Jamestown race car driver and former Jamestown Speedway track owner and promoter Don Gumke has died.
Gumke was believed to be killed after becoming pinned under his race car while working on it Tuesday night in Arizona, according to reports from those within the local racing community. He was 66.
Gumke became a fixture behind the wheel at local dirt tracks beginning in the 1970s, achieving success in the late model and modified ranks in a career spanning more than 40 years on and off the track. His No. 2* (2 star) was instantly recognizable and his winning prowess earned him the nickname: The Grinder.
Gumke, also a prominent Jamestown businessman, stepped aside from full-time racing in the 2000s but remained heavily involved in the sport as a part-owner of Jamestown Speedway up until 2013. He resumed racing dirt-track modifieds in 2018 and raced a full schedule in 2019, notching a pair of top-five feature finishes in Jamestown and a third at Central Arizona Speedway in Casa Grande, Arizona.
"It's a huge loss," said current Jamestown Speedway co-owner Tim Baldwin. "He was really an icon as far as the racing world goes in Jamestown, the state, in the region and beyond. He's done everything from, back to when (Jamestown) was a club run race track, he was involved as the promoter, and he still helped us out with track prep stuff and he was getting back into racing.
"He was a legend."
Gumke developed a close following with fans and competitors alike. Numerous local drivers credit Gumke for either inspiring their own racing careers or lending a helping hand in some capacity, including area racing veterans such as Leann Christensen and John Corell Sr.
Asked by The Sun in 2015 how he got his start in racing in the mid-70s, Corell, 65, replied: "Don Gumke did it to me."
"He's got hundreds, if not thousands, of fans out there," Corell said. "As a promoter, he really took it to heart and was very proud of his work that he did (at Jamestown Speedway), and he did an excellent job also.
"He's going to be truly missed by a lot, a lot of people. He was one of my best friends and it's been a tough day."
Gumke had already begun the 2020 racing season. He competed at the Cocopah Speedway Winter Nationals in Somerton, Arizona, on Jan. 8-11. Somerton is located southwest of Yuma.
Gumke, affable and largely soft-spoken off the track, was as competitive as any driver under green-flag racing conditions.
"He would be a fierce competitor," Correll said. "We were friends in the pits and would do anything to help each other out, but when we got on the race track it was your goal to pass him or not to let him pass you."
Numerous local tributes to Gumke were being found on Facebook throughout the day Wednesday.
"He died doing what he really loved," Correll said.