Liguori Finally Snaps Rumble Winless Streak

Liguori
Joe Liguori won Saturday's Rumble in Fort Wayne midget finale. (Kelly Poole photo)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – After another bout of abysmal luck during Friday’s Rumble in Fort Wayne presented by Jason Dietsch Trailer Sales kickoff, Joe Liguori was close to giving up hope he’d ever reach victory lane.

So disappointed was Liguori after missing the Friday feature that he brought “Joe Liguori, 0x Rumble champion” can koozies to the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum to sell to fans and competitors.

Those koozies became collector’s items – and historical relics – after Saturday night’s finale to the silver anniversary Rumble, as Liguori finally snapped his winless streak at the sixth-mile concrete oval and laid claim to a Rumble champion’s belt.

The third-generation racer from Tampa, Fla., started from the pole and led all 50 laps of the national midget headliner en route to his first Rumble win in 27 feature starts at the indoor midget classic.

Despite a red-flag stoppage for air quality with 19 laps remaining, which bunched the field back up behind him, Liguori was perfect on the final restart and went unchallenged the rest of the way.

It led to an emotional victory lane celebration, which brought tears to Liguori’s eyes and evoked raucous cheers from the near sold-out crowd.

"I’m speechless!” admitted the normally outspoken Liguori. “We’ve been coming here since 2007. We’ve left here every time asking, ‘What do we have to do to win one of these things?’ It’s been so frustrating … but tonight we finally had some luck go our way and the cautions fell just right to keep us out of traffic.

“I sound like [USAC Silver Crown ace] Kody Swanson up here crying right now, but it’s because I know what he feels like,” Liguori added. “This is one of the biggest wins of my career, even if it might not seem important to some people because it’s not the biggest race out there, just because I’ve been trying so long to win here. We’ve been so close so many times, but we finally did it!”

Liguori led from the outset and was never seriously challenged, opening up leads of more than a full second at various points throughout the 50-lap feature with his Pontiac-powered Brand X midget.

Chaos struck early behind him, as third-starting Nick Hamilton spun at the end of the opening lap, sparking a nine-car pileup in turns three and four. While many cars were involved, most were able to continue on with minimal or no damage to their racecars.

A subsequent spin by Curtis Setser II led to a single-file attempt at the initial start, allowing Liguori to quickly build an early advantage. Though a caution flag waved seven laps in after Chris Neuenschwander lost his left-rear wheel and spun in turn four, Liguori quickly reassumed command on the restart.

Liguori finally got into slower traffic on lap 23, moments before Setser II looped his No. 24 again, forcing a caution flag and allowing Liguori to breathe a sigh of relief at the thought of a clean race track in front of him. He held a 1.2-second lead at halfway and appeared to be well on his way to victory at that point.

But Setser’s third spin of the night and the diminishing air quality inside the Coliseum led to the final slowdown of the race with 19 to go, leaving Liguori with one restart between himself and a Rumble win.

Liguori was perfect when it mattered, while Travis Welpott settled for second, 1.389 seconds back of Liguori despite earning his career-best Rumble finish. It was a bittersweet moment for the veteran.

“If it couldn’t be me, I’m happy for Joe,” tipped Welpott. “We just burned up our stuff a little too soon.”

Mario Clouser, who won last year’s Rumble opener, finished third ahead of two-time Rumble winner Nick Hamilton and Joey Payne, who filled in all weekend for Tony Stewart in the Our Gang Poker No. 2.

Kyle Hamilton and Mike Fedorcak, who reset his own record as the oldest feature starter in Rumble history at 69 years old, completed the seven cars that finished on the lead lap.

Saturday night marked Liguori’s 31st attempt overall at winning a national midget event at the Rumble, and he’d lost the event previously in nearly every possible way, including last year – when he was collected in an accident in lap traffic after leading the first half of the race.

Liguori’s pursuit of Rumble glory had begun to be compared to Dale Earnhardt’s 20-year quest to win the Daytona 500, a race that Earnhardt finally conquered in 1998, 10 months before the inaugural Rumble.

This time, those comparisons were finally laid to rest, as Liguori celebrated in victory lane long into the night.

“They can’t take this one away from me,” he remarked.

In the two 600cc micro sprint classes, both Saturday winners led from start to finish in winning their respective races.

Nate Franklin put his neon orange No. 87 back in victory lane at the Rumble, winning in the winged micros for the second time and holding Dylan Woodling at bay for the entire 25-lap distance.

