FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Derek Bischak was so young when he first raced in the “Rumble in Fort Wayne,” he doesn’t recall the exact year. But the 25-year-old Angola native will never forget his most recent appearance.
Taking advantage of NASCAR star Tony Stewart’s mechanical misfortune, Bischak raced to victory in the 50-lap midget feature that capped the final night of the 2012 event at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center. He returns as a defending champion, along with Billy Wease, who won on the opening night a year ago.
Bischak and Wease head a 38-driver entry list for the 16th annual “Rumble” on Friday, Dec. 27 and Saturday, Dec. 28. Complete shows are scheduled each day on the sixth-mile indoor track, with winged and non-winged modified midgets, karts and quarter midgets also on the program. The event has been designated a “Salute to Tony Stewart” in honor of the injured NASCAR driver.
Bischak, who drives for his father, Bob, first raced at Fort Wayne in “1998 or 1999” in quarter midgets. His long-awaited victory was an emotional one.
“That was a lot of fun,” he said. “Actually, it was kind of a relief. We were fast on Friday – we were fast qualifier and won our heat — then I got too aggressive (in the feature) and hit the (marker) tire.
“It’s nice to come back knowing you have the experience to win it. But there are a lot of fast drivers every year.”
Bischak’s Gaerte Ford-powered Spike is the same car he drove last year, save for a change in paint scheme to orange from black. He sees Wease – who charged from last to first for his victory – and Tony Stewart Racing teammates Mike Fedorcak and Lou Cicconi Jr. as leading contenders, along with veterans Bobby East and Dave Darland.
“Really, anybody with a fast car can win it,” Bischak said.
That’s especially true with Stewart sidelined by a broken leg suffered in an Aug. 5 sprint car crash. The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion will oversee his team and sign autographs both days, but he won’t be able to add to his record nine Fort Wayne victories.
Wease, a 27-year-old from Noblesville, Ind., has five career indoor victories, including four at Fort Wayne. He heads a three-car entry from Randy Burrow that includes Brian Gerster, the 2013 Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series champion, and young Joey Burrow, the owner’s son.
Another driver to keep an eye on is former NASCAR Whelen Modified champion Bobby Santos III, who’ll be driving a car that Darland twice took to victory at Fort Wayne.
Defending champions Erick Rudolph and Tim Neal both return in the winged outlaw modified midgets. Some of the cars that competed as winged midgets now are in a new non-winged dirt modified midget division.
Bischak is anxious to get back in the cockpit after missing part of the outdoor season because of a trampoline accident that left him with fractures of the nose and face.
Luckily for him, he already knew how to sniff out victory lane.