'He always had a lot of personality': Jake Johnson hopes to honor Bugsy Stevens with another victory in Ole Blue at Seekonk

Growing up in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, Jake Johnson used to ride his bike to a small corner store near his home.

The interior of the establishment offered an array of products like food, drinks or household supplies. Johnson often found more, namely a man called Carl Berghman who frequented the store. Berghman was better known by his racing pseudonym, Bugsy Stevens.

“He was always there eating chicken,” Johnson recalled. “He would harass me every time I went in there. It was probably the only time I really got to meet him over and over again, at that corner store in town. He would see me and give me a hard time.

“He always had a lot of personality.”

RELATED: Watch the Seekonk race live on FloRacing

Then a middle schooler, Johnson had no way to know he and Stevens would someday have much more in common than their hometown.

Stevens, who passed away on May 20 at the age of 90, made a name for himself racing Modifieds, winning countless track championships in the Northeast and three consecutive NASCAR Modified National Championships from 1967-69. He won many of his races and all three of his NASCAR championships driving the Boehler Racing Enterprises Ole Blue No. 3, which is widely considered the most legendary car to compete in NASCAR‘s Modified division.

Fast-forward to 2024 and Johnson, now 21, races the same Ole Blue No. 3 full-time on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

It’s appropriate, then, that the next race on the Modified Tour schedule takes place at Seekonk Speedway, the home track for both Johnson and Stevens, this Saturday night (8 p.m. ET on FloRacing).

“Everyone has heavy hearts — the whole team — because everyone was pretty close,” Johnson said. “The history of the No. 3 car is very related to Bugsy. We’re going to put his name on the car for Saturday’s race.”

Jake Johnson, driver of the No. 3 Modified during qualifying for the IceBreaker 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, Connecticut on April 7, 2024. (Susan Wong/NASCAR)
Jake Johnson, driver of the No. 3 Modified during qualifying for the IceBreaker 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, Connecticut on April 7, 2024. (Susan Wong/NASCAR)

Johnson and Stevens both have victories and championships at Seekonk on their resumes. Johnson is a two-time champion in the Legends car division at the third-mile oval. He’s also won races in the Late Model and Pro Stock divisions, giving him plenty of experience at the track.

In fact, Johnson made his first start in a Modified at Seekonk in 2021, an experience he said helped him get his foot in the door at Boehler Racing Enterprises a few years ago.

“It’s kind of like a homecoming for us, the whole team, really,” Johnson said. “The team is based out of Freetown (Massachusetts), and everyone‘s home track is Seekonk. It’s pretty cool to go back to Seekonk. It’s a short drive, and there is a lot of history there with the No. 3 car. I always love going to Seekonk because I have so much seat time there. It‘s a home away from home.”

In his first full Modified Tour season, Johnson is off to an incredible start. Through the first five races, he already has a victory at Monadnock Speedway and sits third in the championship standings behind perennial contenders Ron Silk and Justin Bonsignore.

The victory at Monadnock was notable because it was the first Modified Tour win for Boehler Racing Enterprises since 2017.

Johnson hopes to deliver another Ole Blue victory in Saturday’s J&R Precast 150 not just for himself, but for Stevens’ family, friends and fans.

“It would definitely be special (to win),” Johnson said. “There would be a lot of emotions in the pit area and within the team. Their roots are so deep at Seekonk, and so is Bugsy’s family and the No. 3 car, it’s all kind of smashed together.

“It’s going to be a really important race, but I’m not going to go into it overthinking it. I’m just going to go out and have a nice, smooth weekend at the race track and put on a good show.”

Seekonk Speedway and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will pay tribute to Stevens prior to Saturday’s J&R Precast 150. Following the conclusion of Mayhew Tools Dominator Pole Award qualifying, Stevens will be driven around Seekonk for one last ride in one of his old Modifieds.

Stevens’ family will be on hand, and teams and drivers are invited to line the speedway wall to honor the three-time NASCAR Modified National champion. This tribute to Stevens is expected to take place at approximately 5:45 p.m. ET.