Not even a late red-flag stoppage with five to go – when Cap Henry tried to go from third to first on the outside, clipped the wall and spun into traffic, sparking a multi-car crash – could keep Franklin from capturing the checkered flag in the end.

“"The rear bumper (being battered) is better than the front bumper,” said Franklin, referencing his battles with Woodling throughout the race. “This is my fiancé Cassie’s first time in victory lane, so we’re really excited about that.

“My family works so hard on our race cars. It’s not easy [to win], but I think we’re pretty good,” he added. “This event is so awesome. Third wasn’t good enough last night, so I’m glad we got it done tonight.”

The late accident allowed Kelsey Ivy to climb into podium position, as she finished third behind Franklin and Woodling. Ryan Ball and Colin Parker were fourth and fifth, respectively, in the final rundown.

Meanwhile, Dillon Nusbaum captured his first non-winged micro win in Rumble competition, starting from the pole and cruising to victory by leading all 25 laps in a dominant performance.

The dirt modified regular fended off Woodling – who was doing double duty in the micros – for the win and left Woodling to settle for the runner-up position again. Brian Busz was third across the finish line.

“Man, this definitely ranks up there as one of my top wins,” noted Nusbaum. “I’ve been coming to the Rumble since I was my son’s age. Ran karts here ... and 4 years ago I talked my sister into buying this car for me. Tonight I can say I’m glad we made that decision.

“I race Dylan almost every weekend [in modifieds]. We’ve both been trying to get this a long time, and tonight I had enough to beat him,” Nusbaum continued. “I kind of put my foot in my mouth yesterday ... because I said if I ever got this Rumble win, I’d call it quits, but I don’t think I can after that.

“This was fun tonight.”

Pre-race favorite Larry Joe Sroufe crashed hard on the backstretch with seven laps to go in the wingless feature, leaving him unable to finish. Sroufe, a multi-time Rumble winner, was credited with 11th.

A full, on-demand replay of both days of the 25th Rumble in Fort Wayne is available through SPEED SPORT Network affiliate Pit Row TV, the official broadcast partner of the Rumble in Fort Wayne.

The 26th edition of the indoor racing classic is scheduled for Dec. 27-28, 2024.

25th Rumble in Fort Wayne; Allen County War Memorial Coliseum; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Dec. 30, 2023

National Midget Qualifying (best of two laps): 1. Joe Liguori, 8up, Liguori-7.674; 2. Travis Welpott, 18, Gorman-7.680; 3. Russ Gamester, 46, Gamester-7.696; 4. Curtis Setser II, 24, Setser-7.707; 5. Mike Fedorcak, 97, Stewart-7.741; 6. Bryan Nuckles, 59, Nuckles-7.766; 7. Joey Payne, 2, Stewart-7.767; 8. Mario Clouser, 99g, Guess-7.791; 9. Kasey Jedzrejek, 75, Cicconi/KJR-7.815; 10. Tim Creech II, 49, Burrow-7.846; 11. Nick Hamilton, 16, Kenyon-7.848; 12. Cole Sink, 8o, Brewer-7.849; 13. Jim Anderson, 36, Anderson-7.858; 14. Scott Koerner, 4b, ???-7.876; 15. Thomas Schrage, 01, Hayes-7.877; 16. Jackson Macenko, 24m, Hayes-7.893; 17. Kyle Hamilton, 99, Burrow-7.907; 18. John Ivy, 98, Burrow-7.923; 19. Gage Rucker, 49r, TNT-7.930; 20. Chris Neuenschwander, 3, Neuenschwander-7.998; 21. Ayrton Houk, 9, JK-8.000; 22. Cooper Clouse, 7, Dietsch-8.099; 23. Andrew Prather, P8, ???-8.187; 24. Jordan Caskey, 33, Caskey-8.222; 25. Thomas Eyman, 2e, Eyman-8.333; 26. Andrew Royer, 24r, Royer-8.444; 27. Brian Buttler, 4, Buttler-8.507; 28. Justin Hollister, 9m, Main-8.867; 29. Lee Pierce, 42, Pierce-9.133; 30. Charlie Schultz, 9jr, Reiser-NT; 31. Ryan Flores, 15, Cicconi-NT; 32. Cap Henry, 41, Liguori-NT.

National Midget Heat #1 (10 laps, two transfer): 1. Kasey Jedzrejek [1], 2. Joe Liguori [3] / 3. Kyle Hamilton [5], 4. Jim Anderson [4], 5. Mike Fedorcak [2], 6. Thomas Eyman [7], 7. Lee Pierce [8], 8. Ayrton Houk [6], 9. Ryan Flores (DNS).

