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Peck, 15, becomes youngest ‘Rumble’ winner

 

By RON WARE

Classic Motorsports

 

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Justin Peck is so young, he still needs his mother to tag along to sign his minor release form.

And as for post-race celebrations?

“IHOP’s where it’s at,” the 15-year-old from Monrovia, Ind., said, grinning. “I’ll stick to milk.”

At the rate he’s going, Peck may be emptying a bottle in the winner’s circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway one day.

The high school freshman put his name in the record book Saturday night, surviving a late-race duel with Russ Gamester to become the youngest winner in the 16-year history of the Rumble in Fort Wayne indoor midget classic.

One day earlier, Gamester, 47, had become the event’s oldest winner.

“Indescribable,” Peck said as a parade of fans asked for a photo or autograph. “Best deal I’ve ever had. I hope every young kid coming up can have the same experience I did.”

Peck made an auspicious debut at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center last year, finishing second on Friday and third on Saturday while also sailing into the turn one fence.

“He’s been telling me all fall he’s going to win the Rumble,” his father, Steve, said.

Peck, driving a Volkswagen-powered Beast for Michigan’s Steve Clay, inherited a front row starting position because of a scratch, beat pole-sitter Lynsey Liguori into the first turn and looked like he might lead all 50 laps.

But Gamester eventually reeled him in, passing Peck on the inside with eight laps to go when the youngster got into turn two too hard.

“I thought I was done,” Peck said.

Instead, Gamester developed an engine problem, and Peck nudged his way past with just two laps remaining. Gamester’s engine finally blew in turn four on the last lap, relegating him to a ninth-place finish.

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Gamester rolls back clock with ‘Rumble’ victory

 

By RON WARE

Classic Motorsports

 FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Twenty-four years ago, when he won at the old Memorial Coliseum and went on to capture the USAC national midget championship, Russ Gamester was a man on the move.

These days, the veteran from Peru, Ind., competes mostly for personal satisfaction, knowing his childhood dream of reaching the Indianapolis 500 never will happen.

Not that he’s ever slowed down enough to complain.

Gamester, less than two weeks shy of his 49th birthday, overpowered the field in capturing the 50-lap midget feature Friday on the opening night of the 16th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center.

Charging from the seventh starting position on the tight, 1/6-mile indoor track, he grabbed the lead from pole-sitter Joe Liguori on lap 16, then easily pulled away from Grant Galloway after a restart with two laps to go. Liguori settled for third, with Billy Wease and Matt Westfall completing the top five in a race that took just 11 minutes to complete.

“I am up in my age,” admitted Gamester, who broke Mike Fedorcak’s record as the oldest Rumble in Fort Wayne winner by about 11 months. “I’m looking at (racing) a couple more years, probably. That’s about all for me, anyway.

“That makes this real special.”

Gamester, from Peru, Ind., joined Fedorcak as the only drivers to win at both the Coliseum (which hosted midgets from 1953-89) and the Expo Center. Liguori was all of 3 years old – and Galloway wasn’t yet born – when Gamester won at the Coliseum in 1989, catapulting him to the national championship.

Back then, Gamester’s future seemed limitless. He finished second in midget points a year later to a kid named Jeff Gordon, then was runner-up to Ryan Newman for the USAC Silver Crown title in 1999.

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart – still on the mend from a broken right leg suffered in August – made a point of congratulating Gamester. Stewart has won a record nine times at Fort Wayne.

“I wish Tony was out there (racing),” Gamester said. “That’s my only disappointment. You wanna beat the best. After the race, he said, ‘You’re just hooked up.’ That meant a lot.

“It’s nice for him to come out here and support this. He’s a great racer and a true friend. You couldn’t ask for a truer racer.”

Galloway felt fortunate just to make the feature after his left rear brake exploded in practice.

“I can’t thank my team enough,” the 19-year-old from Lakeville, Ind., said. “Before the heat race, my rear rotor was in pieces. They put it together in five minutes. Crazy, isn’t it?”

