FORT WAYNE, Ind. – After back-to-back wins at the Rumble in Fort Wayne, many tabbed Justin Peck as the favorite to chase down Tony Stewart’s longstanding record of nine victories at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
Peck had momentum and youth on his side, but since that pair of triumphs in 2013 and 2014, the Monrovia, Ind., native has been kept out of victory lane in the indoor midget car classic.
That’s a statistic that the 20-year-old is desperate to change during this weekend’s 21st annual Rumble in Fort Wayne, as he seeks to put the No. 5x Lucas Oil/Beast-VW back in victory lane once again.
“It’s always fun going to the Rumble, in large part because the atmosphere is electric and like nothing else that we get to experience throughout the season,” Peck noted. “I mean, how often can you go indoors and race midgets during the winter, especially on the pavement? It’s just a unique and special event that means a lot to be able to win.
“We’ve gotten to do it twice, but I’d sure love a third one,” he added. “It’s been a while … too long, as far as I’m concerned. I’m ready to do it again.”
Peck’s return to the Rumble comes as the bookend to a season in which he had to serve a DIRTcar suspension after a failed drug test at the Jokers Wild at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway in mid-July.
It’s a year which Peck admits has challenged him, but also motivated him to come back stronger from, particularly going into an event that he has annually labeled as one of his favorites.
“I think the adversity we’ve battled through this year puts a chip on your shoulder and makes you want it that much more,” Peck said. “It’s not necessarily that I look forward to this race any more than the other races that I run through the year, but if there was one that pushes me a little harder it’s this one.
“It’s not even for selfish reasons that I feel that way. I just love the venue, I love the people and I love interacting with officials and fans throughout the weekend.”
The tricky, sixth-mile Coliseum track – built on the floor of the Memorial Coliseum thanks to a healthy dose of Mountain Dew syrup that takes on rubber and provides traction – hearkens back to what many drivers call “good old short-track racing,” something that has always suited Peck’s driving style.
“I’ve always liked the bullrings. Racing them is a little bit more technical and I don’t feel like they get the credit that they deserve for how tricky they really are,” Peck explained. “It’s a lot more than just beating and banging, like some people think. … At the Rumble, you have to think a few laps ahead because the track is so small. It definitely keeps you on your toes and adds a unique element of surprise.”
Peck noted that even though it has been five years since his first victory in Rumble competition, the allure of tasting victory at the famed event is still as strong for him as ever.
“To win the Rumble as a 15-year-old was pretty cool; it was actually the only midget win of my career at the time,” Peck recalled. “Even back then, it was a cool experience and I knew how special it was to put my name on the list of drivers that has won it. It was where I got to run my first ‘big car’ race and it’s a place that will always hold a special place in my heart.
“Five years later, I want to win there just as bad now as I did back then,” added Peck. “Simply put, (win) number three would be every bit as important to me as (win) number one was. I can’t wait to get back on the concrete … and hopefully we’re hoisting another couple of trophies this weekend.”
Should he reign victorious again, Peck also noted that his venue of choice for the post-race celebration hasn’t changed in the last five years, either.
“We’re still going to IHOP,” he laughed. “That’s a tradition now, for sure.”