Russ Gamester wins Rumble night one in 1977 Grant King built car

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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. 

East Coast drivers Erick Rudolph and Tom Fraschetta also posted impressive victories in 600cc midgets.

Rudolph, from Ransomville, N.Y., claimed a winged outlaw modified midget feature for the second year in a row, while Fraschetta, from King of Prussia, Pa., won the new non-winged dirt modified midget division in his Fort Wayne debut.

Preston Oberle, Zach Axlen, A.J. Geren, Kobe Allison, Gene Gregoric III, Ryan Moran and Dustin Lundgren all won kart features, while Zeb Wise won twice in quarter midgets. Also scoring quarter midgets wins were Bennett Lushin, Daylan Karnes, Jackson Lee, Koulten Herbert and Nicole Cannon.

Starter Tom Hansing escaped serious injury when Nick Hamilton’s midget flew into the fencing near the flagman’s stand at the start of the fifth midget heat race.

Hansing, also a starter for the IndyCar Series and United States Auto Club, suffered bruised ribs and was transported to Lutheran Hospital as a precaution, race organizer Tony Barhorst said. He was awake and alert when removed on a stretcher.

 

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