December 28, 2013 — Report by Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — Photos by Chris Seelman —
FORT WAYNE, IN — At the Rumble in Fort Wayne, victory comes when preparation, opportunity, and a little bit of luck all meet.
And during Friday night’s opening round of feature action for the 16th Annual Rumble in Fort Wayne midget championships, all three of those factors, plus a lightning-fast race car, propelled Peru, Indiana’s Russ Gamester to his first-career victory in the prestigious midget classic.
Gamester grabbed the lead away from polesitter Joe Liguori on Lap 16 of 50 and never looked back on his competition the rest of the way. The “Flying 46” had lapped all the way up to 7th place Cooper Clouse and had nearly a full track lead until a late race caution for a spinning Jim Anderson set up a green-white-checkered sprint to the finish.
The yellow bunched up the field and gave Grant Galloway and Liguori one final chance to track down Gamester, but the Indiana native was not to be denied on Friday night, dashing away over the final two laps to claim an emotional and long awaited victory at the War Memorial Coliseum.
For Gamester, he also joined a very exclusive club of drivers who have won in both the old Coliseum in Fort Wayne and the current Memorial Coliseum. Mike Fedorcak scored Rumble Series victories in both the old and new Coliseum, while Gamester’s win in the old Coliseum was under USAC sanction in 1989. That particular feature win propelled a then-24-year-old Gamester to the USAC National Midget championship.
“This is unbelievable,” Gamester said in Victory Lane. “I just, I don’t even know what to say; this is such a special moment for us. I mean, we’re only one of two drivers to win in both the old building and this building, and to be on any midget record list with Mike (Fedorcak) is a true honor.”
“We just had an unbelievable car tonight. We could work the bottom real well, and when (Joe) Liguori started getting real squirrely, I saw an opening and went for it. And from there I just knew I had to run my race, and it finally paid off tonight.”
“I’m starting to get up there in years,” Gamester admitted. The former USAC star broke Mike Fedorcak’s record as the oldest Rumble in Fort Wayne feature winner by about 11 months. “I’m only gonna be (racing) a couple more years, probably, so that makes this real special.”
“That makes this real special.”
Gamester pulled off the win in a family-owned car — a car built by the late Grant King with Volkswagen power — that dates back to 1977. He was full of emotion in victory lane, recounting how it was the last midget purchased by his late grandparents. Gamester’s brother George has turned the wrenches on his car for many years.
Grant Galloway took over the runner-up spot and chased Gamester to the finish line to record his best career Rumble finish in just his second career A-main start in Fort Wayne.
“I never expected we were going to run this well this weekend,” a pleasantly surprised Galloway said after the feature. “Unbelievable drive by our team, but (Russ) was in his own league tonight. Hats off to him and that whole 46 crew.”
“What makes our drive so incredible is that my left-rear brake rotor was in pieces after practice. The team put it back together in five minutes and we just rolled from there.”
Joe Liguori’s pole-sitting ride came home in third, with four-time Rumble champion Billy Wease, Matt Westfall and rookie Austin Nemire completing the top six finishers. Nemire wrote his own piece of Rumble history by eclipsing Cooper Clouse’s record for the youngest driver ever to start a Rumble in Fort Wayne A-feature.
“Liquid” Lou Cicconi, driving for the still-healing Tony Stewart in the “Deuces are Wild” #2 Munchkin, had problems at Lap 30 and fell out of the feature event after racing his way through one of the Last Chance Showdowns. Cicconi was scored 13th at the checkered flag.
Stewart, the all-time winningest Rumble competitor with 9 feature wins, made a point of congratulating Gamester after the feature.
“I just wish Tony was out there (racing),” Gamester said of the 3-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. “That was my only disappointment. You wanna beat the best.”
“After the race, he said to me, ‘You’re just hooked up.’ That really meant a lot.”
Chief Flagman Tom Hansing avoided serious injury after Nick Hamilton’s #33 midget launched into the catchfence right in front of the flagstand on the initial start of the fifth midget heat race.
Hansing, a starter for both the IndyCar Series and USAC, suffered bruised ribs and was transported to Lutheran Hospital as a precaution on Friday, race organizer Tony Barhorst said. He was awake and alert when removed on a stretcher.
“Tom did receive bruised ribs and was shaken up after the crash, but he was checked out this morning and looks to come back today to flag at the Expo Center,” Barhorst added on Saturday during preliminary action at the Rumble.
Nick Hamilton was uninjured during the crash and was already hard at work on Friday night repairing his car for Saturday’s program.
“It was the roughest ride I’ve ever taken,” Hamilton said in his pit area on Saturday. “But we’re looking to repair the car and be back at it for Saturday’s action. I’m really glad Tom’s okay too; he’s a great guy, and we all love having him here, so I’m thankful the situation wasn’t any worse than it was.”
