FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Billy Wease couldn’t believe it. Neither could Tony Stewart’s legion of fans.
In a race in which the invincible Stewart dropped out before halfway with a blown engine, Wease charged from the final starting position to capture Friday’s 50-lap midget feature on the opening night of the 15th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne.
“I kept on diggin’, man,” an almost delirious Wease said from the makeshift victory lane at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center, his face splitting into a grin.
“I’ll tell you what, I was pretty upset I had to start last. But there was a bunch of crashes, a bunch of crap going on.
“I stayed in it and let everyone else put themselves out.”
In coming from the 14th starting spot in the 14-car field — and from the rear again after being caught up in a three-car tangle on lap 26 – Wease, 26, notched his fourth career victory at the sixth-mile track and fifth overall indoors.
He didn’t wrest the lead until putting an inside move on 14-year-old Cooper Clouse just past the start-finish line on lap 49. The two nudged wheels in turn one, with Clouse spinning, and Wease then held off another 14-year-old rookie Justin Peck for the victory. Jimmy Anderson, Bobby East and early leader Mike Fedorcak completed the top five.
“I knew he did it on purpose,” Clouse said of the contact in turn one, “because when he came by the next time, he flipped me off.”
Clouse was only slightly less disappointed than Stewart, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion who had won nine times in 14 career starts at Fort Wayne. The top of Stewart’s air cleaner flew off on lap 20, and three laps later he pulled into the infield.
“Motor,” he said glumly. “We beat ourselves. (Mechanical problems) have been a part of racing ever since I can remember.”
Stewart said he would have a replacement Volkswagen engine — “a very tired one” — in his Munchkin chassis for Saturday’s finale of the Rumble.
Wease dedicated his victory to his 95-year-old great-grandmother, Pauline Wease, who died on Christmas Day, and to Colleen and Steve Savage, mother and step-father of his fiancée, Amanda Jaraczewski, who both died in the past two months.
Erick Rudolph scored an equally improbable win in the winged outlaw modified midget feature, inheriting the lead when Cap Henry spun just before taking the white flag. Henry said his throttle stuck.
But Rudolph wasn’t red-nosed or red-faced.
“In indoor racing, that’s half the battle — to get to the end,” he said. “And we were there.”
Jason Dunn and Philip Schneider each won twice in karts, and Bennett Lushin doubled in quarter midgets.