January 29th, 2012
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 years. .
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 **** 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 Kauffman.
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.
1966 Bedford Speedway Super Modified/Sprint Car Champion, Johnny Grum, in victory lane in the Harry Fletcher Special #66 Ford John Pittman Photo
Johnny Grum with the Tom Clise owned Chamberlain & Frear Chassis Late Model 66a in 1977. John Boyd Photo