For the Jaggers, racing is a family affair.
Three of the four Warsaw family members competed Friday and Saturday during the Rumble in Fort Wayne at the Memorial Coliseum Exposition Center.
Chris Jagger has been racing for 20 years and his son, Chris, Jr., 21, raced high-powered race cars – called sprint cars – for several years, but this was his first time in the midget-car competition. His sister, Taylor, 16, also competed for the first time Friday. Mom Jackie doesn’t race but is there to offer support and cheer on the Jagger team.
An honor student who will graduate a year early from Warsaw High School and pursue a nursing degree, Taylor enjoys the rush of racing.
“The level of adrenaline in your body combined with the competition and speed is just a lot of fun,” she said.
The Rumble in Fort Wayne, which features indoor midget races and quarter midget-car races, attracted about 285 drivers, including children and adults, event promoter Tony Barhorst said.
Though midget-car racing has taken place in Fort Wayne since 1954, this is the 16th consecutive year for the Rumble in Fort Wayne, Barhorst said.
The show was not sold out Friday, but there “was a good crowd,” and a larger turnout was seen on Saturday, Barhorst said.
The event continues to return to northeast Indiana because “Fort Wayne is a great venue,” Barhorst said.
The Jagger family chose it because of the proximity to home. Chris, Jr. has two daughters, ages 1 and 2, and his racing time is limited.
This weekend was the first time the family had been back on the track after a 2 1/2 -year absence, Chris Jr. said. But the thrill of racing has not dissipated.
“I think this may be even more fun than racing sprint cars,” he said.
On the other side of the expo center, in the pit area for the one-quarter midgets, Chad Wise and his son, Zeb, were readying the boy’s car for the next race.
Zeb, a fifth-grader at Ryan Park Elementary in Angola, has been racing midgets since he was 6, he said.
The family has had to turn the garage into a showcase for Zeb’s 167 trophies.
Zeb finished first in two races Friday – the Light 160 and the Senior Animal.
“He’s always been in the fastest class since he was 8,” said his father.
Zeb likes racing and making friends from all over the country.
“I also like winning,” he said.
His advice to novice racers is to be smart and not to get discouraged during a losing streak.
“We won 130 feature races and then went six to eight months with no wins at all,” he said.
At 11, Zeb is a senior in the quarter midget category where drivers can be as young as 5.
Known across the country as an expert trainer for those child drivers is Larry Cleveland of Indianapolis.
Cleveland has trained family members unofficially since 1999 and began as an official trainer in 2005, he said.
“All kids are different, but I give them all extra time to gain trust and confidence,” Cleveland said.
He had to give Will Edwards, 10, of Franklin, quite a bit of time. Will didn’t care much for Cleveland when he trained with him three years ago.
“I started training that year, but dropped out,” Will said.
His return to the sport this year is a more positive experience and he has learned much under Cleveland’s tutelage, Will said.
“Three years ago I didn’t want to listen, but now I’m ready and following ‘Uncle Lar’s’ advice,” Will said.
“He’s gaining more confidence,” Cleveland said. “He increased his RPMs in one night – going from 4,400 to 5,800 RPMs by putting more power to the gas pedal,” Cleveland said, looking at Will proudly.
Across the race track, in a third pit area for karts, Indiana University student Alleca Kerker, 20, is keeping company with her father, John.
The daughter-dad duo from Kokomo has been hanging out for 10 years while Alleca raced and dad served as the 1-man pit crew.
In between racing and majoring in sports marketing and management, Alleca is serving internships with the Colts and ESPN.
She loves racing and “gets chills at every racing event,” but wants to someday work off the track and “run the show,” she said.
Her friends think it’s weird that she spends so much time with her dad at racing events, she said.
John looks up from the kart he is working on and shrugs, offering a wry grin.
“It’s kept her out of trouble all these years,” he said.