December 27, 2013 — Audio, cover photo and story by Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — FORT WAYNE, IN — It’s not often that a little unseen help is a good thing to have behind the wheel of a race car, but this weekend, it just might be for one Rumble in Fort Wayne driver.
In fact, Brandon Knupp may just have a set of angel wings along for the ride this weekend at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
This weekend as the Mooresville, NC driver pilots his family-owned #78 in search of his first-career triumph at the Rumble in Fort Wayne, he’ll be doing so while paying tribute to a racing legend. Knupp will don a specially-commissioned replica uniform to pay tribute to late NASCAR premier series star and open wheel competitor Tim Richmond, complete with throwback Folgers logos and signature.
“The idea to do this started out as a challenge from one of my friends, but it quickly turned into a lot more than that for me,” Knupp said on pit lane during practice on Thursday. “Tim was always one of my heroes growing up, and it’s really really special for me to be able to honor his memory this weekend.”
Knupp’s “Tribute to Tim Richmond” will encompass his entire weekend as he looks to qualify for the 14-car field both Friday and Saturday night. He will don the replica uniform in every on-track session for the weekend, including both feature events if he makes the starting field.
“They say you have to go big or go home, right?,” Knupp quipped as he stood beside his family-prepared car. “When I decided I was gonna have the gumption to do this tribute, I swore to myself I was gonna do it right. In recent years we’ve been the one going home. I want to chance that and be going big this weekend, hopefully to Victory Lane.”
Brandon Knupp has a long history at the Rumble in Fort Wayne, but has never been able to shake the gremlins that have kept him from the podium and a shot at victory. In the two A-features at the 2012 Rumble, Knupp finished 10th and 11th. Overall, Knupp has made appearances at every Rumble since 2008, with four top tens in 7 A-feature starts over that five year span.
Even though Knupp has had the strength to get in the field most years, however, he has not had the strength to challenge for the victory. Over the last five years at the Coliseum, Knupp’s best Rumble finish has been sixth in 2011, with several crashes and mechanical failures highlighting his current run of ill luck.
While frustrating, Knupp insists his passion to perform is not lessened despite his recent misfortunes at the Rumble.
“We’ve struggled up here in Fort Wayne, but I’m confident about this weekend. This car was the best in practice today that it’s ever been here; it’s the same car we brought the last three years and if we’ve finally got all the bugs worked out, she’s going to be fast.”
When asked what it would mean to win on this particular weekend, Knupp paused for a moment before responding, emotion creeping into his voice.
“If we could put the old 78 into Victory Lane this weekend, it would mean everything. To honor Tim’s memory with a win, to finally prove that we do have what it takes here at Fort Wayne; it would be the culmination of everything we’ve worked for.”
And despite his recent bad luck, the native Ohioan has more faith than ever this time around.
“We’re going to have a shot at it. We’ve got a passenger along for the ride this year.”
Listen in to Brandon’s full interview with our Jacob Seelman following practice for the 2013 Rumble in Fort Wayne: