FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Truth be told, Anthony Nocella wasn’t Bobby Seymour’s first choice of driver for his team’s inaugural appearance at the Rumble in Fort Wayne. Or, the car owner admitted with a rueful grin, the second, either.
But that didn’t keep the 22-year-old college senior from Woburn, Mass., from scoring one of the biggest upsets in the 17-year history of the indoor racing classic.
Charging from the ninth starting position, Nocella squeezed inside Justin Peck in turn three on lap 33, then pulled away for a convincing win in Friday night’s opening 50-lap midget feature at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center. Bryan Nuckles settled for second, followed by Derek Bischak, Peck and another rookie, 17-year-old Ross Rankine. The three-day program continues Saturday, then wraps up with a Sunday matinee.
“Pretty awesome, being our first time out here,” Nocella said as one competitor after another offered congratulations. “I’ve heard a lot of these names out here – some of them didn’t even make the show. To move up from ninth and win it is pretty awesome.”
Seymour, saying he hoped he was out of earshot of his driver, admitted he first offered the ride to NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader, then to former Rumble winner Lou Cicconi Jr.
Not that he didn’t have faith in Nocella, who competes primarily in modifieds.
“He’s been driving for me since he was 15,” said Seymour, son of the late USAC car owner “Boston” Louie Seymour. “He has a tremendous amount of talent. He’s a good racer. He drives our modified back East, and sometimes he gets beat up, because he’s such a clean driver.”
“Awesome, awesome,” engine builder Mike Seymour enthused. “What a great job. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
Nocella qualified only 19th-fastest, more than a half-second off Brandon Knupp’s pace. But with car builder Mike Streicher lending his assistance, he won his heat, then got a break when a reshuffled lineup allowed him to start ninth in the feature instead of 15th as scheduled. An engineering student at Wentworth Institute of Technology, he proceeded to march straight to the front, with virtually no contact along the way.
“I knew I had a good car,” said Nocella, who drove a Streicher-built Hawk powered by one of Mike Seymour’s Autocraft Volkswagen engines. “I wanted to do it clean.”
Nuckles admitted Nocella was a blur, but he wasn’t complaining about his day.
“I’m thrilled to finish second,” said the Ohio driver, who matched his career-best indoor performance. “We’ve had some bad luck in the past couple of years. I feel like we won.”
Longtime Rumble driver Jason Ormsby of Warsaw, Ind., dominated the non-winged dirt outlaw modified midget feature for his first Fort Wayne victory, leading all 25 laps to beat Larry Joe Sroufe and Russ Gamester. Dustin Heath and Korbyn Hayslett each won twice in karts, while Shawn Kluck, Anthony Colandro, Garrett Andexler and Philip Schneider notched single victories.
Saturday’s program includes the same classes, plus winged outlaw modified midgets and quarter midgets.
Nocella’s victory lifts him and the Seymours into the lead in the battle for the newly created Rumble in Fort Wayne overall championship. A driver’s (and car owner’s) three feature finishes determine the title, worth a $1,000 bonus.
He may need to sweep the weekend just to keep his ride.
“Schrader really wanted to race here,” Bobby Seymour said. “He said to mark him down, he’s coming next year.”
-Ron Ware, RumbleSeries.com -Photo Credit: Chris Seelman