EPPING, N.H. – In only his fifth start with the Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series, Jake Johnson joined an exclusive club. The nineteen-year-old from Rehoboth, Mass., survived a series of late-race restarts to post his first-ever Tour-type Modified victory in Saturday’s SBM 125 XI at Star Speedway.
Johnson withstood challenges from Woody Pitkat and Max Zachem to earn the win, becoming the fifth different winner of the Epping, N.H. bullring’s signature Modified event.
“It’s a huge win for me,” Johnson said, “but you know, it’s a huge win for everyone.”
Thunder Road winner Chase Dowling started from the front row and swapped the early lead with Johnson before taking control of the event. With points leader and six-time SBM 125 winner Matt Hirschman mired deep in traffic early, Dowling had an opportunity to capitalize in the points. But as Dowling struggled to clear lapped traffic, Johnson made a bold move to take the lead, trapping the Connecticut star behind slower cars for a few laps.
A lap-73 spin slowed the race for the first time, allowing the field to come to the pits. Hirschman emerged tenth, but officials held “Big Money Matt” one lap for a pit infraction, ending the Pennsylvanian’s charge. Matt Galko brought the field to green, keeping Dowling and Johnson at bay for a few laps. But on a lap-80 restart, Galko got stuck in the outside line, dropping through the field as Johnson took the lead back from Dowling.
Zachem and Pitkat emerged as new threats for the podium, swapping second and third, but Johnson got away on the restarts before the two racers could settle into line.
A heated battle just outside the top five ended with a spin with a few laps to go, bunching up the field for one last restart. Zachem lined up alongside Johnson, but Johnson and Pitkat were able to clear Zachem for good as they sprinted to the checkered flag.
Johnson, who made his Modified debut with a third-place finish at Seekonk Speedway in last October’s season-ending Haunted Hundred, capped off his transition to open-wheel racing with the hard-fought win.
Pitkat came up just short of nabbing his first Tri-Track win in seven years, while Zachem had a career night to come home third. Ryan Doucette raced his way to fourth in the final laps, while early leader Dowling could do no better than fifth in the second half of the race.
Anthony Nocella, Dylan Izzo in Bob Horn’s #50, Ronnie Williams, Austin Beers and Les Hinckley rounded out the top ten.
The Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series will return to the track on Saturday, August 6 at New London-Waterford Speedbowl, for the first race at the coastal Connecticut oval since 2015.