FORT WAYNE, Ind. – The most iconic competitor in the history of the Rumble in Fort Wayne indoor midget races will not be participating in this year’s silver anniversary of the famed event.
Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and newly-minted NHRA Top Fuel competitor Tony Stewart revealed during last weekend’s PRI Trade Show that he will be unable to race his familiar ‘Our Gang Poker’ No. 2 Munchkin midget during the upcoming 25th edition of the event at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
A recent offseason medical procedure is keeping Stewart, the all-time winningest Rumble in Fort Wayne driver with 12 feature victories, from turning laps on the sixth-mile concrete oval this year.
However, Stewart’s Tony Stewart Racing team is still expected to compete in the Rumble with two of its three Munchkin midgets – one for Munchkin creator Mike Fedorcak and one for supermodified ace Joey Payne, who has driven for TSR in the past at the Rumble.
Payne will fill Stewart’s seat at the end of the month while Stewart continues his recovery from shoulder surgery.
“Had shoulder surgery the day before Thanksgiving,” Stewart explained in a video posted to the Rumble Facebook page. It was one of those situations where … we had the option to not do the surgery or to do the surgery. The ramifications of that, if we didn’t do the surgery and something happened midseason [next year] that finished it off, we didn’t have an option at that point. We’d be done for the year.
“I chose the lesser of two evils and went under the knife; now I’ve got a three-month recovery [period] that we’re going to try and whittle down to two months, but it is going to affect me going to Fort Wayne this year,” Stewart added. “I’m planning on going. [TSR is] bringing two of our three cars. Joey Payne is going to drive the car that I typically drive, and then Mike Fedorcak is going to drive the 97 car like he always does.
“[Crew chief] Sam [McGhee] has been in the process of getting them ready.”
While Stewart anticipates watching all of the Rumble action inside the Coliseum, he tipped that a personal conflict could force him to miss the event. Still, it’s something he looks forward to each year.
“The plan is to be there. I have a personal situation that might keep me, but I would say that it’s a 90 percent shot we’re going to be there,” Stewart noted. “We have every intention of being there for it. It’s a part of my year [every year] that I don’t want to miss.”
Surprisingly, Stewart’s team failed to win a feature during last year’s Rumble in Fort Wayne.
It was the first time since 2018 that a TSR Munchkin didn’t park in victory lane at least one night during the Rumble. Stewart believes that’s because the field is making gains each time national midgets return to Fort Wayne during the winter months.
“That’s what’s making it harder and harder to win these races, is that the competition keeps getting better,” Stewart explained. “But at the same time, it’s fun because it pushes us to sit there and look at the car and [figure out] how we can make it better.
“I’m not very smart; I’m from southern Indiana and I’m not a crew chief, I’m just a dumb race car driver,” Stewart quipped. “Having the Munchkin and coming to Fort Wayne is something that I’ve always enjoyed because it gives me the chance to be my own crew chief and sit there and take thoughts and ideas that I have [and apply them] … and that’s what’s fun about working with [Munchkin creator] Mike Fedorcak. He’s an engineer and a fabricator. He designed and built these cars.
“I love spending time [in Fort Wayne]. I love spending time with Mike … and I think we’ve both enjoyed times where I’ve looked at something on the car and thought about a different idea or a different way to do things, and I love going to Mike with those things and having those discussions.”
Even though Stewart won’t be racing in this year’s Rumble, his passion for the event has never wavered. He said it’s what continues to bring him back to the Coliseum year after year.
“For us, it’s a chance to get to hang out with people that we might only get to see once or twice a year,” Stewart noted. “The things that’s fun about [the Rumble in] Fort Wayne is that it’s indoors. It’s close quarters. People get their feelings hurt once in a while. But, at the end of the day, we’re all out having dinner or drinks somewhere else … there’s a camaraderie there that just continues to resonate.”
“It’s an aspect of it that we all enjoy as competitors.”
The silver anniversary Rumble in Fort Wayne is scheduled for Dec. 29-30. Racing from both days of the event will be streamed live through Pit Row TV.
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