FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Twenty-four years ago, when he won at the old Memorial Coliseum and went on to capture the USAC national midget championship, Russ Gamester was a man on the move.
These days, the veteran from Peru, Ind., competes mostly for personal satisfaction, knowing his childhood dream of reaching the Indianapolis 500 never will happen.
Not that he’s ever slowed down enough to complain.
Gamester, less than two weeks shy of his 49th birthday, overpowered the field in capturing the 50-lap midget feature Friday on the opening night of the 16th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center.
Charging from the seventh starting position on the tight, sixth-mile indoor track, he grabbed the lead from polesitter Joe Liguori on lap 16 and easily pulled away from Grant Galloway after a restart with two laps to go.
Liguori settled for third, with Billy Wease and Matt Westfall completing the top five in a race that took just 11 minutes to complete.
“I am up in my age,” admitted Gamester, who broke Mike Fedorcak’s record as the oldest Rumble in Fort Wayne winner by about 11 months. “I’m looking at (racing) a couple more years, probably. That’s about all for me, anyway.
“That makes this real special.”
Gamester joined Fedorcak as the only drivers to win at both the Coliseum (which hosted midgets from 1953-89) and the Expo Center. Liguori was all of 3 years old —and Galloway wasn’t yet born — when Gamester won at the Coliseum in 1989, catapulting him to the national championship.
Back then, Gamester’s future seemed limitless. He finished second in midget points a year later to a kid named Jeff Gordon, then was runner-up to Ryan Newman for the USAC Silver Crown title in 1999.
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart — still on the mend from a broken right leg suffered in August — made a point of congratulating Gamester. Stewart has won a record nine times at Fort Wayne.
“I wish Tony was out there (racing),” Gamester said. “That’s my only disappointment. You wanna beat the best. After the race, he said, ‘You’re just hooked up.’ That meant a lot.
“It’s nice for him to come out here and support this. He’s a great racer and a true friend. You couldn’t ask for a truer racer.”