From the Rumble in Fort Wayne
FORT WAYNE, IN (December 29, 2023) – The silver running of the Rumble in Fort Wayne got underway Thursday evening inside Allen County War Memorial Coliseum with one of the busiest practice nights in recent memory.
Headlined by 37 national midget entries, more than 200 race cars across 19 different classes took at least one timed lap around the sixth-mile concrete oval during a pair of sessions on the Coliseum floor.
Joe Liguori, the third-generation racer who has done everything but park his No. 8up midget in Rumble victory lane, turned one of the fastest laps of the day of 8.147 seconds during the first practice session.
Liguori felt so good about his race car that he elected to sit out the final session, noting with a smile that “the track is going to change anyways” throughout the weekend.
“We’re always decent on practice night here. We never really try to chase the racetrack,” Liguori noted. “This year, Larry (Boos) and his crew have given us a really racy surface so far … so I think you’ll see that as the weekend goes on.
“We were really good here last year, and we made a few changes over the summer to make the car a little better. Cap (Henry) was second in both sessions with our team car, so I think that’s a good omen for this whole camp and we’re really hoping it translates into results on Friday and Saturday when it counts.”
Ryan “Skip” Flores, one of the tire changers for recent NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney, set the fastest overall practice time at 7.799 seconds during the final session.
– While some racers come to the Rumble in Fort Wayne fresh off a busy outdoor motorsports season, 18-year-old Grant Valkner is one of the Rumble racers who only gets to compete once a year.
Valkner, whose younger brother races quarter midgets nationally through the summer, competes in the non-winged 600 micro sprint class in Fort Wayne and tipped that his Rumble sojourns each winter are some of his favorite memories and experiences.
“That’s what makes this place so special; it’s just a melting pot of different racing backgrounds,” Valkner said. “You’ve got people like Joe (Liguori) or John Ivy who race week in and week out during the summer, and then there’s some folks like me where this is our one shot to pull the car out and have some fun. My dad wants to give my brother the same opportunity to try and advance (in racing) that I had when I was growing up, and I’m fine with that and comfortable with where I’m at now.
“If this is my one chance a year to go and have fun in a race car, I always tell people that it’s a pretty fun one to get to choose. There’s nothing else like racing in this building.”
– Tony Stewart may not be racing his familiar Our Gang Poker No. 2 during this weekend’s Rumble, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t plugged into the happenings inside the Coliseum.
The three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and soon-to-be NHRA Top Fuel rookie arrived on the scene, as he’d previously planned, just before the first round of national midget practice Thursday.
Stewart was on hand watching as supermodified ace Joey Payne and famed Munchkin fabricator Mike Fedorcak wheeled two of Tony Stewart Racing’s indoor midgets during the pair of hot lap sessions.
He smiled as he reminisced with friends and fans alike, but was quick to note that “it’s a lot less fun when I’m not racing,” as he continues to recover from a recent shoulder surgery.
– One of the bigger storylines entering the silver edition of the Rumble is the absence of several notable names from the national midget entry list.
In addition to Stewart, multi-time winners Billy Wease (five) and Justin Peck (three) are not competing at the Coliseum this weekend. Peck is racing his Buch Motorsports sprint car in Australia this winter.
– Thursday’s practice night was a relatively tidy affair, going green at 4:30 p.m. ET sharp and taking the final checkered flag just after 9:40 p.m.
Thirty-eight practice groups over a span of five hours and 10 minutes, with no major incidents during the evening, was something that promoter Larry Boos later noted “is exactly what we like to see.”
– Nearly 300 total entries are expected when the first day of racing kicks off at 11 a.m. ET Friday.
Live coverage of the weekend’s action can be viewed through Pit Row TV, part of the SPEED SPORT Network.