FORT WAYNE, Ind. – For Brandon Knupp, the tears of joy didn’t begin until after he climbed from his No. 78 midget in victory lane. In his 18th career start at the Rumble in Fort Wayne, the driver known as Primetime finally had lived up to his nickname.
The former NASCAR Truck competitor erased more than a decade of frustration Sunday with a dominating victory in the 50-lap midget feature that capped the 17th annual indoor racing classic at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center.
“There was a pause before I got excited,” the 28-year-old from Sidney, Ohio, admitted. “All I could think the last five laps was, ‘Something is going to fall off, something is going to fall off.’
“Normally, we always have something happen. Always wrong place, wrong time.”
Not this time. Knupp, driving a 36-year-old chassis that’s been rebuilt “at least six times,” held off a mild challenge from rookie Ross Rankine, with Bryan Nuckles, Kyle Hamilton and Chris Neuenschwander completing the top five.
Nuckles was no less surprised to learn he won the newly created points championship, edging Saturday night winner Justin Peck on a tie-breaker. Rookie Anthony Nocella, who won on Friday, finished two points back.
All three contenders started deep in the 16-car field on a greasy track that essentially was one groove. Nuckles methodically moved up from 11th and clinched the title when David Gough, running third, dropped out in the waning laps. Peck finished seventh and Nocella ninth.
Nuckles, who turns 34 on Jan. 3, drove a backup car usually reserved for much larger tracks after blowing an engine on Friday. He strung together finishes of second, seventh and third to take home the $1,000 bonus for his family-owned team, headed by his father, Jerry, a former USAC midget standout, and uncle John Nuckles.
“I had no idea we won,” Nuckles said. “To be able to bring out that backup car and put it together in a half-hour and even make the feature that night was a miracle to me.
“It wasn’t even in my mind (that he could win the title). They told me we were four or five points behind. Just being able to run the feature was good enough.”
Knupp was the fastest qualifier on both Friday and Saturday – his three career fast times are second only to Tony Stewart’s 10 – but was a modest ninth-quickest on Sunday. With the inversion, he ended up starting from the pole, and he responded with a heady drive that looked almost effortless.
Knupp literally has grown up racing at the Rumble, starting in karts the very first year. Before Sunday, his midget finishes included a second place in 2003 and thirds in 2002 and 2007.
The victory also was the first for his car owner, John Chambers, whose day job is driving a motorcoach for Chip Ganassi’s IndyCar team.
“I can’t tell you what it means to me and to all these guys that have been a part of this,” an emotional Knupp said. “Last year, we finally got it tuned in to where it would run consistently up front. And the stars aligned and we finally got it done.”
Erick Rudolph and Larry Joe Sroufe got a break in capturing the accompanying features for 600cc-powered outlaw modified midgets.
Rudolph, who won the non-winged feature on Saturday, added a victory in the winged midgets after a four-car pileup on the opening lap elevated him from sixth to second. He passed Saturday winner Ben Quinones two laps later and led the rest of the way, beating A.J. Lesiecki and Drew Dorsett.
“I thought we had the car to win, but fortunately for us, there was that four- or five-car pileup,” Rudolph said. “That’s how racing goes.”
Sroufe, long a dominant driver in the 600s, notched his first Fort Wayne victory since 2010, beating Mike Fedorcak and Rudolph. He clipped a marker tire and came to a halt early in the feature, but a caution flag enabled him to get his spot back.
“Been a few years,” admitted Sroufe, who builds his own cars. “I thought they were right on me, but we were getting good restarts and pulling away each lap.”
Quarter midgets also were part of the final day program, with Aaron Leffel taking both the Animal and Heavy Honda classes. Chase Burda, Jacob Denney, Seth Pugh and Zeb Wise each one once.
Among the notables in attendance was IndyCar driver-turned-owner Sarah Fisher, whose brother-in-law, Kyle O’Gara, competed in the midgets. Other weekend visitors included Indianapolis 500 veterans Davey Hamilton and Tom Bigelow as well as longtime broadcaster Jack Arute.
