Elliott Made Georgia History at Indy

Brandon Reed

Brandon Reed

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 7/23/09

Drivers from Georgia have been successful at many of the most important and most historic tracks in the country.

Brothers Fonty and Tim Flock both beat the one-mile track at Langhorne, Pennsylvania, a circuit so mean and tough that it was referred to as the “track that ate it’s heroes.”

Georgia drivers dominated the beach at Daytona.  Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall, Gober Sosebee, Bernard Long, Harold Kite and the Flock Brothers all tasted victory at the four-mile layout, while Sam McQuagg won on the big track in 1966.  The late Dale Singleton would twice win the Daytona 200 motorcycle event at the track, while Gene Felton won in sports cars.

Bill Elliott celebrates a victory in 2002.  Photo courtesy of GARHOFA

Bill Elliott celebrates a victory in 2002. Photo courtesy of GARHOFA

Fonty Flock won at Darlington in 1952.  Frank Mundy and Buckshot Jones both recorded wins at the famed Milwaukee Mile.

But of all the wins, no Peach State native had ever defeated the 2.5-mile oval known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Only a handful of Georgians had ever attempted to race there over the years, mainly in the famed Indy 500, which was the only event held there for much of the speedway’s history.

In 1919, Arthur Thurman, of Flintstone, Georgia, became the first Georgian to make the Indy 500 field.  He died on the 44th lap of the event, making him the first driver to die during the running of the race.

NASCAR champion Red Byron and famed Georgia mechanic Red Vogt tried twice to make the field in a flat head Ford powered racer, but never ran in the 500.

But finally, in 2002, a Georgian finally broke into the hallowed ground that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s victory lane.

But it wasn’t in the 500.  It was in NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.  And the driver was one of NASCAR’s all-time most popular drivers, Dawsonville native Bill Elliott.

Elliott entered the race fresh off a win at Pocono, and many felt that the Georgia redhead would have an edge on Indy’s similarly flat layout.

Elliott just missed sitting on the pole in his Ray Evernham owned Dodge, as he was edged out by Indiana native Tony Stewart.

Stewart led early, leading the way for most of the races first 37 laps.

But when Elliott took the lead on lap 39, he turned most of the rest of the 160-lap event into the Bill Elliott show.

Elliott would give up the lead only during pit stops over the course of the next 98 laps.  His only serous challenge came when Rusty Wallace’s crew gambled on two tires during a late pit stop, putting the Missouri native out front.

This painting by Elmer Meider, celebrating Elliott's Brickyard victory, hangs in the Elliott room at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

This painting by Elmer Meider, celebrating Elliott's Brickyard victory, hangs in the Elliott room at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

On the restart, Wallace pulled away.  But Elliott stalked Wallace, and with just a handful of laps remaining, the Georgia racer retook the lead in turn three, and never looked back.

Elliott took the win, and broke the Brickyard jinx for Georgia racers at Indianapolis.

The trophy for the historic win, along with Elliott’s uniform and helmet from that day, are on display in the Elliott Family room at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Elliott’s hometown of Dawsonville, Georgia.

Any driver will tell you that a win at the famed Brickyard is special.

But for the drivers from the Peach State who had tried before, and the fans that had wished so long, Elliott’s dominating performance at Indianapolis was a milestone long waited for.

And it was well worth the wait.

Brandon Reed is the webmaster and editor for Georgia Racing History.com.

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