FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Race Preview by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Chris Seelman photo —
After 359 days, 50 weeks, and countless hours and laps, the 2014 racing season comes down to one final, three-day spectacular to close the book on an incredible year — the Rumble in Fort Wayne indoor racing extravaganza.
This year, the annual classic on the concrete will again feature the National Midgets as the headline class, along with the 600cc winged outlaw modified midgets, non-winged dirt modified midgets and a full slate of go-kart and quarter midget racing over an expanded three-day schedule, Dec. 26-28.
With more than 230 confirmed entries across all the classes, fans will see numerous battles inside the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum Expo Center, and it may be tough to pick out the favorites across the board. Not to mention, some fans may not be familiar with the intricacies that come with the concrete bullring.
We’ve got you covered — with a look at the track, the favorites, and the biggest variables to watch over the course of Christmas weekend!
What do Coke syrup and concrete have in common?
They go into making the Rumble in Fort Wayne track possible.
The tight, racy one-sixth mile bullring begins as a flat concrete slab covered with the sticky substance, and takes its ‘look’ as a track as rubber is laid down over the course of practice and race laps. By the time the event is complete, the nearly-pitch black oval looks as if it has been there the entire year, only to be scrubbed down in the days following the Rumble so that the Expo Center can be used for other events throughout the year.
The entry to the track splits the turn three and four bleachers, while pit-in is off the entrance to turn three. For the fans who might like to see a yellow or two, look no further than “Calamity Corner”, or turn one, and you’ll see the “give-and-take” theory turn simply to take as drivers try to dive bomb the far inside lane in an effort to pass on the tight course.
In short? It’s Martinsville, with exactly zero degrees of banking and about a third of the surface area. And it’s indoors. Sounds fun, right?
Drivers to Watch
I don’t have a driver to spotlight for the quarter midget class, but rather a name to remember — David Lesiecki.
Lesiecki, the long time coordinator of the quarter midgets at the Rumble and a race official for the event, passed away unexpectedly in March at his Lorain, Ohio home, and his memory will be honored with the inaugural “David Lesiecki Award”, presented to the driver best exemplifying the competitive and fair spirit of the Rumble over the three day affair.
His wife Diana will work with USAC’s Eric Rankine to oversee the division, and sons A.J. and Jonathon will race in the 600cc midget classes. My hope is that all the current and former quarter midget drivers who are old enough to remember what David Lesiecki meant to the Rumble and to indoor racing will say a special thank you this weekend in memory of one of the heroes of the show.
Godspeed, my friend.
A lot of people may not pay the karts much attention, but they often produce some of the most exciting and wheel-to-wheel racing at the entire event.
This year, the karts will compete on Friday and Saturday of the three-day weekend, and there’s only one name to keep in mind — Brandon Dunn. The Kentucky native normally competes in five of the assorted kart classes at the Rumble, but will only take part in three for the 2014 edition (Senior Caged, Heavy Clone and Light Clone).
He’s a perennial winner in the karts at the Coliseum, and won three of his five races on finale night last year. I think backing down the chaos might actually be a good thing this year for the longtime Rumble veteran. It’s a little less to focus on and stress over for a change.
Don’t be surprised to see Dunn sweep all three of his races at least one of the two nights that the go-karts race, and if he can net a perfect score over both days? Well, then he’d match a feat that only he has accomplished in the past in a go-kart at Fort Wayne — a perfect batting average across three or more classes.
I won’t pretend to be shocked if he does it.
Non-Winged 600cc Dirt Modified Midgets
This is a hard class to try and pick a winner for, simply because it’s one of the newer classes at the Rumble and there’s not a ton of data to go by.
Last year was the inaugural year for this class at the Expo Center in Fort Wayne, with Tom Fraschetta and Blane Culp picking up the victories during the two night affair in 2013. I am a fan of consistency though, and Spencer Bayston showed a lot of that a year ago — finishing third and second in his attempts.
This year, the class returns for their second year and will compete on all three days of the Rumble program, giving drivers an additional chance to try and steal a victory and one of the most coveted trophies in all of indoor racing.
Look for Culp to maintain his momentum from last year’s win and pick up at least one victory, and I expect Bayston to one-up his finale night performance from a year ago and finally get to Coliseum Victory Lane.
Winged 600cc Outlaw Modified Midgets
Over the last two years, there’s been one driver in the winged class who has stood out above the rest.
Ransomville, New York pilot Erick Rudolph has won opening night in this division the past two years running, and he charged from the back after a spin on lap two on finale night last year to finish second behind Matt Janisch. The hotshoe has made waves in the big-block dirt modified world this year, with starts in the Super DIRTcar Series, and was a past competitor on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
Is it any surprise why I’m expecting him to sweep both the Saturday and Sunday features in the winged class this year? The numbers certainly back it up.
At long last, it’s the headline class — the National Midgets — based off of similar specs to the USAC National Pavement Midget Series, but not identical.
As of the released pre-entry list on Dec. 19, 40 cars and 41 drivers (Rich Corson and his son R.J. will share driving duties of the No. 15 Hawk/Fontana) have signed on to do battle at the Expo Center — with seven former winners, including the two defending champions (Russ Gamester and Justin Peck) among the entrants.
Anything is always possible in these 50-lap feature classics, with last year’s Gamester/Peck battle on the final night (when Gamester broke with two to go), Jim Anderson’s New Year’s Eve shocker in 2010 and Derek Bischak’s 2012 victory among some of the stunning upsets. That means it’s hard to pick the favorites, but there are always the numbers to go by.
Billy Wease is the second-winningest driver in Fort Wayne history, with four wins at the Coliseum to his name (including a sweep in 2009), and Peck has three podium finishes in four career starts dating back to the 2012 Rumble. Neither of those records holds a candle to Tony Stewart’s all-time record of nine wins in 14 A-Mains at the Rumble, but those two are arguably the most accomplished of the pack when it comes to recent history. One can never count out veteran driver and car builder Mike Fedorcak either — Fedorcak was victorious in the indoor midget classic in 2002.
The added variable of three days of competition and points towards determining an overall champion certainly make this year’s Rumble one of the most unpredictable on record — but I expect that the former winners will be the ones who shine this year and keep a new winner from being crowned at the Coliseum.
With Stewart not competing at the Rumble for the second consecutive year, the floodgates are thrown wide open for getting to the checkered flag first, but my vote is for Wease to get his first win at the Rumble since 2011 on Friday, Peck to repeat his Saturday success and return to the top step of the podium, and Fedorcak to give Munchkin fans something to raucously cheer about by winning the Sunday finale and break a twelve-year dry spell in Fort Wayne.
And as far as the championship goes? Peck has showed everyone what he can do indoors — with a win, second and third in four starts and his only blemish being a DNF on opening night last year due to mechanical woes. Last year, he became the youngest winner in Fort Wayne history; this year, he’s my vote to take home the inaugural Rumble in Fort Wayne championship — and the $1,000 prize that comes along with it.
With all of that prognosticating out of the way, there’s only two things left to do — enjoy the Christmas holiday tomorrow and prepare for an action-packed three days of racing beginning on Friday afternoon!
Are you ready to rumble?
For more event information, including this year’s schedule of events, entry list and more, visit www.rumbleseries.com.