Exclusive: Rowan Pennink Retiring From Modified Competition

Rowan Pennink celebrates a victory in a Valenti Modified Racing Series event in May at Stafford Motor Speedway (Photo: Jim DuPont)

Rowan Pennink has long been known in Modified circles as a man of few words. His aggressive style in competition belied his reserved nature away from the action.

And walking away from racing competitively was something Pennink handled with the same restrained style he’s long been known for.

In a racing world where social media bravado rules, there was no loud attention grabbing announcements from the Huntingdon Valley, Pa. driver on Tuesday.

Pennink confirmed exclusively to RaceDayCT Tuesday that he will retire from competition immediately due to ongoing back issues.

Pennink missed the season opening NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event on March 17 at Myrtle Beach Speedway after having emergency back surgery involving a pair of herniated discs in February.

Back issues resurfaced for Pennink following the Whelen Modified Tour event on Aug. 16 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

“I didn’t crash or anything, but after Bristol my back started bothering me again,” Pennink said. “It was just a little sore the day after, then it progressively got a little bit worse to the point where I had to go back to the doctor and get a couple cortisone shots in my back. I kind of haven’t been able to do much since Bristol.”

“It’s definitely something I didn’t foresee happening at this point. I thought I made a full recovery from the back surgery. Up to this point in the season I hadn’t had any issues with my back. But I kind of had it in the back of my head that if I had any more issues with my back that it might be time to call it quits. I figured it would be a couple years from now or something like that. But especially now with starting a family, you kind of take a different outlook on life. I don’t want to end up laid up and not be able do anything with the new family we’re starting. So, I hate it for the teams I’m currently driving for. It definitely sucks. I hated making the phone calls to those teams and breaking the news to them. But it’s something I had to do.”

Pennink and his girlfriend Nicole Kirstin welcomed their first child, daughter Jordan, on Aug. 8.

Pennink, who turns 33 on Sept. 3, walks away from the sport having left his mark across a broad spectrum of Modified racing fronts over the last decade.

“Rowan is a great competitor and a great person both on and off the racetrack,” Whelen Modified Tour series director Jimmy Wilson said. “He has been a winner in every car that he has driven, be it his family owned car and then all the way to today with the Boehler family owned race car. We wish him all the best in his future endavors. He’s got a young family to enjoy. We wish him all the best and appreciate the memories.”

Since 2006 Pennink has established himself as one of the top contenders weekly on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, won a Valenti Modified Racing Series championship and a pair of SK Modified titles at Stafford Motor Speedway.

“I think mostly I’m going to miss my second family which is the racing community,” Pennink said. “I’ve been racing for about 20 years and I’ve made a lot of friends and met a lot of great people throughout the years. Obviously I’m going to still keep in contact with them and hopefully make it to some races to hang out and have some fun at the race track.

“I’m definitely going to miss the competiveness of the sport. I loved getting behind the wheel in racing on a weekly basis.”

Pennink arrived on the local Modified racing in 2006 in the SK Modified ranks at Stafford Speedway. His family owned team ventured the next year full-time to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

He made 166 Whelen Modified Tour starts since 2007 with three career victories, 38 top-five’s and 86 top-10’s. His last victory with the series came on April 9, 2017 at Thompson Speedway. After spending nine years driving for a family owned team, he has spent the last three seasons driving the iconic Ole Blue No. 3 for Boehler Racing Enterprises.

Despite only running nine of 11 events this year, Pennink currently sits seventh in the Whelen Modified Tour standings.

“The Boehler Family gave me a great opportunity to drive a historic car and gave me one of the best cars I’ve ever driven in my career,” Pennink said. “Those guys worked their tails off with not a lot and it was awesome to work together with that team and kind of bring a car that wasn’t quite as successful as they had been years before and bring it to contention for winning races. I can’t thank those guys enough for putting in all the hard work effort they did.”

Said Wilson: “He’s one of the guys that you can get into with this week and shake hands with him after the fact and I can truly say with competitors that I’ve seen him have on-track conflicts with, it happens this week and next week’s a new week. That’s way the way I think Rowan approached it.”

On the Valenti Modified Racing Series Pennink spent more than a decade teamed with car owner Gary Casella in the Roscoe Racing No. 25.

