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  • tombergie01

The Passing of a Racing Legend

I took this picture above at Sheyenne Speedway in Lisbon last summer, and I pondered how many laps and feature wins John Corell (5), left, and Don “The Grinder” Gumke (2*) had between them. The two Jamestown racing legends dated their careers back to the 1970s. Both were racing in the IMCA Modifieds at Sheyenne.

There used to be a great racing newspaper called Inside Track, which I believe was based out of Hankinson, N.D. It carried results from many area tracks which was nice in the days before the internet and My Race Pass. Although I mainly went to Viking Speedway in the late 1980s, the paper was nice because it provided results from many different tracks in the region. Even as a teenager I bought a subscription and I waited every week to see Inside Track come in the mail.

Often, I would see Corell and Gumke’s name in the results at Jamestown and Red River Valley. Corell, driving his famous yellow Perkins-sponsored #5, and Gumke, driving the #2 car (he did some late model racing in those days). When you talk racing history with people in the Jamestown area, those are two of the names ALWAYS come up.

It was shocking to learn that Gumke, 66, had tragically passed away earlier this week. He was down in Arizona racing. What a void that leaves in racing in the eastern North Dakota region.

It was Gumke who got Corell, still racing in his 60s, into racing back in the 1970s.

Here is an excerpt from a RaceChaser blog I did on Corell in 2017:

Ironically, his racing career more than four decades ago got its start thanks to another well-known Jamestown-area racer – Don Gumke. Gumke offered Corell a chance to drive his stock car, which was a 1969 RS Camaro.

“We started working together in a garage in town,” Corell said. “He was into the racing then. I was drag racing a little bit so I started helping him. He had me drive the thing one night, and (it was like) ‘Oh my God.’”

Gumke not only raced, but was an owner of Jamestown Speedway for many years and even last year was helping with track prep at the 1/4-mile oval. He was extremely well known in this part of racing country. The many posts in tribute to him on Facebook about him make that clear. There was a nice story in the Jamestown Sun and

I even intended to do a RaceChaser blog story on Gumke last summer about making his comeback behind the wheel which he had done the past few years. It was a busy night with the Dakota Classic Mod Tour in Jamestown in July and he was pressed into duty helping with some track prep. So it didn’t work out unfortunately, but would have been fun to visit. When you race 30-40 years, the stories pile up.

There have been other losses locally in racing, too in the last year— Jeff Carpenter of Valley City, a long-time midwest modified driver, passed away from a heart attack in May 2019. Long-time Fargo-area racer Troy Olson passed away in the summer of 2019. Olson piloted the familiar Northwest Auto Body #0 late model for a long time.

There is clearly more to life than racing and news like Gumke’s passing reminds us all of that. But at the same time, it is a massive loss to the racing community to lose a legend like the Grinder.

Thoughts and prayers are with Gumke’s family and friends.

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