National Midget Heat #2 (10 laps, two transfer): 1. Tim Creech II [1], 2. Travis Welpott [3] / 3. Bryan Nuckles [2], 4. Cooper Clouse [6], 5. Charlie Schultz [8], 6. John Ivy [5], 7. Scott Koerner [4], 8. Andrew Royer [7], 9. Cap Henry (DNS).

National Midget Heat #3 (10 laps, two transfer): 1. Nick Hamilton [1], 2. Joey Payne [2] / 3. Russ Gamester [3], 4. Gage Rucker [5], 5. Andrew Prather [6], 6. Thomas Schrage [4], 7. Brian Buttler (DNS).

National Midget Heat #4 (10 laps, two transfer): 1. Cole Sink [1], 2. Curtis Setser II [3] / 3. Chris Neuenschwander [5], 4. Mario Clouser [2], 5. Jordan Caskey [6], 6. Jackson Macenko [4], 7. Justin Hollister (DNS).

National Midget Last Chance Showdown #1 (12 laps, three transfer): 1. Kyle Hamilton [1], 2. Jim Anderson [3], 3. Mike Fedorcak [5] / 4. Russ Gamester [2], 5. Thomas Schrage [8], 6. Gage Rucker [4], 7. Thomas Eyman [7], 8. Lee Pierce [9], 9. Andrew Prather [6], 10. Brian Buttler (DNS), 11. Ayrton Houk (DNS), 12. Ryan Flores (DNS).

National Midget Last Chance Showdown #2 (12 laps, three transfer): 1. Bryan Nuckles [1], 2. Mario Clouser [4], 3. Chris Neuenschwander [2] / 4. Charlie Schultz [5], 5. John Ivy [7], 6. Scott Koerner [9], 7. Cooper Clouse [3], 8. Jackson Macenko [8], 9. Andrew Royer [10], 10. Jordan Caskey [6], 11. Justin Hollister (DNS), 12. Cap Henry (DNS).

National Midget A-Feature (50 laps): 1. 8up-Joe Liguori [1], 2. 18-Travis Welpott [6], 3. 99g-Mario Clouser [12], 4. 16-Nick Hamilton [3], 5. 2-Joey Payne [7], 6. 99-Kyle Hamilton [9], 7. 97-Mike Fedorcak [13], 8. 8o-Cole Sink [2], 9. 59-Bryan Nuckles [10], 10. 36-Jim Anderson [11], 11. 24-Curtis Setser II [8], 12. 49-Tim Creech II [4], 13. 75-Kasey Jedzrejek [5], 14. 3-Chris Neuenschwander [14].

Lap Leader(s): Joe Liguori 1-50.

Hard Charger: 99g-Mario Clouser (+9)

Winged 600cc Micro Qualifying (best of two laps): 1. 94-Kasey Jedzrejek, 7.408; 2. 40-Daniel Hoffman, 7.524; 3. 71r-Tylar Rankin, 7.653; 4. 17-Cap Henry, 7.655; 5. 08-Cory Grenzy, 7.842; 6. 29i-Kelsey Ivy, 7.900; 7. 3-Dylan Woodling, 7.932; 8. 14-Keith Ousley, 7.936; 9. 87-Nate Franklin, 7.948; 10. 26-Howard McCormick, 7.955; 11. 18-Cody Tyler, 7.966; 12. 11b-Colin Parker, 7.995; 13. 5-Brian Busz, 7.997; 14. 10r-Ryan Ball, 8.234; 15. 84-Bill Dunham, 8.363; 16. 27-Chris Jagger, 8.418; 17. 01-Chase Ridenour, 8.685; 18. 21-Clay Sanders, NT; 19. 62-Rod Henning, NT; 20. 5j-Josh Haynes, NT; 21. 16w-Cooper Clouse, NT.

Winged 600cc Micro Heat #1 (8 laps, all transfer): 1. Cap Henry, 2. Dylan Woodling, 3. Howard McCormick, 4. Brian Busz, 5. Chris Jagger, 6. Kasey Jedzrejek, 7. Rod Henning (DNS).

Winged 600cc Micro Heat #2 (8 laps, all transfer): 1. Chase Ridenour, 2. Cory Grenzy, 3. Ryan Ball, 4. Cody Tyler, 5. Keith Ousley, 6. Daniel Hoffman, 7. Josh Haynes (DNS).

