Rowan Pennink has always tended to be a driver who does not attract attention through his words or actions off the race track. The Pennsylvania driver taking on the moniker of “Ice Man” in Modified circles often lets his driving do the talking for him. His biggest speeches are wins on either the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour or the Valenti Modified Racing Series. But for the last 11 months Pennink’s statements have come from one track and one division, Stafford Motor Speedway’s highly-competed SK Modified division. Since July 25, 2014, Pennink has collected eight checkered flags at Connecticut’s half-mile oval, the first of which a 100-lap thriller which paid $5,000 to Pennink at night’s end.
But before his win in the inaugural SK 5K, the waters at Stafford had been rather rough for Pennink and No. 99 Kelly Iverson-owned team. After a consistent 2013 season with a single victory, 2014 looked to be a promising season for Pennink, but it didn’t start that way.
“At the beginning of last season we just got off to a bad start,” Pennink told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “The second race of the year we flipped the car over and we ran into some issues the following weeks that caused some DNF’s for us, and mainly just bad luck that happened to us the first part of the season.”
Following the early DNF’s and a week or two off to regroup, Pennink stormed back for the big money SK 5K victory, and would collect four additional 40-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series feature event trophies to end 2014. His overwhelming success led to a relaxed off-season.
“We stuck with what we were doing last year, because out of the last nine or 10 races we won five of them,” Pennink stated. “We figured keep rolling with what we had, as it seemed to be working for us.”
What the team had in 2014 has sustained itself in the first seven races of 2015, propelling Pennink to three wins and putting the team in the thick of the championship battle with fellow NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour drivers Keith Rocco and Ryan Preece.
“It’s been a good start to the season so far,” said Pennink. “We had one race where we got caught in a wreck and ended up finishing not where we wanted to. But other than that we’ve been running real strong, we just want to keep going up to Stafford and win races.”
That lone finish outside the top-10 has relegated Pennink to third in the SK Modified points behind leader Keith Rocco and second-place Ryan Preece. But with a car and team as good as they have, Pennink’s concerns have been limited to the Stafford handicap system and the conduct of his fellow competitors.
“Almost every week the car has been really fast, usually we don’t have to worry about that,” he said. “It’s just when you’re running up front at Stafford and getting the finishes we have been, you gotta start the following week somewhere around 13th, 14th, 15th in there. It’s just staying out of trouble trying to get to the front every week and keep getting top five finishes and no DNF’s, I think if we do that we’ll be right there at the end of the season for the championship.”
Despite the uncertainty of the future actions of other drivers, it has not diminished Pennink’s opinion of Stafford’s stacked lineup.
“Stafford SK racing is in my opinion some of the best competition probably at any short track across the country. It’s really tough up there. It’s some of the most competitive racing you’ll find anywhere. I love going up there for the challenge and love it even more when we end up in victory lane.”
Despite some questions that have arisen about Pennink’s full schedule possibly having an impact on the less than stellar starts in his 2015 Tour Modified rides, he has all but dismissed these assertions.
“The way I see it the more time you spend behind the wheel, no matter what it is, the better you keep your racing skills tuned,” said the driver of the No. 93 on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. “I think for me it’s definitely helped racing as much as I can and getting as much seat time as I can. A couple of years back when I started talking with Bob and Kelly (Iverson) the owners of the 99 (SK Modified) about running for them, we made a deal and it’s definitely helped my racing career running at Stafford every week and I can’t thank them enough for that.”
Pennink will continue to chase the 2015 Stafford SK title this coming Friday night and looks to remain undefeated in the second running of the NAPA SK 5K on Friday July 10.
– By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Contributor
– Photo credit: Speed51.com