A Fortunate Witness To History

Brandon Reed

Brandon Reed

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 12/18/09

As a race fan, I’ve been a very fortunate man.

I’ve been to a lot of races over the years, and several of them ended up being historic moments not only in Georgia auto racing but also in the overall scope of motor racing.

The first race I ever attended was the inaugural World Crown 300 back in 1983 at what is now Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Georgia.  I sat with my grandfather and watched Dick Trickle be crowned as the “King of the Short Tracks”.

Years later, I was seated right across from Alan Kulwicki’s pits as he, Bill Elliott and Davey Allison fought for the Winston Cup at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1992.  It also happened to be the last race in the legendary career of “The King”, Richard Petty.

I can still remember the accident that took Petty out unfolding in front of me.  I saw Dick Trickle’s Snickers sponsored Ford come sliding up the track towards my vantage point, then seeing the hood off Ken Schrader’s car go flying in the air.

The next thing I and everyone else in the place spotted was Petty’s blue and red Pontiac in flames, moving towards the infield after making contact with another car.  The contact had knocked an oil line off, causing the fire.

The fire was put out, and Richard waved to the cheering crowd.

I remember watching Elliott dominate the end of the race and seeing Kulwicki’s last pit stop.  I remember the excitement that went through the crowd as everyone realized the underdog driver from Wisconsin was going to be the next champ.  It was an incredible moment.

Adam Petty with his ASA Pontiac in 1998.  Photo courtesy Andy Towler

Adam Petty with his ASA Pontiac in 1998. Photo courtesy Andy Towler

I was at Peach State Speedway (now Gresham Motorsports Park) in April of 1998 when young Adam Petty became the first fourth generation professional athlete in American history by making a start in an ASA event there.  I was fortunate enough to be able to spend time with Adam and his family prior to the event.

Though he didn’t win, his poise and smile won a lot of fans that night.  To this day, when I see Kyle Petty, he remembers the time I spent with them.  There’s noting more special than that.

Though Adam’s not with us anymore, I can’t go to that track and not think of him.

I was at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2001 when Kevin Harvick pushed his way past Jeff Gordon to take a photo finish win, the first of his career, piloting the car of the late Dale Earnhardt.  No matter if you’re a fan or not, Harvick made that day a memorable one.

I was at Peach State Speedway in 2007 when Paul Kelley pushed his way past the late Matt Hawkins to become the first three-time winner of the World Crown.  Hawkins had dominated the race, but Kelley used some slick tire strategy to put himself in a position to challenge at the end.

Also in 2007, I was at the Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia when John Force and his daughter, Ashley, faced off in the first round of Funny Car eliminations in the Southern Nationals.

It marked the first time a father and a daughter had gone head-to-head in NHRA history.  Ashley came away the victor with a pass at 317.05 miles an hour.

One year later, it was déjà vu all over again at the Southern Nationals.

John Force (pictured right) prepares to watch his daughter Ashley during a qualifying run at the 2007 Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.  Photo by Brandon Reed

John Force (pictured right) prepares to watch his daughter Ashley during a qualifying run at the 2007 Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. Photo by Brandon Reed

Again, it was John versus Ashley in the Funny Car division.

But this time, it wasn’t for first round eliminations.  It was in the final for the victory.

There was a lot on the line, too.  Ashley was looking for her first win.  For John, he was looking for his one thousandth career round victory.

To add to the drama, as the Forces pulled up to the starting line, it began to rain.  Talk about building drama!

When the rain stopped and the cars were lined up, every fan was on their feet.  Many of us in the press box were too.

When it was all over, it was another historic finish.  Ashley beat John with a pass at 320.26 miles an hour to become the first woman to win a national event in the NHRA Funny Car category.  John’s car broke traction coming off the line, denying the iconic 14-time champ a chance at another win.

The most recent bit of history I was fortunate enough to be witness to took place over the course of the last year, as I watched the former Jefco Speedway be slowly transformed into the new Gresham Motorsports Park.

I guess it always seems to come back to that spot, being my home track.  I wonder if that’s how Junior Johnson feels about North Wilkesboro?

I was there the day the old press box was burned down.  I was there the day the old grandstands came up.  I watched weeks later as the old asphalt was plowed up.  I saw the new stands go in on the backstretch.  I watched the new asphalt go down, and had a ringside seat when the new control tower was put into place.

The cherry on top was the first event at the track, the 26th annual World Crown 300.  I was fortunate enough to do the official web cast for the event.

What a race it was!  In the end, Paul Kelley recorded his fourth World Crown victory after Jeff Choquette and Max Gresham were disqualified in tech.  Nobody else even comes close to Kelley’s record.

As I said before, I’ve been a lucky, lucky man.  With a new year looming on the horizon, I can only wait and wonder what new pieces of history I’ll be fortunate enough to see unfold after January 1.

It’s going to be another great ride!

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

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