By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 2/19/10
Plans got underway this week for the third annual Lakewood Speedway Reunion, which is planned for August 7 at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Dawsonville, Georgia.
The reunion has fast become a favorite gathering for many of Georgia’s racing heroes. During the first event, around 400 people came out to take part, telling stories, shaking hands and remembering good times at one of the greatest race tracks in history.
Among those who have turned out over the last couple of years include car owner Raymond Parks, whose drivers won multiple times at Lakewood, 1960 NASCAR champion Rex White, Georgia legend Mike Head, and 2009 Georgia Racing Hall of Fame inductee Buck Simmons, who won the final race ever held at the track in 1979.
One of my favorite people that came out to the first reunion was racing pioneer and 2009 GRHOF inductee Tommie Irvin. Irvin started out his career as a driver, applying for his NASCAR license in 1948. He raced at Daytona Beach, and even traveled to Chicago to race for Andy Granatelli.
Irvin not only raced at Lakewood, but can also boast a victory there.
Irvin was victorious on the 1-mile dirt track in 1955 in a race held in conjunction with the annual Southeastern Fair.
Irvin says that victory was the biggest of his career. The trophy now sits in a place of honor at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
The track, which was built in 1916 around a former reservoir for the city of Atlanta, was known for its speed and its danger. The first turn was a tight cut between the lake and Lakewood Avenue.
Irvin told me in a 2007 interview that the track was a fast one to race on.
“You got as fast as you wanted to go,” he said. “When you went into that upper turn, you would be running a good bit over 100 miles an hour, which was fast at that time. But when you came down through that lower turn, you’d come out at around 60 or 65 miles an hour. You lost all your momentum going around that lower turn. But coming down that straightaway, you could get on up there. You were really running.”
Along with winning the 1955 Southeastern Fair event, Irvin was present for one of the most legendary moments in the track’s history.
The facility was owned by the city of Atlanta. In an attempt to keep out former moonshine runners, the city fathers passed an ordinance barring drivers who had been convicted of hauling liquor from racing at the facility.
That led to a day when legendary Georgia racer Bob Flock decided he was going to race, city ordinance be damned.
“I remember it well,” Irvin said. “I was lined up out there, and this one car kept circling. Nobody realized at first it was Bob, because he had a handkerchief tied over his face. Then a police car came on the track, then another. They got down to the lower end, and had him hemmed up.
“He ran through the fence, and broke some boards. He took off through the field, and went up on the highway, with these police cars chasing him, and they took off down Lakewood Avenue. We found out later that it was Bob, trying to slip in there to race.”
The final automobile race at Lakewood was held in 1979. A few years later, a music venue was built on top of the fourth turn, while a parking lot covers the third corner. Very little of the legendary racetrack remains.
Irvin believes that Lakewood would still be a viable racing facility today if it had gotten the proper guidance and attention.
“If the city of Atlanta had paved it, I don’t believe there would be an Atlanta Motor Speedway there today,” Irvin said back in 2007. “They had the parking, they had the security, they had the fences, they had plenty of room there, and they had the ideal race track. Everybody loved Lakewood. I’ve seen boys from Illinois and everywhere up north come down to race there. They really had a racetrack down there.
“But the city of Atlanta owned it, and they didn’t care if anybody raced there or not.”
Fortunately, there are those who care about preserving the memory of Lakewood. Many of those are expected to turn out on August 7 to remember and celebrate the speedway, as well as racers such as Tommie Irvin who raced and won at a track that was called “The Indianapolis of the South.”
Editor’s note: Portions of this column were originally published in the Sept. 3, 2008 edition of The Jackson Herald.
Brandon Reed is the editor and webmaster of Georgia Racing History.com.
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