FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Story and photo by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman —
With practice day for the 18th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne officially in the history books, it opened the door for a myriad of storylines, moments and happenings to begin to weave themselves at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and Expo Center.
Heading into race day, here’s a look at a few of the early talking points in preparation for the big show.
Practice Makes Perfect
Nearly 200 cars turned out for practice day inside the Coliseum, with all cars across the five divisions — National Midgets, 600cc non-winged and winged midgets, go-karts and quarter midgets — getting a chance to practice during the three-hour rotating block.
Among the headlining National Midgets, 38 cars and 37 drivers were in attendance with eight prior Rumble feature winners looking to add to their Rumble resumes: defending winners Justin Peck (2013-2014) and Brandon Knupp (2014), Mike Fedorcak (2002), Rich Corson (2003, 2005), Dave Darland (2004, 2010), Billy Wease (2007, 2009 sweep, 2012), Derek Bischak (2012) and Russ Gamester (2013).
Wease is the winningest active driver in the field with four A-main victories, while Tony Stewart holds the all-time Fort Wayne wins record with nine scores between 2001 and 2011.
20-year-old Austin Prock, son of legendary NHRA Drag Racing crew chief Jimmy Prock, will be making his National Midget debut at the Rumble this weekend on the one-sixth mile concrete bullring, driving the No. 8 Cornell Racing Stables entry.
Prock is a former STARS National Midget Series champion and current Tony Stewart Racing development driver, with one Rumble win to his credit in the quarter midget ranks in 2008, and says he is “stoked” to be tackling the big show in 2015.
“It’s going to be a wild weekend,” Prock said on Friday night after practice. “This is a whole new deal for me, and I’m really pumped up about it. I’ve done pavement racing with the STARS tour before, but this is nothing like any of those tracks. It’s flat, fast and fun. The car I’m driving is a whole new piece for the Cornells, and its unique compared to anything else here. It’s an animal all its own.”
“I learned a lot in the short session we had here already, and I know I’m going to keep learning all the way through the weekend. For us, it’s all about making the show and then going from there. If I’ve picked up on anything already, it’s that anything can happen around here for sure.”
17-year-old Peck has won two of his last four A-main starts at the Coliseum and will be looking to extend a streak of seven consecutive feature appearances by qualifying for Saturday night’s main event.
The young shoe has only finished outside the top 10 once in his entire Rumble career — a DNF due to mechanical troubles in his very first start at the Rumble in 2012.
“I’m excited to come back with the streak intact,” Peck said. “This is one of my favorite places to come and run every year, and I’ve just taken a liking to how this track races because it really suits my driving style. I really feel like we have a shot to grab another win and I want to go after that weekend sweep like Wease and Stewart have done in the past — that’s about the only thing we haven’t done here and it’s another goal for me to shoot for.”
Back for More
Veteran car owner and car builder Mike Fedorcak returns to the Rumble in 2015 driving his own No. 97 Munchkin after a year’s hiatus from the car. Fedorcak drove Russ Belt’s No. 19 Munchkin in 2014 in a substitute role after Belt was injured during an opening day crash in practice.
In addition, Aaron Pierce is also making his Rumble return after a multi-year hiatus. Pierce, driving his own No. 26 Sam Pierce Chevrolet entry, is a two-time fast qualifier for the Rumble in Fort Wayne, sweeping both days’ time trials in 2004. His best finish was a runner-up effort on finale night that year, when he ran behind race winner Dave Darland.
Speaking of Darland, he too returns to the Rumble field in a National Midget after missing last year’s action due to prior commitments. Second in all-time feature starts at the Rumble, with 20, Darland is a two-time winner and is coming off winning the USAC Mike Curb Super License National Championship by just 10 points over Kevin Thomas Jr. this season.
Who Drives the Deuce?
Rumors have been rampant about what driver may be piloting the No. 2 Deuces Are Wild/Our Gang Poker Munchkin for Tony Stewart Racing in this year’s edition of the Rumble, after the car was absent from the 2014 go.
While nothing was officially confirmed on Friday and the car was still conspicuously absent from the Coliseum floor, multiple sources in attendance at the Rumble said that short track veteran and former NASCAR star Ken Schrader was the likely pick to fill that seat — Schrader nearly drove the Seymour Racing No. 4 a year ago and said to team owner Bobby Seymour afterwards that they should “mark him down,” because he was coming next year to drive somehow.
Additional talk has Ryan Newman potentially stepping into an unnamed Ohio car for the event, but Newman was not sighted on the Coliseum floor during Friday night’s practice session.
Among drivers from different disciplines stepping into this year’s Rumble spotlight, Ohio dirt and pavement sprint car driver Cody Gallogly will be piloting a clone kart in both the medium and heavy classes, and MSA Supermodified points runner-up A.J. Lesiecki will return to the seat of his winged 600cc outlaw midget in hopes of notching an elusive first win on the indoor bullring after multiple years of trying.
Shorter National Midget Features
This year’s National Midget features at the Rumble will be shortened from 50 to 40 laps, in a move that new event promoter Larry Boos says is “for the fans.”
“Our goal is always to make sure that the fans get the best possible product, and we feel that making this move will not only provide more action-packed racing, it will also cut down on the fumes that are an inevitable part of indoor racing,” Boos explained. “40 laps will still give drivers plenty of time to make their moves to the front of the field but it will also amplify that sense of urgency that has come to characterize the Rumble in Fort Wayne.”
“We’re anticipating a fantastic showing for this weekend’s events, and hope to see stellar racing from all our classes as we bring down the curtain on a successful 2015 racing season.”
Familiar Faces Absent
Notable absentees from this year’s Rumble field included two-time National Midget fast qualifier Cooper Clouse, who will be focusing his efforts on a run at the 2016 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series schedule; and New York native Erick Rudolph, who is a three-time winner in the non-winged 600cc midget class and perennial contender at the Rumble, but will miss this year’s action in preparation for next week’s indoor races in Allentown, Pa.
Saturday action for the 18th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne kicks off at 9 a.m. with the National Midget driver’s meeting, and on-track activity will start shortly after.
For more information on the event, including ticket pricing, event schedules for the two-day affair and more, visit www.rumbleseries.com.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: [email protected]
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