From Jacob Seelman
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (December 30, 2016) — Peru, Indiana veteran Russ Gamester rewrote the Rumble in Fort Wayne history books yet again on Friday night, storming to victory on opening night of the event’s 19th renewal.
In perhaps his most dominant performance to-date, Gamester started from the pole and led all 50 laps for his third-career National Midget triumph inside the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, never trailing en route to a $2,000 payday.
The win breaks Gamester’s own record as the oldest feature winner in Rumble history, at 51 years, 11 months and 21 days.
Though Gamester was hounded by fourth-starting Nick Hamilton almost the entire distance, he never cracked under the pressure.
“When you start on the front row, it’s your race to lose and we didn’t lose it,” said Gamester, whose third Rumble win elevates him to third on the all-time Fort Wayne wins list, behind only Tony Stewart (nine) and Billy Wease (five).
“I knew if I could get a good pace going and just be smooth, it wouldn’t be too much of an issue for us, and it wasn’t. Nick came up and talked to me, and he said he didn’t want to get into me … and I appreciate that. Everybody that knows me knows I don’t drive like that, or surely try not to, so to be raced clean was fun and I enjoyed this one tonight.”
Hamilton rose through the field quickly in a hugely-popular performance; climbing from fourth to second in the race’s opening green-flag run, before a spinning Travis Welpott slowed the pace with 14 laps complete.
From there, it was a battle of youth versus experience the rest of the way, with Hamilton looking for any opening to try and pass Gamester and Gamester driving a perfect race despite restart after restart.
The race’s second caution at lap 16 saw Derek Bischak tag the wall and two-time Rumble winner Justin Peck slow to a stop with motor troubles under the yellow. Bischak would encounter more trouble at lap 30 that officially ended his night early and drew the night’s third caution.
The biggest obstacle for Gamester in the closing stages was a red flag with 11 laps to go, thrown to clear the fumes within the Coliseum following a yellow for Rumble rookie Chance Rice’s spin in turn four.
That set up the sprint run to the finish, in which Hamilton tried to work Gamester’s inside but couldn’t execute the pass, saying after the checkered flag that he “didn’t want to take Russ out to win the race.”
“He just doesn’t mess up,” said Hamilton, whose runner-up finish was his best career effort in five Rumble A-Main starts. “He knows how to drive this place and keep everyone behind him. I tried to get on the bottom and get under him, but I just couldn’t. His line was perfect and he got the win for it tonight.”
“I’m just happy to be able to do this … my team put together an awesome car and we almost had one. I’ve never come in here confident, but everything came together and fell into my lap. This was definitely a great night for us and they knew we were here, that’s for sure.”
Former Rumble winner Brandon Knupp made a late haul from Mooresville, N.C. pay off with a podium finish, coming home third ahead of Randy Burrow Racing teammates Justin Grant and Wease.
Rex Norris III, Billy Hulbert, Rice, Joe Ligouri and Brad Greenup completed the top 10.
The 19th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne concludes on Saturday with another full day of racing action, culminating with another 50-lap National Midget feature, as well as winged and non-winged 600cc micros, go-karts and quarter midgets.
RESULTS: 19th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne; Opening Night; Dec. 30, 2016
National Midget Heat #1 (11 laps; top two to the A-Main): 1. Cory Setser, 2. Derek Bischak, 3. Tom Schnabel Jr., 4. Stratton Briggs, 5. Mike Fedorcak, 6. Rex Norris III, 7. Brad Greenup, 8. Taylor Fenske.
National Midget Heat #2 (10 laps; top two to the A-Main): 1. Justin Grant, 2. Justin Peck, 3. Joe Ligouri, 4. Jim Anderson, 5. Austin Nemire, 6. Chris Neuenschwander, 7. Sean Murphy, 8. Sarah Fisher.
National Midget Heat #3 (10 laps; top two to the A-Main): 1. Cap Henry, 2. Brandon Knupp, 3. Kyle O’Gara, 4. Chance Rice, 5. Chris Jagger Jr., 6. R.J. Corson, 7. Bryan Nuckles.
National Midget Heat #4 (10 laps; top two to the A-Main): 1. Travis Welpott, 2. Russ Gamester, 3. Geoff Kaiser, 4. Billy Hulbert, 5. Brad Kraus, 6. Jared Rouch, 7. Dave Darland.
National Midget Heat #5 (10 laps; top two to the A-Main): 1. Kyle Hamilton, 2. Nick Hamilton, 3. Billy Wease, 4. Matt Westfall, 5. Nick Landon, 6. Shawn Bonar, 7. Heath Roberts.
National Midget B-Main #1 (10 laps; top two to the A-Main): 1. Chance Rice, 2. Joe Ligouri / 3. Matt Westfall, 4. Bryan Nuckles, 5. Sarah Fisher, 6. Dave Darland, 7. Heath Roberts, 8. Stratton Birggs, 9. Mike Fedorcak (DNS).
National Midget B-Main #2 (10 laps; top two to the A-Main): 1. Rex Norris III, 2. Joe Ligouri / 3. Kyle O’Gara, 4. Geoff Kaiser, 5. Sean Murphy, 6. Tom Schnabel Jr., 7. Shawn Bonar, 8. R.J. Corson, 9. Brad Kraus (DNS).
National Midget B-Main #3 (10 laps; top two to the A-Main): 1. Billy Wease, 2. Billy Hulbert / 3. Chris Neuenschwander, 4. Jim Anderson, 5. Nick Landon, 6. Chris Jagger Jr., 7. Jared Rouch, 8. Taylor Fenske, 9. Austin Nemire.
National Midget A-Main (50 laps): 1. 46-Russ Gamester, 2. 32-Nick Hamilton, 3. 78-Brandon Knupp, 4. 98-Justin Grant, 5. 99-Billy Wease, 6. 63-Rex Norris III, 7. 88-Billy Hulbert, 8. 36-Chance Rice, 9. 8up-Joe Ligouri, 10. 4-Brad Greenup, 11. 31-Derek Bischak, 12. 67-Cap Henry, 13. 18-Travis Welpott, 14. 24-Cory Setser, 15. 5x-Justin Peck, 16. 6-Kyle Hamilton.