Pennink won the 2013 Valenti Modified Racing Series title. He has 14 career victories with the division, including three this season. His last win came on May 18 at Stafford Speedway.

“Over the past 10 [plus] years Rowan and his family have been our family,” read a statement on the Roscoe Racing Facebook page. “We’ve been through 5 race cars, a few girlfriends, countless Bud Lights, a “lotta drama”, and a billion laughs. We’ve traveled to many tracks, won a lot of races, wrecked a few cars, and become champions. Who knew when Brian Crowley played matchmaker many years ago that we would have come this far? Rowan leaves a big fire suit to fill not only in the car but in our hearts. Please join us in wishing him well in all his future endeavors.”

Said Pennink: “Gary Casella, he kind of gave me one of the first shots I ever had to drive for a different team back when I first started running the Tour. I think it was probably 2007 or 2008 he gave me a shot to run his car and we raced a lot of years together and we won a ton of races. He got me my first championship in a Modified. Over the years we’ve had an awesome time not only racing, but having fun and camping with them week in and week out. I just want to say thank you to the 25 team and Gary Casella for all he’s done for me.”

At Stafford, Pennink has 20 career SK Modified victories, ranking him ninth on the track’s all-time win list for the division. He won SK Modified championships in 2015 and 2016. In 2016 he had six wins at Stafford and clinched the track championship before the final event of the season.

Pennink became only the fifth driver in Stafford Speedway history to win consecutive SK Modified championships, joining Jerry Pearl (1984-85), Mike Christopher (1989-90), Bob Potter (1991-92 & 1994-95) and Ted Christopher (2000-01).

“The 99 [SK Modified] team, [owner] Bob Hitchcock gave me a shot to run his car,” Pennink said. “This was the sixth season I raced for them. We had an awesome run. We won two championships in a row and won a ton of races for Bob. I’ve got to thank Jimmy Fuller [being the crew chief] on Bob’s car for me the couple years he did and also Kevin Crowley. They each got me a championship. I can’t thank them enough.”

His victory total at Stafford included winning the first NAPA SK 5K at Stafford in 2014.

“Hell of a race car driver,” Stafford Speedway chief operating officer and general manager Mark Arute said. “A great family. He’s going to be missed a lot. He’s a great competitor. We wish him the best. We certainly enjoyed having him as part of Stafford and wish him all the best.”

Pennink said he also had plenty of others to thank for his career.

“Todd Ceravolo and the Ceravolo family,” Pennink said. “I raced with them for a couple years. I had a lot of fun with them. I can’t thank them enough. Awesome people and an awesome family to be with. Back when I used to run my 93 team, we had a great family team with the 93 and Keith Flores and Eric Flores and their family kind of was the first one’s to ever crew chief my own Tour car. We had a great run with them in my start off season with tour. Doug Chouinard, Don Barker and Jimmy Fuller also were crew chiefs for me.

“I’ve got to thank Brian Crowley. He’s been there with me as long as I’ve been racing Modifieds. No matter what division I was in or what team I was racing for, he was always there to support me and spot for me at every race. He was an unbelievable spotter and it’s going to be hard to get by not hearing him on the radio and not having that great connection we had as a driver/spotter team. We had a great connection. He was a great friend of mine and he’s done a lot for my racing career. I can’t thank him enough.

“Eric Garland was really the guy who got me involved in racing way back in the go-kart days. He was my engine builder and mentor. He’s no longer with us. He passed us away from brain cancer, but he’s the one that really introduced me to the great sports of racing. We miss him and I thank him for everything he did for me as well.”

Matt Swanson will replace Pennink in the BRE car for Saturday’s Whelen Modified Tour Toyota Mod Classic 150 at Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway.

Plans for the ride after that are unclear at this point.

Pennink’s Ole Blue team is already familiar with Swanson. On Aug. 8, the day Pennink’s daughter Jordan was born, Swanson replaced him in the BRE ride at Thompson Speedway and finished second to Justin Bonsignore.

Comments

  1. I remember his first weeks at Stafford – he was a wild man behind the wheel, bouncing off everything. After the race I said to my driver – who is that guy??? He said Rowin something. Didn’t take long before everyone new who he was. Good luck on your retirement Rowin!