MIDGETS (National/Regional/Focus/Kenyon Car)
Qualifications – 1. Cooper Clouse, 14, Clouse, 7.943 seconds; 2. Derek Bischak, 31, Bischak, 8.007; 3. Chris Neuenschwander, 8, Neuenschwander, 8.075; 4. Mike Fedorcak, 19b, Belt, 8.105; 5. Justin Peck, 5x, Clay, 8.109; 6. David Gough, 6, Gough, 8.139; 7. Billy Wease, 99, Burrow, 8.160; 8. Ross Rankine, 9r, 8.197; 9. Brandon Knupp, 78, Chambers, 8.214; 10. Russ Gamester, 46, Gamester, 8.221; 11. Cory Setser, 24, Setser, 8.247; 12. Kyle Hamilton, 33, Hamilton, 8.253; 13. Rex Norris III, 63, Norris, 8.270; 14. Bryan Nuckles, 59x, Nuckles, 8.290; 15. Jim Anderson, 99a, Guess, 8.296; 16. Patrick Bruns, 22, Grskovic, 8.309; 17. Austin Nemire, 19, O’Connell, 8.326; 18. Anthony Nocella, 4, Seymour, 8.328; 19. Joey Burrow, 49, Burrow, 8.447; 20. Nick Hamilton, 1, Steele, 8.526; 21. Rich Corson, 15, Corson, 8.540; 22. Kyle O’Gara, 27, Lawson, 8.550; 23. Joe Liguori, 74, Williams, 8.574; 24. Anthony McCune, 45, 3-K, 8.575; 25. Jimmy McCune, 61, Kenyon, 8.583; 26. Matt Westfall, 9, Ryder, 8.605; 27. Alex Watson, 41, Sexton, 8.819; 28. Kevin Atkins, 36a, Atkins, 8.874; 29. Branson Dils, 15k, Chambers-Knupp, 8.895; 30. Shayne Riley, 57r, Riley, NT.
First heat (10 laps) – Norris, Knupp, Clouse, Peck, Corson, Nemire, J. McCune, Dils.
Second heat (10 laps) – Nuckles, Gamester, Gough, O’Gara, Bischak, Nocella, Riley.
Third heat (10 laps) – Anderson, Neuenschwander, Setser, Burrow, Watson, Wease, Liguori.
Fourth heat (10 laps) – K. Hamilton, Rankine, Fedorcak, N. Hamilton, Bruns, A. McCune, Atkins.
First semi-feature (12 laps) – Bischak, Wease, Nemire, Corson, J. McCune, Watson, Burrow, Liguori.
Second semi-feature (12 laps) – Peck, Nocella, Bruns, O’Gara, N. Hamilton, A. McCune.
Feature (50 laps) – 1. Brandon Knupp, 2. Ross Rankine, 3. Bryan Nuckles, 4. Kyle Hamilton, 5. Chris Neuenschwander, 6. Derek Bischak, 7. Justin Peck, 8. Rex Norris III, 9. Anthony Nocella, 10. Cooper Clouse, 11. Mike Fedorcak, 12. Cory Setser, 13. David Gough, 14. Billy Wease, 15. Jim Anderson, 16. Russ Gamester. Lap leaders: Knupp 1-50.
Final overall standings: 1. Bryan Nuckles, 12 points (won tie-breaker for championship); 2. Justin Peck, 12; 3. Anthony Nocella, 14; 4. Derek Bischak, 23; 5. Brandon Knupp, 25; 6. Kyle Hamilton, 27; 7. David Gough, 29; 8. Jim Anderson, 30; 9. Billy Wease, 32.
WINGED OUTLAW MODIFIED MIDGETS (600cc)
Qualifications – 1. Erick Rudolph, 22, Lafler, 8.070 seconds; 2. Brad Lamberson, 19, Dunigan, 8.135; 3. Cap Henry, 17, Henry, 8.145; 4. Ben Quinones, 20, APS, 8.268; 5. Bill Dunham, 84, T&E, 8.276; 6. Matt Farnham, 7f, Farnham-Mindeler, 8.321; 7. Tyler Fitzpatrick, 57, Fitzpatrick, 8.411; 8. Drew Dorsett, 11b, Sager, 8.412; 9. Ginny Quinones, 007, APS, 8.438; 10. Chase Ridenour, 11r, Ridenour, 8.442; 11. A.J. Lesiecki, 14, AJD, 8.529; 12. Howard McCormick, 26, Sager, 8.620; 13. Mark Zumbrun, 35z, Zumbrun, 8.672; 14. Rusty Strausbaugh, 29, Strausbaugh, 8.689.
First heat (10 laps) – Henry, Rudolph, Fitzpatrick, Dunham, Lesiecki, Zumbrun, G. Quinones.
Second heat (10 laps) – Dorsett, Farnham, B. Quinones, Lamberson, McCormick, Strausbaugh, Ridenour.
