By Eric Zembower
Altoona, Pa. Area sprint car and late model driving legend, John
Grum, 82, passed away Friday January 30, 2012 at Altoona Regional
Health System, Altoona Hospital campus with his family at his side.
Known to many as “Johnny” or “Grummy”, he was considered one of the
best of his craft during his driving career that spanned over 40
Grum grew up watching his father, John J. Grum, race on the area
country speedways and fairgrounds tracks in west central
Pennsylvania. The elder Grum also participated in racing events at
the famous Altoona Speedway board track. It wasn’t until 1950 when
the future hall of famer started his own driving career at the
Tipton Speedway in a car he shared driving duties with his father.
He later drove for car owners Dick Burkey and Buddy Sechler on the
former Penn Western Racing Association circuit tracks at Jennerstown,
Ebensburg, Houtzdale, Mahaffey, Windber and Tipton. He also made
infrequent starts on the sister Penn Central circuit speedways at
Port Royal, Snow Shoe and Reedsville.
By the end of the 1962 season he teamed up with Windber Pa. car
owner, Joe Horner, and drove his powerful number 46 modified for the
next 3 years at Port Royal and Selinsgrove. During the 1963 season
he would also drive Grant Hood’s modified on Sundays at the original
Motordrome Speedway in Ruffsdale, Pa.
At the end of the 65 season, Horner was in the process of starting
his Chrysler dealership in Windber and informed Grum he would not be
fielding a car for 1966. Word got to Grum that a gas station owner
in Olney Md. named Harry Fletcher was building a radical Ford
powered super modified and wanted Grum to be his driver. That
radical car was called the “sidewinder” which Grum piloted for the
next several years and produced wins at Port Royal, Hagerstown,
Everett and Bedford. He also drove at the Langhorne Speedway several
times during the decade.
The Fletcher team opted for the more conventional sprint car chassis
and Chevrolet power as the decade came to a close. Over the next 8
seasons, the well maintained and beautiful #66 went on to many wins
and track championships Port Royal and Hagerstown with one of their
biggest wins coming at the Williams Grove National Open in 1970.
Going winless at Port Royal in 1974, the team turned things around
in 1975 and visited the historic fairgrounds victory lane 11 times
and won the points championship over Jimmy Sheaffer and Keith
As Grum approached his mid to late forties, he transitioned to from
sprints to late models subbing for Bedford driver, Dave Hite. In
1977, Frostburg Maryland strip coal operator, Tom Clise, tabbed Grum
to drive his Chamberlain and Frear Chassis late model number 66a for
the next 3 seasons. This car featured an all aluminum Chevrolet
engine and aluminum wheels, making it one the lightest cars in
completion during this period. The team found great success at
Bedford and Port Royal and other area speedways. With successive
wins at Bedford in 1978, promoter, Mel Norris, put up a highly
publicized bounty on Grum. Veteran driver Turk Burket was the first
to beat Grum and collected the bounty. After Clise, he drove for the
Scanlon Chiropractic late model team in 1981, winning the first race
of the year at Bedford. Grum finished out the season by not
qualifying for the Laurel Highlands late model race at Jennerstown
and retired from racing.
He was lured back into the driver’s seat by brother in law and
sidekick, Sam Barley, in the early nineties to drive Barley’s street
stock at the Hesston Speedway. After several years he did retire for
good only to come back one more time for a special legends match
race at Bedford in 2003. Grum’s racing accomplishments will make him
one of the greatest drivers and one of the most popular. The late
Kenny Weld stated in several interviews that Grum was one of
toughest and smoothest he ever raced against.
Mr. Grum is survived by his wife Doris and children Deborah, Denise,
J.P. and Teresa; three grandchildren: Ashley, Jenna and Joshua; his
mother Florence and many brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.
A funeral service was held this past Tuesday at the Mauk & Yates
Funeral Home in the Juniata section of Altoona and was laid to rest
at the Blair Memorial Park in Altoona.