  2. Rowan, your a talented driver on track, and a gentleman off. Best of luck in whatever life brings your way. You will be missed

  3. Best of luck to Rowan and always have to do what’s best for him. Derek Ramstrom would be a good replacement in the 99 or the 25

  4. Having a spinal injury myself, I can relate allot to Rowan. Although his injury is lower in the back then mine, the pain you feel is almost indescribable, it feels like someone is trying to rip your spine out. Although racing is his passion I give him allot of credit for knowing that it might be time to step away. In my case my C3 vertebrae is exploded, and C4 is imploded, leaving me with peminent nerve damage and a narroing spinal passage. Rowan’s injury is lower in his back, but there’s only so many times you can have surgery, before it becomes a problem. I think, given his current life circumstances that he made the right decision. He definitely will be missed as a driver, and around the paddock, but sometimes life steps in. I wish Rowan and his young family the best going forward,and hope his back problems go away someday.

  5. John Cristoforo says

    A sad day for the Modified racing community.

  6. Richard Denny says

    Same thing, I have still chronic back pain issue from work few years ago after my doctor ordered me to stop work because my doctor don’t want me to continue work that reason if I still work then it could be big enough worse. That why my doctor ordered me to STOP work. Right now, It’s still bother my back like something L-7,8,9 area where I had back issue.
    Yes, I am real miss Rowan Penniwek much because he was very good race driver in Modified tour. It was hard to believe that Rowan Penniwek leave from Modified race. I understand that he had back issue like I had one. Fact actually my back still real hurt.

  7. Ray Skoglund says

    Glad the young man can go out on his terms.
    I watched him race from the beginning of his career,
    He was a little rough around the edges, but he developed into one of the best drivers around.
    I wish him well.

  8. Gregory Gordon says

    I’ve been a fan since you started you will be missed good luck in whatever you do your #1 fan congrats on new baby girl

  9. Well we knew something not good was coming. The 99 never came back and Dowling in the 25.
    Good for Pennink seeing the light. Family, making a living and ability to have a decent quality of life come first.
    Fondest memories were he and Preece doing battle weekly in the Stafford SK’s for the championship years ago and him popping TC in turns 3 and four, going onto win and the dust up in victory lane.
    TC and Pennink out. Fuller wanting Dowling to drop the SK’s and focus on LFR. This has not been a good 12 months for the SK’s at Stafford. Luckily the pipeline of young talent is strong
    Live long a prosper Rowan. You’ll be missed.

  10. Fast Eddie says

    Sorry to hear of another racing career ending before it should have, but glad to hear he’s making the right decision for his health and his newly expanded family. Good luck in your future endeavors!

  11. Viva race fan says

    The chrome Horn never ment so much to a guy as Rowin . You will be missed. Love to see you when you ran the best of the best as hard as you could. God Bless you and your new family going fwd. You will be missed.

  12. Let’s hope the future brings a great recovery to Rowan.He has been a strong competitor since day one.Maybe he will return someday.Until then,Thank You.

  13. It’s to bad Modified racing will lose The Pennink family from the racing community.
    Best of luck to Rowan for his health and his future.

  14. Let’s hope Pennink’s back issues eventually subside and he returns to racing. As Doug said, Stafford’s SK roster has taken some big hits this year. However, Rufrano, Moeller, Hodgdon and Narducci may move up to fill those gaps before too long.

  15. Hillary 2028 says

    Anybody remember the year he came to the big money race at the speedbowl in a white #16 sk? Nobody knew who he was that weekend I remember. You don’t really see an up and coming star from out of state race around here anymore. Well maybe Joe Graff was the latest.

  16. Sorry to see you retiring. You are a great racer, you will be missed. Take of of your back and new family member.

  17. this guy was great..
    i will miss seeing him weekly
    im telling you no one driver is better
    i believe him rocco the best

  18. Rowan is a great talent, no matter which car he drives. He’s had success in all types of Modifieds, at various tracks. But I’d consider him one of the smartest drivers I’ve ever met. He was injured, and came back, but his body still hurt. Rather than driving through the pain, he did the smart thing and retired, before driving did more damage to his back. GOOD LUCK, & BEST WISHES for whatever life brings him in the future.

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