Dawsonville, City Of Champions
You may have noticed that several times through this article, it has been noted that a driver hailed from a certain hometown.
If you kept count, you found that no less than five Daytona winners came from the same hometown.
Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall, Bernard Long, Gober Sosebee and Bill Elliott all came from Dawsonville, Georgia.
You’d be hard pressed to find another single small town that produced so many winners at such a major venue.
So, what is it about this tiny hamlet, situated about an hour north of metro Atlanta that helps it to produce so many good racers?
According to local racing aficionado Gordon Pirkle, in the case of the early drivers on the beach, it’s not so much something in the water as it is what those drivers turned the water into.
Moonshine whiskey, which all four hauled out of the mountains and into thirsty Atlanta under the cover of darkness.
“This is the birthplace of stock car racing,” Pirkle said. “A lot of people want to press me and ask ‘where’s your race track’? It was down here in the river bottoms before there was any organized stock car racing anywhere.
“On Sunday nights, a bunch of the liquor guys would meet down here in the river bottom and bet on who had the best drivers. The word leaked out and people started showing up to watch it on Sunday evenings.”
Dawsonville native Frank Christian saw the people that came out to these events, and, sensing a profit, organized what would be the first event for what would become modern stock cars at the old Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta in 1938.
“That was the first organized stock car racing in this part of the country,” Pirkle said.
In the forties, the Georgia Gang made their way to Daytona Beach.
“In the decade of the 40s, out of 15 races run on the beach, 12 were won by the Dawsonville Gang, either as a driver or a car owner.” Pirkle said.
Pirkle said there were a few things that gave the cars owned by Raymond Parks their edge.
“I think Red Vogt was the key ingredient,” he said. “He could get more out of a flathead Ford engine than anybody. Plus, they had more experience than anybody. They were racing seven days a week back then between the races and running moonshine through the week.
“If you come in second in a stock car race, you get paid for it. If you come in second running moonshine, you go to jail.”
In the eighties, when Bill Elliott hit the racing scene, it breathed new life into the Georgia Gang, and to their long time fans around Dawsonville.
“I’ve never seen so many people proud of one sport as most of the people in Dawsonville when Bill came along,” Pirkle said. “If Bill hadn’t come along and did as well as he did, the history of racing here in Dawsonville probably would have been lost.”
Pirkle said most of the reporters that came to the town to report on Elliott’s success back then knew nothing of the history, and learned about Seay, Hall and all the other racers that had been heroes to the long time residents of the area.
“It was so exciting,” Pirkle said. “I’ve never seen people have such a feeling. They were so proud of our little town and of the Elliott family.”
And that pride continues today. The city is home to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, which honors many of the Georgia Gang that went south annually to beat the beach.
In fact, all of the members of the inaugural class to be inducted into the hall in 2002 either won at Daytona or had a hand in winning as a mechanic or a car owner.
The Hall of Fame works constantly to make sure that nobody ever forgets the heroes that made up and continue to make up The Georgia Gang.