Remembering Valdosta’s Thunderbowl Speedway

Harvey Jones (6) and Sam McQuagg (90) lead the pack down the backstretch at the Thunderbowl Speedway.  Behind them are Hulon Jones (90), Hulon Jones (second number 6), Willie McDonald (91), as well as Frank Taylor and Earl Powell.  Photo courtesy Earl Powell

Harvey Jones (6) and Sam McQuagg (90) lead the pack down the backstretch at the Thunderbowl Speedway. Photo courtesy Earl Powell

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Feature Stories 12/11/09

It was a time for reminiscing down in Valdosta, Georgia back on November 15.

That’s when the South Georgia chapter of GARHOFA held the latest installment of the Thunderbowl Speedway Reunion, celebrating the venerable old 3/8 mile dirt speed palace that once saw some of the best racers from south Georgia and northern Florida come to do battle.

The track opened in 1959, with Georgia Racing Hall of Fame member Harvey Jones winning the first event.

All of the greats came to race there, including Sam McQuagg, Larry Strickland, Eddie MacDonald and more.

The Thunderbowl took a short hiatus when Valdosta 75 Speedway opened in 1962, but reopened when Valdosta 75 closed in 1967.

From there, the Thunderbowl stayed open through the next three decades.  Of note was the “Sportsman” class that ran at the Thunderbowl, consisting of the old coupes, which ran until 1985.  The Thunderbowl was the last track in Georgia to run this division.

The Thunderbowl ran strong until 1999, when the track closed up for good.

But it’s not been forgotten.  Last month, former drivers, mechanics and fans of the old track gathered at the site of the old speedway, sharing stories, signing autographs and eating barbeque.  Among those on hand were Yankee Smith, Coot Rowland, Ed Brown, Louie Radney, Bill O’Neal, Ronnie Lieupo, Ed Mansfield, Charlie Hatch, Sputter Ragan, Eddie MacDonald and Gerry Paulk.

Several vintage racecars were on the premises as well.

In addition, Georgia Racing Hall of Fame members Sam McQuagg and Harvey Jones, who both passed away earlier this year, were honored.

It was a great gathering, and a great way to honor one of Georgia’s great lost speedways and those who raced there.

Here’s a look at some of the sights from the Thunderbowl Reunion.

Thanks to Roger Croft, Sherry Roberts and Mike Bell for their invaluable help on this story.

Here's a look from overhead at the site of the Thunderbowl today.

Here's a look from overhead at the site of the Thunderbowl today.

The cars and drivers on hand look like they are ready to go racing.  Photos courtesy Sherry Roberts

The cars and drivers on hand look like they are ready to go racing. Photos courtesy Sherry Roberts

Charlie Mincey’s #16 restored “Skeeter” was onhand, and was a crowd favorite as udual.  The car’s owner, Happy Winslett of Brunswick, Georgia, can be seen walking in the foreground.

Charlie Mincey’s #16 restored “Skeeter” was onhand, and was a crowd favorite as usual. The car’s owner, Happy Winslett of Brunswick, Georgia, can be seen walking in the foreground.

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