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A tribute to the Grinder, Don Gumke

“The Grinder” Don Gumke in what would turn out to be his final weekend of racing down in Arizona. (January 2020)

By definition, Don Gumke was a racer. He competed in the modified and late model ranks for over 40 years. But to the thousands of fans and fellow competitors that got to know him over the course of those four decades in North Dakota and across the country, he was much more than that.

To many, he was a mentor that helped them begin their own racing career. To others, he was a friendly rival that drove them to be better drivers on the track. To the fans, he was a hero as he always seemed to be able to drive his iconic No. 2-Star to the front. To all of us, he is a legend.

His fierce competitiveness on the track was countered by his amiable, soft-spoken nature off the track.

Gumke was more than just a driver. He was also a part-owner of his hometown track, Jamestown Speedway, until 2013. During that time, he did everything from track prep to being the speedway promoter and all duties in between. He did everything he could to help promote and grow the sport.

In the 2000s, he stepped away from full-time racing. In 2018, he climbed back behind the wheel for the first time and ran a full schedule in 2019.

Gumke had already kicked off his 2020 racing season in mid-January, racing at Cocopah Speedway’s Winter Nationals. Gumke passed away on January 14th while preparing his car for racing that upcoming weekend at Cocopah. The news of his passing shook the N.D. racing community. On Saturday, January 18th, on the final night of the Winter Nationals, the first step of the healing process began for the tight-knit community. In a storybook ending, fellow N.D. racer, Casey Arneson, topped the IMCA modified field, stacked with some of the nation’s top talent, in dominating fashion.

An emotional Arneson dedicated the win to Gumke saying, “I know he was riding with me.”

Gumke will go down as one of the best to ever circle a dirt track from the state of N.D. and his memory will live on among his fans and fellow competitors forever.