From Rumble Media
FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Thursday night’s open practice for the 23rd Rumble in Fort Wayne presented by Jason Dietsch Trailer Sales had the feeling of a happy homecoming inside the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
It marked the first time since 2019 that race cars took to the floor of the Coliseum’s Expo Center, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 edition.
“It’s good to be back in here,” noted veteran national midget competitor Travis Welpott. “It’s been a long two years away.”
All 17 classes that will be competing in this year’s Rumble turned two rounds of practice laps on the flat, seventh-mile concrete-and-coke syrup oval, headlined by the national midgets, which have been involved in every Rumble in Fort Wayne dating back to the inaugural event in 1998.
Though no official times were recorded, 33 entries turned at least one lap of practice Thursday night.
That list included 11-time and defending Rumble winner Tony Stewart, whose familiar Our Gang Poker No. 2 Munchkin midget rolled into the building in time for the second practice session.
Stewart quickly looked as comfortable as ever at the event the three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has owned since first reaching victory lane there in 2001. He’ll be part of a three-car Tony Stewart Racing assault that includes Munchkin fabricator Mike Fedorcak and supermodified ace Joey Payne.
A handful of issues hampered the national midget field Thursday night, most during the first round of hot laps. Scott Koerner and Rumble rookie Christian Koehler both spun in turn three, while Don Dietsch made contact with the outside wall in turn four that broke the front axle on his white No. 5.
Final practice for the midgets ran uninterrupted and the checkered flag waved at 9:38 p.m. The evening was capped off by the Rumble Kickoff Party at the Holiday Inn Purdue Fort Wayne, put on by event sponsor Jason Dietsch Trailer Sales.
While most drivers had smooth sailing through their installation runs Thursday night, three-time Rumble winner and perennial favorite Justin Peck battled engine issues with his Steve Clay-owned No. 5x.
Peck tipped that he “felt like it might have been down a cylinder,” but that he and his crew hadn’t fully isolated the problem. If needed, Peck said that his team could perform an engine change Friday morning prior to the racing program.
“It’s frustrating,” Peck said. “You come in here after two years away, and you want to run well … but we’re not off to the start we want to be. This is the only event of its kind and we’re eager for another trophy here, but we’ve got some work to do before we can think about that.”
Fan favorite Ken Schrader made two practice runs in Randy Burrow’s patriotic No. 49 car, but was hampered by mechanical and setup issues, as well as overheating during the final session.
For the first time, every lap of Friday and Saturday’s Rumble racing programs will be broadcast live to a worldwide audience, thanks to the efforts of Pit Row TV and the SPEED SPORT Network.
The live broadcast will kick off with preliminary action at 11 a.m. ET, with a full production, multi-camera presentation beginning at 7 p.m. ET. Individual broadcast tickets are $29.99/day or $49.99 for a weekend pass. More information is available by visiting www.pitrow.tv.
National midgets in attendance for Rumble in Fort Wayne XXIII practice:
1. 1x – Ryan Moran
2. 2 – Tony Stewart
3. 2.5 – Joey Payne
4. 4b – Scott Koerner
5. 5 – Don Dietsch
6. 5x – Justin Peck
7. 6 – Chris Malaterre
8. 6k – Trey Osborne
9. 8up – Joe Liguori
10. 9 – Matt Westfall
11. 9s – Charlie Schultz
12. 10 – Christian Koehler
13. 14 – Keith Ousley
14. 16 – Nick Hamilton
15. 18 – Travis Welpott
16. 19 – Austin Nemire (John Ivy drove in first practice)
17. 20 – Matt Janisch
18. 24 – Jack Macenko
19. 24s – Shawn Bonar
20. 31 – Derek Bischak
21. 33 – Jordan Caskey
22. 44 – Cap Henry
23. 45 – Daryl Campbell
24. 46 – Russ Gamester
25. 49 – Ken Schrader
26. 53 – Justin Harper
27. 59 – Bryan Nuckles
28. 61 – Jeff Champagne
29. 72 – Cody Gallogly
30. 75 – Ayrton Houk (Did not practice)
31. 97 – Mike Fedorcak
32. 98 – Skip Flores
33. 99 – Billy Wease
34. 99k – Brandon Knupp