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Racing for the bulldogs

If there are constants in Diane Aukofer’s life, they include her love of racing and Gonzaga University.

So it’s not unusual that Aukofer combined those interests into a business venture. Aukofer, 42, is the owner of CEWard-National, a provider of graduation products. Her husband, John Aukofer, also works in the business.

CEWard-National has developed a promotional program involving Gonzaga University, and the late-model stock car of John Gamble, whose Monte Carlo carries the Bulldog logo on its hood.

“We proposed a promotional package to incorporate Gonzaga University into our racing team,” Aukofer said. She approached the powers-that-be and “they jumped on it,” Aukofer said. “(Gonzaga President) Fr. Spitzer thought it was a terrific idea.”

Having Gonzaga University riding along on a race car brings with it some responsibility. The race team is careful to present only the best image for itself and Gonzaga. The crew wears custom uniform shirts, and there are no alcohol or tobacco sponsors tolerated.

“We work with thousands of high school students each year, and the university promotion is a great tool as they think about the college they will attend,” Aukofer explained.

Aukofer’s company provides graduation products to area high schools and colleges. CEWard has served Gonzaga with caps and gowns, graduation announcements, accessories, diplomas, as well as other printed items for more than 22 years.

Even though Aukofer has sponsored Gamble for just the past few years, her involvement with racing is hardly new. “Auto racing has been a part of my family for 40 plus years,” Aukofer said. “My father and uncle raced from the time I was born until my late teens.”

Aukofer’s dad was well-known Foreign Stock racer Lin Morse and her uncle was noted local driver Jack Morse. “I lived and breathed racing growing up,” Aukofer said.

After having only a passing interest in the sport, Aukofer met Gamble about four years ago. After watching him behind the wheel, “I decided to get involved in auto racing again,” she said.

The team will hit the track this weekend for the fifth running of the Idaho 200 at Stateline Speedway.

Racing begins Friday night with a qualifying race involving the NAPA Late Model Series. Saturday, the Late Model Challenge drivers from the coast arrive to attempt to qualify for Sunday’s 200-lap race that begins at 1 p.m.

Gamble admits he hasn’t had a good season so far, with a share of engine problems but added, “we run pretty good out there (Stateline).” Gamble has had the most consistent finishes of any racer at the Idaho 200, having won back-to-back races in 2001 and 2002 before finishing second last year. Gamble won the 2003 Northwest Late Model title, picking up seven race wins along the way.

His first – and maybe most memorable – win came when he overcame Mark Groskreutz on the final turn of the last lap to claim victory. He made it look easy in 2002 leading from lap 123 on.

Gamble and Hayden Lake’s Darren Rupinski waged a back and forth battle before the Otis Orchard resident settled for second. “Darren Rupinski just had a faster car,” Gamble said of his 2003 finish. Gamble led early, lost the lead in the first half only to gain it back at the halfway point. Rupinski led the final 51 laps.

Besides his strong showing in recent Idaho 200s, Gamble has an impressive list of achievements in a relatively young career including being the 2000 AARA Sportsman champ. In 2002 he was fourth in the Montana 200 and this year was seventh.

The 1999 CEWard/Gonzaga University Monte Carlo also carries Cherry Lane Auto Plaza, River City Solid Surface, Clark Oil, and many other sponsors. “I wouldn’t be here if it was not for my sponsors,” Gamble said.

The Gonzaga tie-in “is a neat deal,” Gamble said. “They have a winning basketball team,” so having a top race car is a natural in Gamble’s estimation.

Liz Kishimoto

Liz Kishimoto/The Spokesman-Review

John Gamble will be racing his 2003 Monte Carlo in the big race at Stateline, Idaho this weekend. Gamble has a unique sponsorship deal with Gonzaga University. VV THURS SPORTS

John Gamble will be racing his 2003 Monte Carlo at Stateline, Idaho, this weekend. Gamble has a unique sponsorship deal with Gonzaga University.