Last Saturday, the faithful of the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series pulled into the one-sixth mile indoor Mini Magic Mile at Southern Illinois Center.
A total of 67 midgets were on hand to prepare for the Rumble at Fort Wayne and/or the Chili Bowl Nationals.
The track is better known as DuQuoin, and the big track hosts the USAC Silver Crown race.
These indoor races continue to find more favor with racers and race fans alike. The racers favor them because they allow them to race pretty much all year. It also gives them an opportunity to race against a wider range of drivers. This is, of course, especially true of the Chili Bowl. However, it is unclear how the racers’ wives feel about year-round racing.
Race fans also enjoy the opportunity to watch drivers from different classes of cars race against drivers from other classes of cars. This is particularly true of the Chili Bowl. There, racers including Tony Stewart, Jason Leffler, Sammy Swindell, Steve Kinser and a host of stars from the top levels of a number of racing organizations compete.
Heat races were won by Matt Westfall, Tim Siner, Bryan Clauson, Dalton Armstrong, Tony Stewart, Levi Jones, Derek King, Austin Brown, A.J. Hopkins and Trevor Kobylarz.
Nonqualifying races went to Garrett Aitken and Terry Babb. Qualifying racers were won by Clauson, Stewart and Jones.
When feature time came, Clauson and Stewart started side by side on the first row. It would be hard to find two better midget racers anywhere. And the quality of the field was strong pretty far back.
When the green flag dropped, Stewart took his Chevrolet-powered midget to a lead that he would hold all of the way to the checkered flag.
After the race, Stewart said, “The only time I got concerned was on the restarts with Clauson. They don’t get any tougher than Clauson. He could get close coming on the inside; but after two or three laps, we were all right.”
Clauson held on to second until he tangled with Brad Loyet and lost momentum, and he never quite recovered.
Defending POWRi Midget champion Andrew Felker’s Spike/Fontana passed Loyet in a late race restart after starting 11th.
From the pits after the race, Felker said, “I found the top before anybody and ran it most of the race. It would have been nice to have a couple more laps; but you can’t disappointed be finishing second to Tony Stewart. He’s no slouch.”
Tim Siner, Derek King, Jon Stanbrough, Casey Shuman, A.J. Hopkins, Clauson, Alex Sewell and Loyet rounded out the top 10.
Rumble at Fort Wayne
At 11:04 p.m. Dec. 31, 2011, Stewart was relaxing in his own way. He had just won his eighth race in 13 attempts, including a 5-for-10 streak to clinch his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. He was relaxing with a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and the trophy for the 14th annual Rumble at Fort Wayne. Also in the pits was his prized “Munchkin,” sponsored by his Our Gang Poker Club.
The car was built to run the midget 500 at the Indianapolis Speedrome by Mike Fedorcak. The racer was ideal for the tight track with its short wheelbase. Also, it was powered by a Volkswagen engine. That was an engine favored by midget racers of the day because of its quick acceleration and its low center of gravity.
It probably costs Stewart more to fly in and drive in the race than he received for winning it.
Of course, he isn’t overly concerned about the economics of the deal.
Stewart will return to Fort Wayne on Friday to race in the opener and race again Dec. 29. Should he fail to win both features, he will be disappointed.
Of course, Stewart wants to win every race that he runs; but a second-place finish isn’t going to make any kind of meaningful dent in his record. However, every result goes into his record.
Tim McKinney is an auto racing columnist for The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5632.