FORT WAYNE – First things first: It’s not the Coke syrup.
That’s not what got Zach Wolff stuck on wheeling around a tiny conjured-from-thin-air oval, coated with Coke syrup or something similar, in the dead of winter in the Memorial Coliseum Expo Hall. It’s just part of what makes it so different.
And fun. And hard. And, yeah, again, fun.
Indoor racing is a totally different ballgame than any dirt racing or asphalt, says Wolff, a 20-year-old Concordia graduate who has been racing go-karts for fully half his young life. There are people who think you’re crazy if you race indoors. And then there’s the indoor racers that that’s what they look for all the time.
I would say I’m one of those. And this is our favorite race.
Our, in this case, means Zach and his father, Mike, who serves as the crew chief and money man for an outfit that got started when Mike took Zach to Baer Field Speedway one day and asked if then-10-year-old Zach wanted to try motocross or go-karting.
We watched both of them, and I said I want to race go-karts, Wolff says. So Dad bought me a go-kart for Christmas that year, and we’ve been racing as a father-son team since.
On asphalt and dirt in the summer and, for 10 years now, in the Rumble in Fort Wayne, which comes to the Expo Hall for the 16th time Friday and Saturday. Kids as young or younger than Wolff was when he started race there, and grown men old enough to be their grandfathers, and even the likes of NASCAR star Tony Stewart – who’s won nine midget races in 16 starts in the Rumble, and who will be there again as the owner of the black No. 2 Munchkin ride. It will be piloted by Lou Ciccone Jr. this year as Stewart recovers from surgery on a broken leg.
But back to Wolff, who’s as passionate about go-kart racing as Stewart is about all his various racing ventures.
Go-karting is becoming one of the top-paying sports in dirt racing, Wolff says. Dirt go-karting, they’re starting pay more than $400,000 a year across the nation. Every class in the rumble is $500 to win if there’s over 23 go-karts.
If you look at NASCAR, most of them started in go-karts. So it’s a great for people to watch and see where people can come from. And these go-karts are a lot different than what most people think.
They’re expensive, for one thing. Wolff estimates that to be competitive out of the gate, it’ll run you $3,000 to $4,000 for an initial racing package.
It’s not cheap, he says.
On the other hand, once a year, he gets to run the Rumble. Which is like no other racing anywhere.
Most of the time during the summer, we race on dirt banked ovals or an asphalt banked track, he says. Here, they put tractor tires in a circle, and they run the cars around that. It’s flat, and they make a racetrack out of nothing. They’ll go out there and walk around the track and spray the ground with Coke syrup, brake fluid or resin, and it’s sticky. When you walk across it, your shoes stick to it. And then with all those tires and all those races going on, the rubber builds up.
The result: It’s fast.
We’re faster inside than we are on any asphalt track or dirt track, Wolff says. We’re turning as many G-forces as almost any form of racing. It’s rough on the drivers.
But it’s really fun to me.