Bob McCLean, Sr. shown after a heat race victory on Jan. 3, 1960, at the old Memorial Coliseum track. – Photo courtesy of Classic Motorsports
From Ron Ware – Classic Motorsports
FORT WAYNE, Ind. – More than 30 years after first strapping into a midget race car, Ronnie McLean hasn’t forgotten the profound influence his father, Bob McLean Sr., and longtime family friend Bob Higman had on his racing career.
Borrowing a page from the past, McLean will pay tribute to them in the 12th annual “Rumble in Fort Wayne” on Saturday, Dec. 26 and Sunday, Dec. 27 at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center.
McLean has purchased a revamped Cliff Jacobs-built, Volkswagen-powered midget and adorned it with the same No. 67 and blue-and-white paint scheme that his late father carried at Fort Wayne almost exactly 50 years ago while driving for Higman, a National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Famer.
McLean, who will be racing indoors for the first time since the 1980s, admits the car is the realization of a dream.
“I got to thinking, maybe I can run indoors again,” the retired crane operator said from his South Bend, Ind., home. “I always wanted to, but racing got so expensive, especially with the traveling and so forth.
“I always loved indoors. It’s a great pastime in the winter. When I heard about this car (through an online classified), I decided to make it a tribute to Bob and my dad.”
Rumble Series president Tony Barhorst immediately seconded the idea, declaring the opening night of the two-day program “Bob Higman Night.”
Higman, who resides in West Lafayette, Ind., was a leading car owner and mechanic for some 25 years – a young A.J. Foyt was among his drivers – and also spent more than a decade as an Indianapolis 500 crew chief. He will be formally recognized prior to the heat races on Saturday, Dec. 26.
“We had a Bob Higman Night at an outdoor race (in 2007) at Kamp Motor Speedway, near Bob’s hometown,” Barhorst noted. “But I decided to tell the fans about Bob’s history at the indoor race. As a car owner, he had a Who’s Who of drivers. And he’s been an innovator his whole life.
“Ronnie McLean’s car reminded me of a great opportunity to make it a Bob Higman Night. I thought it was very thoughtful of Ronnie to honor Bob with the paint job.”
McLean knows the best way to pay tribute to Higman and his father would be to take the car all the way to victory lane. He’s not making any predictions, but the car, purchased from Wally Sexton of Indianapolis, is capable of making the feature. Tyler Nuckles drove it to a 10th-place finish on the final night last year at Fort Wayne.
“You never know,” said McLean, whose father won three times between 1961-68 on the old Fort Wayne indoor track at the adjacent Memorial Coliseum. “But the guy who sold it to me helped me set it up. We’ll be in the ballpark. It was fairly good last year. It’s not a Munchkin (the chassis that won both features last year, with Tony Stewart and Lou Cicconi Jr. driving), but it’s a good car.”
Sexton, who also turns the wrenches for Rumble Series regular Joe Liguori, will serve as McLean’s crew chief.
“This is a very, very cool deal,” an enthused Sexton said. “We’ll be very fast. I shaved about 75 pounds off it (from last year), so we should be pretty good.”
McLean, who has spent recent seasons driving limited late models and modifieds at tracks near his home, can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of a midget. Once a regular on the indoor circuit, he was known as a smooth, steady driver who held his own against some of the sport’s biggest names. Perhaps his proudest moment came at the old Fort Wayne track in January 1984 when he finished third in a 100-lap feature behind Rich Vogler and Steve Lotshaw – and ahead of Tom Bigelow and Ken Schrader.
Now, he’s getting a chance to add to those memories.
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Joining the midgets on the two-day program will be winged outlaw modified midgets, MiniCup stock cars, karts, Jr. Sprints and JEGS quarter midgets. Complete shows are scheduled each day on the 1/6-mile concrete track, with Sunday’s program a matinee.
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Race teams and fans are reminded that special “racer rates” are available at the Fort Wayne Marriott, Don Hall’s Guesthouse and the Fort Wayne Coliseum Holiday Inn & Conference Center. Detailed information, including ticket prices, is available at rumbleseries.com or by contacting Tony Barhorst at email@example.com.