Matt Westfall, Austin Nemire, Billy Wease, Russ Gamester and Grant Galloway all took heat race victories on the evening. Fast qualifier Cooper Clouse, defending Rumble champion Derek Bischak and Geoff Kaiser won the three Last Chance Showdowns to transfer into the main event.
In the winged outlaw 600cc midget class, Ransomville, New York’s Erick Rudolph continued his run of success at the Rumble in Fort Wayne, scoring the opening night victory at Memorial Coliseum for the second straight year. Rudolph took the lead from former class winner Tim Neal on Lap 13 of 30 and held on over a series of late race cautions and challenges to grab the win over veteran Rumble competitor John Ivy.
“It’s really special for us to win again here at Fort Wayne,” Rudolph said following the event. “We’ve always had a lot of success here and to go back-to-back is a great feeling for myself and this race team.”
Tom Fraschetta, driving for Liquid Lou Cicconi, scored the inaugural victory for the non-winged 600cc midget class at the Rumble, taking the lead at Lap 10 and holding off a bay of challengers over the closing laps. A particularly tense moment in the feature occurred with three laps to go, when a five car crash and a flip by the 5W of Bill Unglert forced a red flag stoppage. Rumble veteran Mike Fedorcak, Daniel Robinson and Jason Ormsby were also collected in the crash.
Following the race, a stunned Fraschetta reflected on the enormity of his victory in the return of the non-winged 600s to Fort Wayne.
“This was huge. We weren’t even planning on coming up here this weekend, and Lou talked me into coming up here to race. Best last-minute decision I’ve ever made in my life. This is so incredible. I don’t even know what to say right now.”
Preston Oberle, Zach Axlen, A.J. Geren, Kobe Allison, Gene Gregoric III, Ryan Moran and Dustin Lundgren each scored go-kart feature wins. Zeb Wise doubled up on wins in quarter midgets, with Bennett Lushin, Daylan Karnes, Jackson Lee, Koulten Herbert and Nicole Cannon also tasting victory in quarter midget feature action.
The 16th Annual Rumble in Fort Wayne continues with a full program of events on Saturday including go-karts, quarter midgets and full features for the non-winged 600, winged outlaw, and national midget fields. For more information on the event, as well as ticket availability, visit www.rumbleseries.com.
Results: 16th Rumble in Fort Wayne – Friday, December 27, 2013
National Midget Feature (50 laps) – 1. Russ Gamester, 2. Grant Galloway, 3. Joe Liguori, 4. Billy Wease, 5. Matt Westfall, 6. Austin Nemire, 7. Cooper Clouse, 8. Geoff Kaiser, 9. Jim Anderson, 10. Derek Bischak, 11. Rex Norris III, 12. Chris Jagger, 13. Lou Cicconi Jr., 14. Bryan Nuckles, 15. Bobby Santos, 16. Justin Peck.
Lap leaders: Liguori 1-15, Gamester 16-50.
Fast Qualifier: Cooper Clouse, 7.820 seconds
Heat Race Winners: Matt Westfall, Austin Nemire, Billy Wease, Russ Gamester, Grant Galloway
B-Main Winners: Cooper Clouse, Derek Bischak, Geoff Kaiser
Winged 600cc Midget Feature (30 laps) – 1. Erick Rudolph, 2. John Ivy, 3. Trent Stephens, 4. Tim Neal, 5. Chase Ridenour, 6. Howard McCormick, 7. Ben Quinones, 8. Bill Dunham, 9. Mark Zumbrun, 10. A.J. Lesiecki, 11. Larry Joe Sroufe, 12. Amanda Quinones, 13. Cap Henry, 14. Matt Janisch, 15. Tyler Fitzpatrick, 16. Drew Dorsett.
Lap leaders: Neal 1-13, Rudolph 14-30.
Fast Qualifier: Erick Rudolph, 7.887 seconds
Non-winged 600cc Midget Feature (30 laps) – 1. Tom Fraschetta, 2. Shayne Riley, 3. Spencer Bayston, 4. Dennis Veach, 5. Blane Culp, 6. Richard Smith, 7. Tim Nye, 8. Clay Sanders, 9. Mike Fedorcak, 10. Jonathon Lesiecki, 11. Blake Lamb, 12. Jason Ormsby, 12. Bill Unglert, 13. Daniel Robinson, 14. Tyler Ransbottom, 15. Russ Gamester.
Lap leaders: Smith 1-9, Fraschetta 10-30.
