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Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Blayne Keckler, 6, of Fremont, a 3-year veteran of midget-car racing, leans into the curve Saturday at Rumble in Fort Wayne.

Midget-car racing a family affair

Robert Ford, 15, of Farmland flips his midget car on its side during his Saturday race at Memorial Coliseum.
In the pit area of the midget-car races at the Coliseum, Derek Bischak works on replacing parts on his car that were damaged in Friday’s feature race.
Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Robert Ford, 15, rounds a curve in his midget car during his Saturday race at Memorial Coliseum. A total of 299 drivers competed at the Rumble in Fort Wayne.
Drivers from 5 to 65 participated in races Friday and Saturday.

– At 14 years old and 6-foot-3, Cooper Clouse was the youngest and nearly the tallest driver in the 50-lap race Friday night at the Rumble in Fort Wayne at the Memorial Coliseum Exposition Center.

For 26 laps, he was also the fastest, edging out competitors like three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart, who has a record nine victories at the event. But the seeming success was overshadowed by frustration.

“Being that I didn’t finish, it kind of makes me want to cry for working that hard,” said Clouse of Ohio City, Ohio, who spun out on the final lap of the race.

The Rumble in Fort Wayne, which features indoor midget races and quarter midget races, took place Friday and Saturday, bringing in 299 drivers ranging in age from 5 or 6 to 65.

Though midget-car racing has taken place in Fort Wayne since 1954, this is the 15th consecutive year for the Rumble in Fort Wayne, event promoter Tony Barhorst said. He named the Coliseum one of the best indoor areas for the event, possibly second to an even bigger arena in Tulsa, Okla.

Barhorst estimated a crowd of 3,000 Friday night and projected a Saturday crowd of 4,000.

Midget cars aren’t exactly small, as the name implies. They can be powerful, up to 350 horsepower, Barhorst said, and they can weigh up to 850 pounds.

A quarter midget is a smaller version of a midget car, similar to a go-kart, but much safer: A quarter midget car has a seat belt, suspension and a roll bar – all features not included in a go-kart, Clouse said.

The teenager started racing quarter midgets when he was 5 years old but had to switch over to midget cars when he was 11 because he became too tall for the tiny car. He was one of the tallest drivers at the Rumble, as drivers tend to be on the shorter side. Consider Jeff Gordon and Mario Andretti.

“Jeff Gordon is only this tall,” said Clouse, giving a half grin as he held up his hand a little below his shoulder. (Internet sources vary, but Gordon is most commonly listed as 5-foot-8 and Andretti as 5-foot-7.).

Though Phillip Lowry has raced quarter midgets before, this was his first time at the Rumble in Fort Wayne. Not that he’s a first-time driver – Phillip is 6.

His father and grandfather raced midget cars, and dad Russ Lowry of Warsaw wanted his sons to get involved with the legacy.

“My dad got pancreatic cancer, and I pushed (Phillip) to get into it so my dad could see him race,” Russ Lowry said. “He saw (Phillip race) two summers ago, before he passed away.”

At the Rumble, Phillip was timid at first – it was his third or fourth race ever – but by the end, Lowry said, he flat-footed it around the race-track.

Phillip’s brother, Kaine, is 4.

“He watched big brother so many times. He was ready to go,” Lowry said of the first time Kaine drove. “He got in it, and it was obvious he’d watched his brother. He knew everything to do. He can’t wait to get out and race.”

That idea of a midget racing legacy is common in the pit area of the Coliseum, where drivers and crew members tinker with and fix the quarter midget and midget cars. Travis Ford, 21, of Farmland used to race, and this weekend, he is working on his younger brother’s crew.

“Racing’s very dangerous. That’s why we do it,” Ford said. “(It’s) the thrill, the feeling you get when you get done, feeling your heart beat against the seat belt.”

jyouhana@jg.net

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