The return of a legend: Jake Johnson brings Ole Blue back to Victory Lane during Granite State Derby

The return of a legend: Jake Johnson brings Ole Blue back to Victory Lane during Granite State Derby

WINCHESTER, New Hampshire — In more than 75 years of racing in the NASCAR Modified racing, few cars have developed a reputation like Ole Blue.

Owned by Boehler Racing Enterprises, numerous legends like Ryan Preece, Tony Hirschman, Bugs Stevens and Wayne Anderson have taken trips to Victory Lane in the iconic blue No. 3 Modified. Despite this, Ole Blue had not taken home a checkered flag since Rowan Pennink won in the car at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in 2017.

RELATED: Complete results from the Granite State Derby

Jake Johnson wrote another successful, if not overdue, chapter in Ole Blue‘s proud story on Saturday evening at Monadnock Speedway. Reaching this milestone required Johnson to fend off a tremendous challenge from defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ron Silk for what would also be his first series victory.

The significance of the moment was not lost on Johnson, who was determined to park the car in Victory Lane once again when he signed on to be the team‘s full-time driver for the 2024 season.

“There‘s so many people behind the scenes when it comes to the No. 3 car that make this happen week in and week out,” Johnson said. “It‘s just an honor to be here in Victory Lane with them and get that long awaited win.”

Growing up, Ole Blue was one of the first cars Johnson connected with as he took an interest in racing. A diecast of the car signed by Stevens was on display in Johnson‘s living room throughout his childhood.

Johnson initially did not imagine one day scoring a victory in the famous Modified. The start of his own racing career saw him pursue several different disciplines, which included winning the Snowflake 100 in a Pro Late Model at Five Flags Speedway in 2020.

Once he reached an agreement with the Boehlers to race for them on a part-time basis starting in 2022, Johnson was ready to embrace the heavy expectations of driving such a famous car. He earned two poles in his rookie season, which he followed up with a career-best runner-up finish at Thompson the following year.

The momentum from Johnson‘s season-ending runner-up carried over into the start of 2024. Prior to Saturday‘s Granite State Derby, Johnson had yet to record a finish outside the top 10 and sat third in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour standings behind Silk and Justin Bonsignore.

Patience proved to be crucial for Johnson at Monadnock. Starting sixth following a redraw of the top eight starters, Johnson methodically climbed his way to the front of the field before making the race-winning pass on Silk with 48 laps remaining.

Silk pressured Johnson tremendously over the closing stages until bouncing off the outside wall during the final restart of the evening on Lap 134. That enabled Austin Beers, who started 17th after a poor qualifying effort, to claim second for himself.

Beers believed his poor track position would have been a major detriment on Monadnock‘s fresh pavement, but was impressed with his overall speed and how many passing opportunities there were.

He was also grateful the Granite State Derby did not exceed its advertised distance.

“We were actually blowing up at the end,” Beers said. “It started clicking with three to go and I was losing power hoping it would hold on. It was really fun with this repave. I didn‘t think we were going to have passing, but we proved there can be passing here.”

Like Beers, Johnson was also pleased with the repave and how competitive the on-track action was all evening.

Navigating his way through traffic gave Johnson plenty of notes to study ahead of the next two legs in the Whelen Granite State Short Track Cup, which will also take place at Monadnock and feature $20,000 in available bonus money.

Considering how strong Ole Blue was in Saturday‘s Granite State Derby, Johnson has plenty of reasons to be confident ahead of a return visit to Monadnock on July 20 for the Duel at the Dog 250.

“The competition was tough today,” Johnson said. “This is a beautiful facility and I‘m excited for these next two races.”

For now, Johnson and Boehler Racing Enterprises have plenty to celebrate following their victory at Monadnock, as everyone with the organization knows the legacy of Ole Blue in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is alive and well after so many decades.

Patrick Emerling came home third Saturday evening, with Craig Lutz and Matt Hirschman completing the top five. Rounding out the top 10 were Justin Bonsignore, Brian Robie, Joey Cipriano III, Anthony Nocella and Silk.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to action in two weeks when the series heads to Riverhead Raceway for the Miller Lite Salutes Wayne Anderson 200. FloRacing will have live coverage of all the on-track action starting at 8 p.m. ET.