RODDA: The Long Reach Of Don Lamberti

Chris Masters and his family have received support from Don Lamberti, the founder of Casey's General Stores, for years.
Chris Masters and his family have received support from Don Lamberti, the founder of Casey’s General Stores, for years.
Ron Rodda

LINCOLN, Calif. – In Des Moines, Iowa, in 1959 Donald Lamberti leased a service station from his father, which he converted to a convenience store.

Eight years later a friend and business partner, Kurvin C. Fish, suggested Lamberti buy a service station in Boone, Iowa, which he did and converted that one also, renaming it Casey’s after his friend.

Since the Boone store did well, another was converted to a Casey’s in Creston and then Waukee became the first built from scratch location. Despite the small population base in Waukee at the time, it was the most successful of the first three and small towns became the home for many of the stores as it steadily added locations.

“Don first became interested in racing as a child when he moved down the street from Gil Sonner,” said Napa, Calif., sprint car driver Chris Masters. “They became lifelong friends.”

The relocation on the same street as the late Gil Sonner sparked an interest in racing for Lamberti that eventually led to his company becoming a well known sponsor for many drivers and the Casey’s logo appearing on a number of race cars.

The pair built their first race car when still teenagers, building cars that raced througout Iowa and continued their efforts even more after Casey’s was established.

Most of the time there has been a mix of Lamberti and corporate sponsorship. Many drivers raced with sponsorship from Lamberti and, although Don retired from Casey’s in 2003, the decal of Casey’s can still be regularly seen on race cars.

One of those drivers benefiting from Lamberti sponsorship was initially Dave Masters and now his son, Chris. That came about because, as Chris puts is, Don is, “A distant relative and a family friend. My great grandmother and his mother were sisters, or you could say my grandmother and Don were cousins. My mother’s side of the family came from the Des Moines and Ankeny area.

“Don came out for some sort of family function after my folks had been married a few years, they met and were both big into racing, they hit it off and have been friends ever since,” Lamberti explained. “That is one thing about our sport, people from different walks of life are pretty tight.

“When we visit, it’s understood we stay with him and his wife, Charlene, and the hospitality is second to none. Don is someone we are very lucky to know and my father talks with him on the phone every week or two.”

Chris’s father got into racing in the Vallejo hardtop days, helping Darrell Dudley, Phil Pedlar and others. Dave Masters got his own hardtop in the mid-70s and raced with them. He eventually moved to supermodifieds, racing at West Capital and Placerville, and in the 80s Don sent him a sprint car chassis and they’ve been running a sprint car ever since, supported by Don Lamberti all these years.

In 2004 Chris was done with school and started racing, stepping into a sprint car with no previous experience in any kind of race car. Masters came back home after being on the outlaw tour with Gil Sonner and his rookie driver, Daryn Pittman, and bought a car from Brooke Tatnell.

The car got to sit in the garage until his schooling was over before his first race at Placerville in a Civil War show, which meant lots of cars and very experienced drivers in the pits.

“It was the first night I ever wheel packed a car or raced a car, and you think you’re hauling the mail and they just fly by on both sides,” Masters said. “It was a little tough. And I thought, ‘oh my, we’re in trouble, what did I get myself into?’ It was definitely a humbling experience.

“Don Lamberti has been a help every year after supporting my dad, without which I would not be racing now. Often something almost magically arrives in the mail; we never know when something might appear. That is Don’s style, he’s not looking for any recognition he just wants to help someone out.’

Chris displays the Casey’s General Store logo on his sprint car although his sponsorship is not corporate, but from Lamberti. Out of respect for Don, Masters uses the Casey’s logo that has become so recognizable in racing.

It is not only the racing genre that has enjoyed the support of Lamberti. Some very significant donations went to recipients such as Buena Vista University, Balance Autism and many others. He is a previous recipient of the Hometown Pride Vision Award for helping to improve and enhance the quality of Iowa

Lamberti will be inducted into the Knoxville Hall of Fame this year in the series sponsors category. He has been in the Masters family hall of fame for nearly 40 years.