Legendary car builder and racer Robert Hamke passed away Thursday morning at the age of 73. Hamke, most notably known for founding Hamke Racecars & Parts, was a prominent figure in the short track racing community as a chassis manufacturer, car owner and driver during his many years in the sport.
As a driver, Hamke found success on short tracks throughout his home state of Florida, including two victories in the prestigious Florida Governor’s Cup in 1969 and 1977.
In 1981, Hamke founded Hamke Racecars & Parts, a chassis manufacturer and parts supplier for race teams throughout North America. Hamke’s chassis went on to win many of the nation’s biggest short track races including the Snowball Derby, Winchester 400, All American 400 and Redbud 400, as well as many track and touring series championships.
Hamke retired in 2018 and sold the business to Justin Oertel, who later joined forces with NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch to create what is now known as Rowdy Manufacturing.
In addition to finding success as a driver and chassis builder, Hamke also experienced success as a car owner with the No. 74 Hamke house car. Super Late Model stars such as Preston Peltier, Stephen Nasse, Matt Craig and Ryan Lawler all drove the Hamke house car to victory lane. NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Daniel Hemric also drove Hamke’s car during the prestigious Oxford 250 in 2014.
Peltier, who won many races behind the wheel of the blue and yellow No. 74, enjoyed a close relationship with Hamke throughout the years. In addition to his success on and off the race track, it was Hamke’s one-of-a-kind personality that Peltier will remember the most.
“The first thing that comes to mind is walking into his shop and he’s got that s— eating grin on his face,” Peltier said. “You can’t even sugarcoat it. It’s, ‘What the f— do you want? I know you can’t print that, but that’s Robert Hamke.
“Man, I’ll tell you. There are guys that have known him longer, but he was like a second dad to me. I got to drive his race cars, and to be honest with you up until he sold off his business, I had never driven another car. I had always been in a Hamke. I’m at a loss for words, I don’t even know what to say. I’m going to miss the guy. He was an innovator and he built nice stuff. You just had to know Robert. He had a good heart and he was a good guy. Most people didn’t know how to take him, and it’s just because they didn’t know him.”
Peltier’s relationship with Hamke began due to unfortunate circumstances, but it led to a relationship that Peltier will always treasure.
“I wrecked one of his race cars that I had rented from a guy at Concord,” Peltier said. “I had wrecked a few of his cars. It was one of those deals where one day I walked into the shop and he basically sat me down and said, ‘I see you’re fast all the time, but you need to learn how to finish these races and not finish them on the hook. That’s kind of how our relationship started. He always had some advice for me. The last time I talked to him was last week. I was actually going to call him yesterday or the day before and I got busy and didn’t, so I’ll regret that. But nobody knows the time or day and I know that he lived a good full life. You can’t complain there. He’s going to be missed by a lot of people. I don’t care where they have their services, it’s going to be packed.”
Hamke’s exact cause of death was not known by Speed51 at the time this story was published. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Speed51 joins the entire racing community in offering condolences to the Hamke family and those who were close to him.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51 Content Manager – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Historical Photo