Well known for his dirt racing capabilities and some very impressive pavement victories, 2004 Rumble champion Dave Darland is but one of the drivers who show up annually to compete in Fort Wayne.
"Having a good little racecar and coming here to compete with the guys we compete with definitely gives me something to look forward to," said Darland. "I am sure it is great for the young racers as well, to race with us veteran racers. There is quite a mix of racers we don't get to race with all year long. It's a lot of fun for us experienced drivers, and I am sure it is for the younger drivers as well. For me, this little racetrack helps sharpen my skills and gives me a chance to race with some guys I don't get to race with often like Mel Kenyon and Tony Stewart."
The 2007 version saw Stewart return to his roots for yet another shot at winning an open wheel event. He had captured four of the last six races at Fort Wayne. On the first night of action, Stewart was swept up in a race altercation, bending an axle and breaking a radius rod. That mishap sent him pitside for the rest of the night, after winning his heat race and setting a fast time of 7.708 around the tight oval.
On night two, however, Stewart drove his nearly 20-year-old racer-known as the "Our Gang Poker Club" Munchkin-to the win in his heat and to the front of the 60-lap main. The 36-year-old Indiana native went from an Eighth starting spot to Fifth in just four laps, sailing to Second by lap nine and moving in on the lead. With very little challenge, Stewart got the lead by lap 17 and never wavered in winning the race, making it five wins in the last eight events at Fort Wayne.
"I just love coming here," said Stewart. "This car is always fun to drive, but a lot of it is about the fans. It's not like going to a NASCAR race. I love my NASCAR fans, but the open wheel fans are so polite and respectful. Everybody said thank you, and nobody is saying you gotta do this and you gotta do that, like at a NASCAR track."
In winning this event Stewart laid claim to at least one USAC victory in all but one of the past 16 seasons since 1992, with the exception being the 1999 season.
The opening night saw NASCAR Penske South development driver Billy Wease capture his first indoor Midget win since winning an event in 1999 at the Indianapolis RCA Dome in a Kenyon Car race. The former "Turkey Night Grand Prix" champion went to the front after being involved in two crashes and going to the tailend of the field twice. Darland had the lead and Derek Bischak was Second with Wease in tow on the final lap. Wease found himself headed to the checkered flag coming off the final corner as the two leaders exchanged paint and went spinning in the process. Wease basically drove the wheels off his Midget racer and shot by when the opportunity presented itself.
"I can't believe it, after all these years of coming up short," said a bewildered Wease. "This was a crazy race. I had no clue I was going to win the thing. That was fun. I have been trying to win here since I was 16 years old, the last five years. I just can't believe it." The win marked Wease's fifth career USAC victory.
Another USAC personality and open wheel champion, Tony Elliott, summed it up.
"The indoor stuff has been pretty prestigious for many years," said the former Rumble winner. "It's just fun to come here, race, and put on a show for everyone in the middle of winter. This is something I look forward to every year. It's just after Christmas and cold outside. This race gives us a chance to get back into a racecar and have a little fun. I bought this car after winning the first two Fort Wayne events and it has just been sitting kind of idle in the shop. We took this car earlier in the year and just worked on rebuilding it getting ready for this event. I would like to get a win, but I also just want to have some fun."