Stewart prepares for Rumble in Fort Wayne

Columbus’ Tony Stewart will be looking to add to his record-setting 10 wins in the 20th Annual Rumble in Fort Wayne at the Allen County War Memorial Expo Center this Friday and Saturday.

The event will feature midgets, winged and non-winged 600cc midgets, go-karts and quarter-midgets. At the site of the United States Auto Club’s first-ever sanctioned race in January of 1956, Stewart will be back aboard the famous “Munchkin” midget that he recently took down from the rafters of his race shop to prepare for this weekend’s activities in Fort Wayne, where he will race for the first time since 2013.

Stewart’s Munchkin teammates include the car’s designer Mike Fedorcak of Roanoke, Cody Setser of Fort Wayne and Tyler Roahrig of Plymouth. The Munchkin has been a colorful and much-talked about midget car since it was first created 30 years ago by Fedorcak.

Fedorcak, the renowned midget racecar designer, is happy to have Stewart, back behind the wheel of one of his creations, which he first built back in 1987. Fedorcak is as passionate about the cars he has built as a parent is about their children. He designed the fabled Munchkin chassis 30 years ago during his tenure in the USAC National Midget ranks in hopes of accomplishing a mission he had never achieved: to win at the Indianapolis Speedrome.

“The major reason the idea for the car first came about was because of my desire to win at the Speedrome,” Fedorcak said during the Rumble at the Fort Wayne Memorial Coliseum a few years ago. “I just wanted to have some fun and win some races.”

Fedorcak did make his long-awaited dream happen that same season as well, scoring his first Speedrome triumph Aug. 20, 1987, in a race televised on ESPN. He followed that up with another victory Sept. 18 of that year.

“Once we got the car figured out, got everything working how I envisioned it, we had the keys to go out and make the dreams happen,” Fedorcak said of that 1987 season.

Following the massively auspicious debut of the Munchkin, Fedorcak built a second car and several racers expressed interest in obtaining a Munchkin, which was years ahead of its time in the USAC ranks. The frame is shaped differently than a conventional midget, and the center of gravity of the car is balanced in a manner exclusive to the Munchkin design. Fedorcak built the cars like a truck because he wanted it as strong as possible.

“There’s nothing special about any of it,” Fedorcak chuckled when asked about the difference between his cars from the norm. “It’s all straight-forward conventional stuff. Ask USAC. They tried to throw out my car for years, and I started carrying around the rule book to prove that my car was built to the letter of the rules, every time.”

When they couldn’t stop the car based on the rules they had written, USAC implemented several rule changes that impacted the car’s unique and carefully-planned design. Weight was added to the front bumper; side skirt body panels were outlawed, and a minimum weight requirement of 850 pounds was implemented.

Ultimately, USAC phased the Volkswagen engine, the power plant that the Munchkins were built around due to their specific center of gravity, out of the rulebook to effectively end the cars’ remarkable run in the USAC circles, but not before Fedorcak had revolutionized the midget world again.

Fedorcak’s last USAC win came, all too appropriately, at Indianapolis Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway) in the Night Before the 500, when he beat Jeff Gordon in 1991.

And with that declaration, the fabled cars made a return to the racetrack. Fedorcak put Stewart in the car for the 2001 Rumble and Stewart and immediately proved the Munchkins still had all the speed they showed a decade prior, winning on the final night in 2001.

A late-night phone call in 2004 however, would change everything, and spark a new age revolution for the legendary cars.

Stewart, who was playing a late-night poker game with some USAC friends the night before the Rumble in 2004, had brought up the possibility of Fedorcak selling him the Munchkin he had seen race on TV as a kid. And he wasn’t joking. Stewart called Fedorcak at 11:30 that night and brokered a deal over the phone for the NASCAR champion to purchase the Munchkin that Fedorcak had raced in 2002.

After starting work at 4 in the morning upon getting the car out of mothballs, the pair managed to get the car to not only start, but setup to race at that night’s Rumble. Stewart promptly won the A-feature that night, the second of his record ten wins at the Expo Center.

And with Stewart’s popularity and the Munchkin’s return to dominance, a brand-new revolution began in the midget world. After Stewart swept qualifying and won on finale night at the 2005 Rumble in remarkable fashion, Fedorcak began receiving numerous requests to build additional Munchkin chassis.

Veteran open-wheel drive Lou Cicconi then became the only driver in Rumble history to defeat Stewart at his own game when Stewart’s black Munchkin was running at the finish, scoring a breakthrough triumph on the final night in 2008 after Stewart had won the first night. The Munchkins were back, and they were every bit as competitive as the original.

Fedorcak said he currently has no plans to build any additional Munchkins, though he says if someone approached him he would consider the request. Fedorcak calculates it would cost roughly $12,000 to build a Munchkin chassis today in kit form, about $3,000 less than a “kit car” from noted racer Bob East. However, Fedorcak Fabrications is not geared to mass produce a chassis as the Beast shops near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are.

“Currently, I’ve got no plans to build any more Munchkins,” Fedorcak insisted. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still got all the blueprints and if someone really wanted a car built and had the money for shop costs to do it, I would look at building one, but right now there’s no plans.”

For more info on this weekend’s racing action in Fort Wayne go to rumbleinfortwayne.com.

James Essex writes a motorsports notebook for The Republic. Send comments to sports@therepublic.com.