Stewart Smokes USAC Field
December 30, 2004 | 2:46 P.M. EST
Billy Wease and Doug Cross lead the "Rumble in Ft. Wayne" field into the first turn of the opening lap Wednesday at the Ft. Wayne (Ind.) Memorial Coliseum. Joe DeFabis picture
Stewart, who didn't even have a ride for the event until Tuesday evening, led the final 47 laps of the race after passing polesitter Billy Wease on lap 14. He ran away with the race in his WTFD – Our Poker Gang Munchkin/Voltswagen in a car he purchased Tuesday from veteran Mike Fedorcak, holding off a hard-charging Dave Darland
"I'm just so proud of my dad Mike Fedorcak Sr. tonight; he did such a great job," Stewart joked in victory lane. "We just had a lot of fun. The holiday season is about the only time I can get home, and I was with a lot of the USAC guys last night…We just had fun tonight. I was going to go as Smoke Johnson tonight, but everybody knows who Smoke Johnson is, so I tried something new and wanted to stump some people, at least until the feature was over. The good thing was that I only hit one guy tonight."
It started at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday when Stewart made the call to Fedorcak after making a bet with several poker players at USAC photographer Joe DeFabis's home. What began as a joke turned out to be serious as Fedorcak agreed to sell the midget, whose origins date back to the 1970's.
Tony Stewart, who went by the name Mikey Fedorcak for most of Wednesday's "Rumble in Ft. Wayne" event, leads Billy Wease in Wednesday's 60-lapper at the Ft. Wayne (Ind.) Memorial Coliseum. Joe DeFabis picture
Stewart was unsure if the No. 9 car would even start. The car was stored in Fedorcak's barn, and hadn't run in two years. Still, Stewart was confident he could make the car run.
A normal Wednesday outing didn't start out so as the car didn't arrive until three hours following the scheduled 10 a.m. driver's meeting. After taking a handful of hot laps between 1 and 2 p.m., Stewart lapped the track at 8.226 seconds, second to Aaron Pierce's 8.089-second mark.
Stewart proceeded to finish second in the second heat, and brought fans to their feet with a masterful display of passes in the feature. Starting seventh, he moved to fifth after the opening lap, fourth by lap three, third on lap four and second after five laps.
His progress, however, was put on hold after a three-car tangle on lap seven, involving teammates Doug Cross and Ryan Litt as well as Pierce, the 2004 Weld Racing Silver Crown Series Rookie of the Year.
Tony Stewart kneels Wednesday next to his No. 9 WTFD - Our Gang Poker Munchkin/VW after winning the opening "Rumble in Ft. Wayne" 60-lapper at the Ft. Wayne (Ind.) Memorial Coliseum. Joe DeFabis picture
On the restart, Stewart challenged Wease multiple times on the inside before squeezing by Wease in the third and fourth turns on lap 14. Displaying a J.D. Byrider fire suit and an orange helmet, fans began cheering wildly as if they knew Stewart was the driver.
Enduring only two more cautions, Stewart blew the field away on both restarts and was only pressured within the final five laps by runner-up Darland. With just more than a car length victory, Stewart led Darland, Rich Corson, Tony Elliott and seven-time national midget champ Mel Kenyon across the line for the first of two nights.
Stewart's history with the car extends to several years ago, when he watched the car on television. He had also competed in the car indoors in multiple events.
"I put a down payment on the car tonight," said Stewart, who has now won a USAC-sanctioned race in every calendar year since 1991. "I remember watching this car on TV when it ran – the first Munchkin. It's pretty amazing to have driven this car at the Hoosier (RCA) Dome and at Ft. Wayne. Ever since then, I've been trying to get the nerve to ask him if I could buy that car, and finally at 11:30 last night at the poker game it happened, so that's why our sponsor is Our Gang Poker, because $105 was collected as part of the sponsorship. It just shows how much the guys at USAC always welcome me back and how much fun my friends had."
Fedorcak, who built the famed Munchkin, which won several races, gave a reasonable explanation as to why the car was late.
"I started working on the car at 4 a.m." he laughed.
Johnny Parsons joined Pierce, Cross and Darland as 12-lap heat winners, while Corson, Kyle Robbins and David Gough won 12-lap consolation races.