Feature (30 laps) – 1. Erick Rudolph, 2. A.J. Lesiecki, 3. Drew Dorsett, 4. Daniel Robinson, 5. Howard McCormick, 6. Ginny Quinones, 7. Chase Ridenour, 8. Mark Zumbrun, 9. Rusty Strausbaugh, 10. Ben Quinones, 11. Matt Farnham, 12. Bill Dunham, 13. Cap Henry, 14. Brad Lamberson. Lap leaders: Farnham 1, B. Quinones 2, Rudolph 3-30.
NON-WINGED DIRT OUTLAW MODIFIED MIDGETS (600cc)
Qualifications – 1. Jason Ormsby, 51, Ormsby, 8.183 seconds; 2. Erick Rudolph, 32, Lafler, 8.234; 3. Mike Fedorcak, 9, Fedorcak, 8.331; 4. Blane Culp, 34, Culp, 8.435; 5. Larry Joe Sroufe, 21, Sroufe, 8.453; 6. Matt Janisch, 14, Jones, 8.464; 7. Clay Sanders, 21c, Sanders, 8.537; 8. Russ Gamester, 49, GRP, 8.670; 9. Daniel Robinson, 57, Robinson, 8.758; 10. Phil Bozell, 83jr, Wolfersberger, 8.765; 11. Jonathon Lesiecki, 24, AJD, 8.775; 12. Kim Hughes, 6, Hughes, 8.827; 13. Richard Smith, 12, Smith, 8.883; 14. Shawn Grace, 77, Woods, 8.956; 15. Braiden Black, 69b, Black, 8.985; 16. Ryan Ball, 10r, Ball, 9.580; 17. Jeremy Howe, 48, Howe-Foster, 10.429.
First heat (10 laps) – Sanders, Bozell, Culp, Ormsby, Smith, Ball.
Second heat (10 laps) – Gamester, Rudolph, Sroufe, Lesiecki, Grace, Howe.
Third heat (10 laps) – Janisch, Fedorcak, Hughes, Black, Robinson.
Feature (25 laps) – 1. Larry Joe Sroufe, 2. Mike Fedorcak, 3. Erick Rudolph, 4. Russ Gamester, 5. Clay Sanders, 6. Phil Bozell, 7. Daniel Robinson, 8. Richard Smith, 9. Jonathon Lesiecki, 10. Kim Hughes, 11. Shawn Grace, 12. Jeremy Howe, 13. Matt Janisch, 14. Jason Ormsby, 15. Blane Culp. Lap leaders: Sroufe 1-25.
ANIMAL QUARTER MIDGETS
Heat (8 laps) – Breanna O’Bryan, Zeb Wise, Aaron Leffel, Lexi Pohlman, Chase Burda, Jacob Denney, Emerson Axsom, Owen Foster, Evan Foster, Will Edwards.
Feature (15 laps) – Aaron Leffel, Brenna O’Bryan, Lexi Pohlman, Evan Foster, Chase Burda, Owen Foster, Jacob Denney, Zeb Wise, Emerson Axsom.
HEAVY 160 QUARTER MIDGETS
Heat (8 laps) – Zeb Wise, Will Edwards, Brianna O’Bryan, Richard Johnson, Jared Leffel.
Feature (15 laps) – Zeb Wise, Jared Leffel, Richard Johnson, Brianna O’Bryan.
LIGHT 160 QUARTER MIDGETS
Heat (8 laps) – Bobby Elliott, Chase Burda, Jacob Denney, Emerson Axsom.
Feature (15 laps) – Jacob Denney, Emerson Axsom, Chase Burda, Bobby Elliott.
HEAVY HONDA QUARTER MIDGETS
Heat (8 laps) – Aaron Leffel, Will Edwards, Lexi Pohlman, Carson O’Bryan, Justin White.
Feature (15 laps) – Aaron Leffel, Will Edwards, Lexi Pohlman, Carson O’Bryan, Justin White.
SENIOR HONDA QUARTER MIDGETS
Heat (8 laps) – Chase Burda, J.D. Cowart, Bobby Elliott, Bryce Massingill, Kenny Douglas, Isaiah Pugh, Breanna Berry.
Feature (15 laps) – Chase Burda, Bobby Elliott, J.D. Cowart, Bryce Massingill, Kenny Douglas, Breanna Berry, Isaiah Pugh.
JUNIOR HONDA QUARTER MIDGETS
Heat (8 laps) – Seth Pugh, Aiden McCulley.
Feature (15 laps) – Seth Pugh, Aiden McCulley.
Story by: Ron Ware
Photo Credit: Chris Seelman