Winged 600cc Micro Heat #3 (8 laps, all transfer): 1. Tylar Rankin, 2. Nate Franklin, 3. Kelsey Ivy, 4. Colin Parker, 5. Bill Dunham, 6. Clay Sanders (DNS), 7. Cooper Clouse (DNS).

Winged 600cc Micro A-Feature (25 laps): 1. Nate Franklin [1], 2. Dylan Woodling [3], 3. Kelsey Ivy [9], 4. Ryan Ball [8], 5. Colin Parker [12], 6. Brian Busz [10], 7. Bill Dunham [15], 8. Keith Ousley [14], 9. Chris Jagger [13], 10. Chase Ridenour [5], 11. Cap Henry [6], 12. Cory Grenzy [2], 13. Daniel Hoffman [17], 14. Kasey Jedzrejek [16], 15. Cody Tyler [11], 16. Howard McCormick [7], 17. Tylar Rankin [4].

Lap Leader(s): Nate Franklin 1-25.

Hard Charger: 87-Bill Dunham (+8)

Non-Winged 600cc Micro Qualifying (best of two laps): 1. 73-Brent Busz, 8.031; 2. 68-Tyler Gunn, 8.055; 3. 16-Grant Valkner, 8.104; 4. 17n-Dillon Nusbaum, 8.117; 5. 20i-Rod Henning, 8.229; 6. 21-Larry Joe Sroufe, 8.247; 7. 9-Jonathan Reid, 8.253; 8. 46-Tyler Lindsay, 8.263; 9. 75b-Brian Busz, 8.337; 10. 27m-Dylan Woodling, 8.348; 11. 8-Bruce Bretzman, 8.408; 12. 12-Josh Ross, 8.447; 13. 15-Andy Hall, 8.481; 14. 51-Jason Ormsby, 8.540; 15. 5h-Josh Haynes, 8.569; 16. 24r-Andrew Royer, 8.630; 17. 57b-Michael Busz, 8.639; 18. ES10-Easton Zent, 8.761; 19. 4-Cameron McArthur, 8.848; 20. 88-Steve Myers, 8.907; 21. 00-Bryan Martin, 9.554; 22. 29t-Tommie Tesch, NT; 23. 75-Nathan Dishoungh, NT. 8.569 Hayes

Non-Winged 600cc Micro Heat #1 (8 laps, four transfer): 1. Jonathan Reid, 2. Dillon Nusbaum, 3. Dylan Woodling, 4. Andy Hall / 5. Brent Busz, 6. Andrew Royer, 7. Cameron McArthur (DNS), 8. Tommie Tesch (DNS).

Non-Winged 600cc Micro Heat #2 (8 laps, four transfer): 1. Tyler Gunn, 2. Tyler Lindsay, 3. Rod Henning, 4. Jason Ormsby / 5. Michael Busz, 6. Bruce Bretzman, 7. Steve Myers, 8. Nathan Dishoungh (DNS).

Non-Winged 600cc Micro Heat #3 (8 laps, four transfer): 1. Brian Busz, 2. Larry Joe Sroufe, 3. Josh Ross, 4. Easton Zent / 5. Josh Haynes, 6. Bryan Martin, 7. Grant Valkner.

Non-Winged 600cc Micro Last Chance Showdown (10 laps, four transfer): 1. Brent Busz, 2. Grant Valkner, 3. Michael Busz, 4. Bruce Bretzman / 5. Andrew Royer, 6. Josh Haynes, 7. Bryan Martin, 8. Steve Myers, 9. Cameron McArthur (DNS), 10. Tommie Tesch (DNS), 11. Nathan Dishoungh (DNS).

Non-Winged 600cc Micro A-Feature (25 laps): 1. 17n-Dillon Nusbaum [1], 2. 27m-Dylan Woodling [7], 3. 75b-Brian Busz [2], 4. 9-Jonathan Reid [4], 5. 15-Andy Hall [10], 6. 16-Grant Valkner [14], 7. 57b-Michael Busz, 8. 20i-Rod Henning [8], 9. 12-Josh Ross [9], 10. 46-Tyler Lindsay [5], 11. 21-Larry Joe Sroufe [6], 12. 8-Bruce Bretzman, 13. 73-Brent Busz [13], 14. 68g-Tyler Gunn [3], 15. 51-Jason Ormsby [11], 16. ES10-Easton Zent [12].

Lap Leader(s): Dillon Nusbaum 1-25.

Hard Charger: 16-Grant Valkner (+8)

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