Winless No More; Liguori Breaks Through In Rumble 25 Finale

Joe Liguori Kelly Poole Photo

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Dec. 30, 2023) – After another bout of abysmal luck during Friday’s Rumble in Fort Wayne presented by Jason Dietsch Trailer Sales kickoff, Joe Liguori was close to giving up hope he’d ever reach victory lane.

So disappointed was Liguori after missing the Friday feature that he brought “Joe Liguori, 0x Rumble champion” can koozies to the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum to sell to fans and competitors.

Those koozies became collector’s items – and historical relics – after Saturday night’s finale to the silver anniversary Rumble, as Liguori finally snapped his winless streak at the sixth-mile concrete oval and laid claim to a Rumble champion’s belt.

The third-generation racer from Tampa, Fla., started from the pole and led all 50 laps of the national midget headliner en route to his first Rumble win in 27 feature starts at the indoor midget classic.

Despite a red-flag stoppage for air quality with 19 laps remaining, which bunched the field back up behind him, Liguori was perfect on the final restart and went unchallenged the rest of the way.

It led to an emotional victory lane celebration, which brought tears to Liguori’s eyes and evoked raucous cheers from the near sold-out crowd.

“I’m speechless!” admitted the normally outspoken Liguori. “We’ve been coming here since 2007. We’ve left here every time asking, ‘What do we have to do to win one of these things?’ It’s been so frustrating … but tonight we finally had some luck go our way and the cautions fell just right to keep us out of traffic.

“I sound like [USAC Silver Crown ace] Kody Swanson up here crying right now, but it’s because I know what he feels like,” Liguori added. “This is one of the biggest wins of my career, even if it might not seem important to some people because it’s not the biggest race out there, just because I’ve been trying so long to win here. We’ve been so close so many times, but we finally did it!”

Liguori led from the outset and was never seriously challenged, opening up leads of more than a full second at various points throughout the 50-lap feature with his Pontiac-powered Brand X midget.

Chaos struck early behind him, as third-starting Nick Hamilton spun at the end of the opening lap, sparking a nine-car pileup in turns three and four. While many cars were involved, most were able to continue on with minimal or no damage to their racecars.

A subsequent spin by Curtis Setser II led to a single-file attempt at the initial start, allowing Liguori to quickly build an early advantage. Though a caution flag waved seven laps in after Chris Neuenschwander lost his left-rear wheel and spun in turn four, Liguori quickly reassumed command on the restart.

Liguori finally got into slower traffic on lap 23, moments before Setser II looped his No. 24 again, forcing a caution flag and allowing Liguori to breathe a sigh of relief at the thought of a clean race track in front of him. He held a 1.2-second lead at halfway and appeared to be well on his way to victory at that point.

But Setser’s third spin of the night and the diminishing air quality inside the Coliseum led to the final slowdown of the race with 19 to go, leaving Liguori with one restart between himself and a Rumble win.

Liguori was perfect when it mattered, while Travis Welpott settled for second, 1.389 seconds back of Liguori despite earning his career-best Rumble finish. It was a bittersweet moment for the veteran.

“If it couldn’t be me, I’m happy for Joe,” tipped Welpott. “We just burned up our stuff a little too soon.”

Mario Clouser, who won last year’s Rumble opener, finished third ahead of two-time Rumble winner Nick Hamilton and Joey Payne, who filled in all weekend for Tony Stewart in the Our Gang Poker No. 2.

Kyle Hamilton and Mike Fedorcak, who reset his own record as the oldest feature starter in Rumble history at 69 years old, completed the seven cars that finished on the lead lap.

Saturday night marked Liguori’s 31st attempt overall at winning a national midget event at the Rumble, and he’d lost the event previously in nearly every possible way, including last year – when he was collected in an accident in lap traffic after leading the first half of the race.

Liguori’s pursuit of Rumble glory had begun to be compared to Dale Earnhardt’s 20-year quest to win the Daytona 500, a race that Earnhardt finally conquered in 1998, 10 months before the inaugural Rumble.

This time, those comparisons were finally laid to rest, as Liguori celebrated in victory lane long into the night.

“They can’t take this one away from me,” he remarked.

The 26th edition of the indoor racing classic is scheduled for Dec. 27-28, 2024.