Liguori, driving a dirt car that he plans to take to next month’s Chili Bowl, had few complaints, either.

“Nobody was going to beat (Gamester),” he said. “He was in his own time zone.”

Gamester did it in a family-owned car – built by the late Grant King and powered by a Volkswagen engine — that dates to 1977. His emotions spilled over in victory lane as he recalled how it was the last midget purchased by his late grandparents, who got the family started in racing. His brother, George, is his longtime mechanic.

“This just means an awful lot,” Gamester said.  Read More

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. – He’s still getting around on a motorized scooter, not a race car, but his badly broken right leg won’t keep Tony Stewart away from the “Rumble in Fort Wayne” indoor midget races.

 The three-time NASCAR champion, some two months away from returning to driving, will be honored with a “Salute to Tony Stewart” at the 16th annual holiday event on Friday, Dec. 27 and Saturday,

Dec. 28 at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center.

The native Hoosier will enter two cars – Munchkin chassis for longtime indoor teammate Mike Fedorcak and East Coast standout Lou Cicconi Jr. – while also greeting fans and signing autographs both days.

Rumble organizer Tony Barhorst said the recognition is well-deserved for Stewart, who has won a record nine features on the 1/6-mile track and continues to compete regularly on short tracks despite his superstar status.

For Stewart, a trip to the Rumble is something of a homecoming.

“I really enjoy competing up in Fort Wayne and having a chance to run the Munchkin,” he said Tuesday, “so not being in the car this year is a bit different for me, but I’m still looking forward to it. Lou Cicconi is going to run the car this year, and it’s going to be fun to spend time with him and watch him race.

“The Rumble event is a great time for me and the team. We get to see a lot of people that we might only see once or twice a year. It’s also nice that some of my family can make the drive up for this event.

“With the Rumble being held during the holidays, it really gives us not only the chance to race when the weather isn’t the greatest but the opportunity to see a lot of friends.”

Barhorst marvels at Stewart’s drive and his willingness to support short track racing.

“Throughout the history of major sports, it is extremely rare for a three-time champion to return to the roots of where they started,” he said. “This is a chance for us to thank Tony for coming back to short track races and not forgetting where he came from.

“Tony will be doing some interviews between races, and we look forward to hearing about the progress he has made coming back from his injury.”

Stewart, who was injured in a sprint car accident on Aug. 5, said Cicconi will drive his No. 2 Munchkin, while Fedorcak, from nearby Roanoke, will again pilot the No. 97. Both cars are fielded by Tony Stewart Racing, which also competes in the World of Outlaws sprint car series and the U.S. Auto Club’s Silver Crown and sprint car divisions.

Cicconi, who has raced at Fort Wayne twice, is the only driver to win a feature in which Stewart’s car was still running at the finish. That came on the final night in 2008, his most recent appearance, when Stewart ran second in a race that did not have a caution. Fedorcak, the builder and designer of the Munchkin chassis, likewise has one victory (2002) as well as a win at the old Memorial Coliseum track, making him the only driver to accomplish that feat.

“(Mike) and his family are great people,” Stewart said, “and it will be fun to watch him and Lou battle it out on the track this year.”

Some 300 entries are expected in midgets, winged and non-winged modified midgets, karts and quarter midgets. Spectator gates open at 11 a.m. each day, with midget time trials at 6 p.m. and the main portion of the program after 7:30.

Stewart will participate in a free, two-hour autograph session each day.

Information about tickets – including a special VIP package that includes a meet and greet with Stewart – is available at www.rumbleseries.com, along with entry forms and racer’s rate hotels. Tickets may be ordered by mail without a service charge. The event information line is (317) 418-3216. Requests for information may be e-mailed to tbracefest@aol.com.

Photo credit by: Jim Morrison/Hawkeye Racing NewsThree-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart (right) shares a moment with fellow driver Cap Henry at last year’s “Rumble in Fort Wayne.”