boelher was in his prime as a car owner, names like Wayne Anderson, Bugsy Stevens and Tony Hirschman wheeled the car into championship glory. But since the late 1990s, the team hasn’t had the same success when it comes to running for a championship. They have swapped drivers plenty of times in the last decade, but just haven’t had that same winning success.
Pennink took over the ride in 2016, scoring just two top five finishes behind the wheel at Stafford and Monadnock. However —as Pennink was quick to mention Sunday night — the team found something over the offseason. While building and putting together two new race cars, the shop crew found a few things they needed to work on — and it’s clear they did everything right.
In the season-opening race at Myrtle Beach Speedway on March 18, Pennink was at the point for 38 laps and he seemed to be the car to beat. Although some pit strategy and a few late cautions didn’t go his way, Pennink still was able to come away with a seventh place run. At Thompson, it was all about the glory.
Pennink got to the front early and led a race high 109 laps behind the wheel of the Jan Boelher owned machine. Even though a caution towards the final stages forced the team’s hand and made them pit for tires, Pennink didn’t panic. A few aggressive moves to the inside and he was right back out front of the field, pulling away into the sunset.
This win for Boelher, Pennink and the entire team could be a statement for what is to come. Clearly, they have found the speed it takes to win. Are they championship bound? Only time will tell.
“I was pretty much able to run my own pace out there,” Pennink said. “Luckily, we had enough laps there at the end after the pit stops to make it back to the front and grab the win.”