25th Rumble in Fort Wayne; Allen County War Memorial Coliseum; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Dec. 30, 2023

National Midget Qualifying (best of two laps): 1. Joe Liguori, 8up, Liguori-7.674; 2. Travis Welpott, 18, Gorman-7.680; 3. Russ Gamester, 46, Gamester-7.696; 4. Curtis Setser II, 24, Setser-7.707; 5. Mike Fedorcak, 97, Stewart-7.741; 6. Bryan Nuckles, 59, Nuckles-7.766; 7. Joey Payne, 2, Stewart-7.767; 8. Mario Clouser, 99g, Guess-7.791; 9. Kasey Jedzrejek, 75, Cicconi/KJR-7.815; 10. Tim Creech II, 49, Burrow-7.846; 11. Nick Hamilton, 16, Kenyon-7.848; 12. Cole Sink, 8o, Brewer-7.849; 13. Jim Anderson, 36, Anderson-7.858; 14. Scott Koerner, 4b, ???-7.876; 15. Thomas Schrage, 01, Hayes-7.877; 16. Jackson Macenko, 24m, Hayes-7.893; 17. Kyle Hamilton, 99, Burrow-7.907; 18. John Ivy, 98, Burrow-7.923; 19. Gage Rucker, 49r, TNT-7.930; 20. Chris Neuenschwander, 3, Neuenschwander-7.998; 21. Ayrton Houk, 9, JK-8.000; 22. Cooper Clouse, 7, Dietsch-8.099; 23. Andrew Prather, P8, ???-8.187; 24. Jordan Caskey, 33, Caskey-8.222; 25. Thomas Eyman, 2e, Eyman-8.333; 26. Andrew Royer, 24r, Royer-8.444; 27. Brian Buttler, 4, Buttler-8.507; 28. Justin Hollister, 9m, Main-8.867; 29. Lee Pierce, 42, Pierce-9.133; 30. Charlie Schultz, 9jr, Reiser-NT; 31. Ryan Flores, 15, Cicconi-NT; 32. Cap Henry, 41, Liguori-NT.

National Midget Heat #1 (10 laps, two transfer): 1. Kasey Jedzrejek [1], 2. Joe Liguori [3] / 3. Kyle Hamilton [5], 4. Jim Anderson [4], 5. Mike Fedorcak [2], 6. Thomas Eyman [7], 7. Lee Pierce [8], 8. Ayrton Houk [6], 9. Ryan Flores (DNS).

National Midget Heat #2 (10 laps, two transfer): 1. Tim Creech II [1], 2. Travis Welpott [3] / 3. Bryan Nuckles [2], 4. Cooper Clouse [6], 5. Charlie Schultz [8], 6. John Ivy [5], 7. Scott Koerner [4], 8. Andrew Royer [7], 9. Cap Henry (DNS).

National Midget Heat #3 (10 laps, two transfer): 1. Nick Hamilton [1], 2. Joey Payne [2] / 3. Russ Gamester [3], 4. Gage Rucker [5], 5. Andrew Prather [6], 6. Thomas Schrage [4], 7. Brian Buttler (DNS).

National Midget Heat #4 (10 laps, two transfer): 1. Cole Sink [1], 2. Curtis Setser II [3] / 3. Chris Neuenschwander [5], 4. Mario Clouser [2], 5. Jordan Caskey [6], 6. Jackson Macenko [4], 7. Justin Hollister (DNS).

National Midget Last Chance Showdown #1 (12 laps, three transfer): 1. Kyle Hamilton [1], 2. Jim Anderson [3], 3. Mike Fedorcak [5] / 4. Russ Gamester [2], 5. Thomas Schrage [8], 6. Gage Rucker [4], 7. Thomas Eyman [7], 8. Lee Pierce [9], 9. Andrew Prather [6], 10. Brian Buttler (DNS), 11. Ayrton Houk (DNS), 12. Ryan Flores (DNS).

National Midget Last Chance Showdown #2 (12 laps, three transfer): 1. Bryan Nuckles [1], 2. Mario Clouser [4], 3. Chris Neuenschwander [2] / 4. Charlie Schultz [5], 5. John Ivy [7], 6. Scott Koerner [9], 7. Cooper Clouse [3], 8. Jackson Macenko [8], 9. Andrew Royer [10], 10. Jordan Caskey [6], 11. Justin Hollister (DNS), 12. Cap Henry (DNS).

National Midget A-Feature (50 laps): 1. 8up-Joe Liguori [1], 2. 18-Travis Welpott [6], 3. 99g-Mario Clouser [12], 4. 16-Nick Hamilton [3], 5. 2-Joey Payne [7], 6. 99-Kyle Hamilton [9], 7. 97-Mike Fedorcak [13], 8. 8o-Cole Sink [2], 9. 59-Bryan Nuckles [10], 10. 36-Jim Anderson [11], 11. 24-Curtis Setser II [8], 12. 49-Tim Creech II [4], 13. 75-Kasey Jedzrejek [5], 14. 3-Chris Neuenschwander [14].

Lap Leader(s): Joe Liguori 1-50.

Hard Charger: 99g-Mario Clouser (+9)