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The Journal Gazette

  • Photo courtesy Chris Seelman Billy Wease, a five-time champion of The Rumble, is looking forward to facing Tony Stewart, the only racer in history to win series championships in both the IndyCar and NASCAR circuits.

Sunday, December 24, 2017 1:00 am

He's king of the Rumble

5-time champ relishes event, chance to race Stewart

Josh Patterson | For The Journal Gazette

If you go

What: 20th Rumble in Fort Wayne

When: Friday and Saturday. Doors open at 7 a.m. Friday, 8 a.m. Saturday.

Where: Memorial Coliseum

Cost: $20 per day, $10 for ages 12 and under. Reserved tickets $24, $14 for ages 12 and under. Pit passes available day of show, $30 for one day or $55 for both.

It's safe to assume that Fort Wayne holds a special place in Billy Wease's heart for a litany of reasons. The Rumble in Fort Wayne stands as one of his favorite racing events of the year – after all, the Noblesville native has won the event five times.

The midget car race, set to take place this weekend at the Memorial Coliseum, gives Wease the chance to take the track and compete against legendary driver Tony Stewart, the only racer in history to win series championships in both the IndyCar and NASCAR circuits.

“It's actually a big opportunity,” Wease said. “It's a lot of fun racing with Tony. I've got to race with him quite a bit, and we've had a few battles. Either he'd end up breaking or I'd end up breaking. It'll be really cool to get a heads up shot with him.”

Much like Stewart, Wease started his racing career very early on. At just 5 years old, Wease found himself first turning laps in a quarter midget car. At 16, Wease stepped behind the wheel of a midget car, and has continued to compete on the ARCA circuit driving midgets ever since.

The Rumble stands out to Wease, as it's one of the first times he competed in a midget car. His five victories at the event rank second all-time to Stewart's nine. With this year marking the 20th running of the Rumble, Wease would like nothing more than to pick up win number six and reach ever closer to the racing icon.

“It's always been a special place,” Wease said of the Rumble. “I've won quite a few races there. It's one of those places that's treated me well, and it's something I look forward to every year.”

Making the trek from central Indiana each December lets Wease reflect fondly on a personal triumph as well, as he met his wife in 2002 and got engaged in 2011 – both at the Rumble.

“Her family was involved with racing,” Wease said. “She dropped a tire, and I helped her pick it up.”

So, was the tire dropping on purpose? Depends on who you ask.

“She says she didn't, but I think so,” Wease said with a laugh.

While Wease can rely on his experience to help propel him toward the finish line, actually winning the Rumble isn't an easy task. Qualifications commence on Friday, though drivers get to practice on the one-seventh-mile oval track on Thursday.

After drivers post their qualification times, they are placed into heat races, where the top finishers earn their way into the feature race. Ultimately, the nearly 40 drivers entering the event are winnowed to 16 who will get the chance to drive for a Rumble championship.

With that many cars on a track measuring just over 750 feet long, precious little space exists to pass other drivers and move up in the field.

“It's not really much room,” Wease said. “You're just really waiting for people to make mistakes, and you hope that you have a good car to maneuver around the race track to do what you need to do.”

And while missing your window to leave another driver in your rear view mirror can prove frustrating, those feelings pale in comparison to the ever-present danger of your vehicle breaking down.

“You get so many emotions, especially if you have a good car and you get taken out and it's out of your control,” Wease said. “But you have to make the most of it. You know there's going to be a lot of bad days with the good days, so you just take what you can.”

Wease hopes that he can repeat his 2015 performance, when he claimed his fifth Rumble victory. With Wease one of eight past champions in the field – in addition to Stewart, other previous winners competing include Russ Gamester, Kyle Hamilton, Justin Peck, Jimmy Anderson, Derek Bischak and Mike Fedorcak – he knows he'll need his best effort to claim title number six.

He also knows he'll be greeted warmly by the fans in attendance.

“There are a lot of kids I meet every year, and that's a cool part of it,” Wease said. “You get to meet the fans and interact with them. That's part of the job, and I really like doing it.

“This is definitely one of the fun (races) of the year. Especially after Christmas, the end of the year racing, it's a lot of fun.”