FORT WAYNE, Ind. – While the top two finishers in Friday night’s 20th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne national midget feature were grizzled veterans, two rookies did their part to impress the crowd as well.
Three-time USAC Silver Crown champion Kody Swanson drove to a heat race win and finished sixth in the 50-lap main event to pick up Rookie of the Race honors for the opener.
Meanwhile Tyler Fitzpatrick – a long time competitor in the 600cc micro classes at the Rumble – stepped up to the top class for the first time, made the show and finished 15th after problems befell him early in the feature.
But make no mistake, Fitzpatrick wasn’t disappointed that he had to pull off prior to the finish. He was simply happy to have accomplished a dream.
“This definitely exceeded my expectations, for sure,” Fitzpatrick said. “I just came in wanting to make the show; that’s been my whole goal ever since I started running here as a little kid. I don’t even know what to say. I’m just happy it happened.”
Chassis builder and specialist Mike Streicher helped Fitzpatrick get the car set up to compete at the Rumble, while legendary engineer Tom Brewer is both car owner and crew chief for Swanson’s effort.
– Russ Gamester’s win reset his record as the oldest winner in Rumble in Fort Wayne history, clocking in at 52 years, 11 months and 20 days old.
In that same vein, the No. 46 Grant King Chassis that Gamester drove to the victory recently turned 40 years old, having been built for Gamester’s grandparents in 1977.
However, runner-up Mike Fedorcak came one spot shy of shattering Gamester’s age record, with the Munchkin creator having recently turned 63 years old on Dec. 11.
– Tony Stewart’s return to the Rumble in Fort Wayne after a five-year absence was hoped to be triumphant, however, contact with Jim Anderson on lap 11 while the pair was racing for second sent Stewart spinning before he was hit by Fedorcak in the aftermath.
Stewart was able to return later on, but ultimately pulled in with five to go and was scored 13th at the finish.
However, his spirit wasn’t dampened, as he stayed late into the night working on the front suspension of his No. 2 Our Gang Poker Munchkin alongside his TSR crew, which was joined briefly by National Sprint Car Hall of Famer Jeff Bloom as Bloom aided in the repair efforts.
Stewart then signed some autographs for several patient fans before calling it a night.
“That’s what racing at home is all about. That’s Tony,” remarked Nicole Corson from the neighboring pit.
– The longest two active streaks of consecutive A-Mains started at the Rumble both came to an end Friday, as Justin Peck did not attend the event due to illness and Derek Bischak blew out a u-joint and driveshaft in his heat race, ending any hopes he had of making the main event.
Bischak’s streak of 12-straight A-Mains started dated back to the 2011 finale, while Peck made every one of the 11 A-Mains he attempted since debuting as a 14-year-old in 2012.
– Even though Peck wasn’t able to attend the racing action Friday night, his long-time indoor car owner Steve Clay was in attendance to watch the proceedings and take in what he calls one of his favorite events of the year.
“I love this race,” Clay said. “It’s just something special.”
– Dirt midget and sprint car standouts Tanner Thorson and Rico Abreu, who both made their names in USAC racing and are both prior winners of the Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Okla., were also spotted in the pit area Friday night taking in the action as spectators.
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 23-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 the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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