FORT WAYNE, Ind. – It seemed like practice day for the 21st annual Rumble in Fort Wayne on Thursday was an exercise for drivers in turning their cars backwards on the sixth-mile Allen County War Memorial Coliseum race track.

Some of the sport’s most notable names, as well as several rookie contenders, took turns looping their machines during one or both of the two rounds of practice held during the day.

The first driver to join that club? Three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, who is back for his second-straight year of racing indoors in Fort Wayne after retiring from stock car competition at the end of the 2016 season.

“It had to be me, didn’t it?” Stewart joked following the end of practice Thursday night.

Despite the spin, Stewart noted he always enjoys returning home to the Coliseum, where he is a nine-time winner in Rumble competition.

“It’s funny, because we’re here on the practice night … which everyone knows I don’t do too often, and I’m more worried about Rico’s car running right than I am about my own car,” Stewart joked. “It’s fun to come back here, though. I love this place. There’s nowhere to race this time of year unless you go to Australia or New Zealand … and it’s fun to see all your racing friends and just have a good time driving race cars.”

– The driver that got the award for the most spins during practice was Florida’s John Inman, a sprint car racer in the Sunshine State who is making his midget debut during this weekend’s Rumble.

Inman Rumble
John Inman at speed during Rumble in Fort Wayne practice on Thursday. (Jacob Seelman photo)

Inman turned his car around four times – three during the first practice session and once during final practice – as he attempted to learn the nuances of midget racing.

“It seemed like we put a good lap together by the end (of practice),” noted Inman with a smile. “I felt like we redeemed ourselves a little bit on that last run. We made big swings at it … I knew it was a small bullring, but I didn’t think it was quite this small.

“This is an awesome place, though, and I’m having a blast so far.”

– Open-wheel veteran Dave Darland turned his first laps in the RMS, LLC No. 7dd entry on Thursday evening, trying to get a feel for the Coliseum again as he chases his third Rumble win.

The RMS team is coming off of a big indoor victory with Thomas Meseraull on the dirt in DuQuoin, Ill., after Meseraull won the USAC-sanctioned Junior Knepper 55 on Dec. 15.

“That’s something that gives us a little confidence, but we’ve got a lot of work to do here,” noted Darland. “We started and we weren’t happy with things; I couldn’t drive it for a while. We got it better, though … I’d say by the end of practice we were about 70 percent.”

– This year’s Rumble in Fort Wayne field may be the most stacked in event history, with 10 former feature winners among the pool of drivers vying for the checkered flag this weekend.

Stewart leads the list with nine wins, while Billy Wease (five), Russ Gamester (four), Dave Darland (two) and Justin Peck (two) also have multiple wins on the Coliseum floor.

Single-race winners at the Rumble include Derek Bischak, Jim Anderson, Mike Fedorcak and brothers Kyle and Nick Hamilton.

– Sisters Toni and Annie Breidinger were scheduled to participate in this weekend’s Rumble activities, coming to the Hoosier State from California, but a motor issue in Toni’s car prior to load-up nixed the Breidinger family’s trip before it began.

– In all, 32 national midgets were on the grounds for Thursday’s open practice. All 32 car and driver combinations turned at least one lap at speed.