Fast Qualifier: Blane Culp, 8.328 seconds
Senior Heavy Kart Feature (18 laps) – 1. Preston Oberle, 2. Brandon Dunn, 3. Jake Shelley, 4. Zach Axlen, 5. Mike Markle, 6. Alleca Kerker, 7. A.J. Roderick, 8. Matt Dimit, 9. Justin Sondergrath, 10. Brock Anderson, 11. Dustin Hammond, 12. Zack Loe.
Senior Medium Kart Feature (18 laps) – 1. Zach Axlen, 2. Mike Markle, 3. Jake Shelley, 4. Preston Oberle, 5. Josh McKnight, 6. A.J. Roderick, 7. Dustin Hammond, 8. Alleca Kerker, 9. Brock Wilson, 10. Zach Wolff, 11. Matt Randall, 12. Brandon Dunn.
Senior Caged Kart Feature (18 laps) – 1. A.J. Geren, 2. Dan Bouc, 3. Zack Myers, 4. Cameron Deckard, 5. Brandon Dunn, 6. Cole Roberson, 7. John Ventrello, 8. Kevin Wall Jr., 9. Sam Longanbach, 10. Kyle Henry, 11. Vandermeir Jr., 12. Dylan Woodling, 13. Ryan Moran, 14. Brad Schieber.
Junior Heavy Kart Feature (18 laps) – 1. Kobe Allison, 2. Joey Pendergrass, 3. Dylan Anderson, 4. Gene Gregoric III, 5. Gage Etgen, 6. Sheldon Oberle, 7. Ashley Kaye Marqueling, 8. Sam Weaver, 9. Justin Lewis, 10. Hannah Galitz, 11. Amanda Bohn, 12. Kaitlin Randall, 13. Noah Henderson, 14. Myles Morrolf.
Junior Caged Kart Feature (18 laps) – 1. Gene Gregoric III, 2. Tayte Williamson, 3. Harrison Hadley, 4. Andrew Castelucci, 5. Paige Rogers, 6. Aaron Mulrooney Jr., 7. Kyler Bowlby, 8. Jakeb Boxell, 9. Madison Bland, 10. Owen Houpt, 11. Korbyn Hayslett, 12. Breiden Mooney.
Heavy Clone Kart Feature (18 laps) – 1. Ryan Moran, 2. Zach Axlen, 3. Dustin Lundgren, 4. Charlie Schultz, 5. Matt Hall, 6. D.J. Foos, 7. Tim Ice, 8. Owen Calderwood, 9. Damon Woodbury, 10. Tylar Rankin, 11. Jacob Daugherty, 12. Jake Shelley.
Light Clone Kart Feature (18 laps) – 1. Dustin Lundgren, 2. Branson Dils, 3. Ryan Moran, 4. Charlie Schultz, 5. Derek Hammond, 6. Cole Jansen, 7. Tim Ice, 8. A.J. Lesiecki, 9. Jacob Daugherty, 10. Damon Woodbury, 11. Matt Browning, 12. Casey Nash.
Animal Quarter Midget Feature (18 laps) – 1. Zeb Wise, 2. Aaron Leffel, 3. Jacob Taylor, 4. Owen Foster, 5. Bennett Lushin, 6. Addison Lushin, 7. Chase Burda, 8. Lexi Pohlman
Heavy 160 Quarter Midget Feature (18 laps) – 1. Bennett Lushin, 2. Evan Foster, 3. Starla Parsons, 4. Jonathon Lesiecki, 5. Ben Taylor, 6. Will Edwards.
Light 160 Quarter Midget Feature (18 laps) – 1. Zeb Wise, 2. Jackson Lee, 3. Caden Hoyt, 4. Michael Clancy, 5. Trey Osborne, 6. Dylan Norris, 7. Emerson Axsom, 8. Chase Burda, 9. Steve Darling, 10. Addison Lushin.
Heavy Honda Quarter Midget Feature (18 laps) – 1. Daylan Karnes, 2. Bennett Lushin, 3. Aaron Leffel, 4. Jonathon Lesiecki, 5. Lexi Pohlman, 6. Starla Parsons, 7. Cindy Chambers, 8. Will Edwards.
Senior Honda Quarter Midget Feature (18 laps) – 1. Jackson Lee, 2. Addison Lushin, 3. Emerson Axsom, 4. Caden Hoyt, 5. Chase Burda, 6. Jacob Denney, 7. Dylan Norris, 8. Taylor Nibert, 9. Steve Darling.
Junior Honda Quarter Midget Feature (18 laps) – 1. Koulten Herbert, 2. Riley Emig, 3. Noah Dininger, 4. Dawson Knaul, 5. Parker Leek.
Novice Quarter Midget Feature (18 laps) – 1. Nicole Cannon, 2. Bobby Schisler, 3. Christopher Schisler.