Rowan Pennink is the only regular in the New England-based Modified Racing Series to not live in that six-state region. His hometown of Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania is nearly 400 miles from New Hampshire's Lee USA Speedway.
Nevertheless, when Pennink won the headlining race of this past weekend's Oktoberfest event at Lee, it was a home track victory of sorts. That because while the track isn't anywhere close to Pennink's actual domicile, it is one of the nearest tracks to his #25 team's homebase of Saugus, Massachusetts. Team owner Gary Casella is very familiar with Lee - as he raced there frequently before stepping aside of a full-time driver and becoming the owner for a team that has won Modified races with five different drivers behind the wheel. Casella has experienced a mixed bag of luck at the track too. He recalled a story this weekend when he backed his Pro Stock (Super Late Model) into the turn three wall and then begged the track safety crew not to use the Jaws of Life to cut him out of the car, since it was the only racecar he owned at the time.
So when Pennink won on Sunday, it was a sweet moment for all involved - but especially Casella.
“When I took the lead, Gary told me that was the first lap that the team ever led in a Modified here at Lee,” said Pennink. “I know that he's run here a lot in other things. I know it's close to home for him. It was just awesome to get a win for him and the whole #25 this close to their home. We normally struggle here at Lee. It's great that we could get a win here. The car was awesome. The thing was unstoppable the whole race.
“I've got to thank Gary Casella and everyone. They all did an awesome job with this over the weekend and I couldn't have done it without them. Gary is an awesome car owner.”
Going from mid-pack to best in show at Lee was a welcome change for Casella.
“I consider this my home track and to struggle at your home track is pretty tough,” said Casella. “This win is pretty special because we are never that good here. We struggle every time we come here. The last time that we were here, we were closer but the chips didn't fall our way. Today, they did.”
Early on in this race, the chips all fell in Les Hinckley's favor. Hinckley rocketed into the lead on the first lap from a starting spot of third. Pennink, meanwhile, started back in the ninth position and had to work his way forward. At lap 61 of the 100-lap event, Pennink passed Hinckley and never looked back.
“I was just going easy and picking them off,” said Pennink. “The thing was dominant the whole race. At the end, I was surprised that I was still pulling away while I was taking it easy.”
Hinckley held onto the second position at the finish, while his championship rival Chris Pasteryak finished ninth and took home the 2011 MRS championship. Pennink finished third in the standings after being in contention for the crown before a mid-season slump. He's hoping that this victory might mean some extra momentum to start the 2012 season.
“You can't end a season any better than that,” said Pennink. “It's too bad that we weren't running for the championship at this point in the year, but hopefully we can get the #25 in the position for that next year. We didn't have a shot at it in the end, but hopefully we'll be right there at the last race next year.”