A Look At Old Tracks of Northeast Georgia

Mike Bell

By Mike Bell
Posted in Columns 4/16/10

Last year, I met Heather Rhodes, the publisher and editor of Slingin’ Dirt Magazine at Hartwell Speedway while the Carolina Clash was stirring up the red clay?

“Could you do something on history for publication in the paper?” was her request. Here’s what I shared with her.

Looking at Slingin’ Dirt, you notice that it covers mostly North Georgia.  Back in 1956, racing was so different and took on a bigger look.  East Park Speedway ran on Friday night to packed crowds with sportsman and jalopy racing.  Toccoa Speedway ran the same classes on Saturday night for their second year of operation (yeah, I know they claim to be the oldest track in Georgia but Oglethorpe opened in 1951 with Waycross and Boyd’s opened in 1952. The oldest contiguously operating race track in Georgia – Yeah!).

Rufus Tribble, who ran East Park, had a traveling group of strictly stock late models under a scantioning body he ran called Dixie Auto Racing Enterprises (DARE).  These two tracks ran every weekend except for East Park closing for a nearby Eureka Baptist Church’s revival.

Then the famous (or is it infamous) Golden Strip Speedway opened in Fountain Inn, South Carolina running the same type of cars – sportsman and jalopy.

An ad from an Anderson area newspaper promoting a DARE event at Toccoa Speedway. Clipping courtesy Mike Bell.

Then Rufus Tribble made the announcement that another new track would be running DARE races.  Hollywood Speedway in the Hollywood community south of Toccoa opened on May 13, 1956.

The track was operated and owned by the late Tom Fountain who lived on the adjoining property.  Mr. Fountain’s son-in-law told us recently that Tom was involved in racing as a car owner before building the track.  He loved the sport so much he dedicated a portion of his own property to the track.  That first race featured the strictly stock cars of DARE.  These were 1954, 1955 and 1956 new model cars just like they came off the showroom floor.   Remind you of some other group?

Anyway, Roswell “Roz” Howard of then Macon, Georgia (now living on the lake outside of Milledgeville) drove his 1956 Chevy to victory.  The next Sunday, Roz won the big race again but this week it was the sportsman class of DARE.  The sportsman class was pre-World War II coupes and sedans with flathead engines with limited modifications.  I’m sure the jalopy class ran also but there wasn’t anything in the Anderson papers on that class. (I should come clean here and tell you my information comes from looking at the microfilms of the old Anderson papers.  There may be something in the Toccoa papers but my research hasn’t gone that far).

A church which still serves the community to this day complained to Tom about the dust, the noise and the fact that they ran on Sunday – which at that time was against the law in South Carolina but not Georgia.  It was just frowned upon strongly.

Tom, being a good family man and a good neighbor, closed Hollywood Speedway after only two races. We were told he built chicken houses on the property to try and supplement his policeman’s salary.  You can just barely see any notion that there ever was a race track on the property.  But in reality nothing but memories remain of that track.

Advertisement for the opening event at the Hollywood Speedway from the May 13, 1956 edition of the Anderson Independent Newspaper. Clipping courtesy Mike Bell.

Right after Tom Fountain closed Hollywood, Tommie Irvin opened Banks County Speedway between Homer and Baldwin.  Again the same type of cars would run weekly at Banks County but they opened with strictly stocks of the Southern Racing Enterprises (SRE) out of Atlanta with everybody’s “Little Biddy Buddy” Jimmy Mosteller on the microphone.

A lot of the same drivers ran both santioning bodies as they did in the two races run at Toccoa on April 18, 2009 with the O’Reilly Southern All-Stars and Hartwell on April 25, just a week later with the Carolina Clash.

By the Fourth of July, another track opened for the fans as well as the racers.  It was located about five miles from the intersection in downtown Lavonia.  Thus it was called Lavonia Speedway.  In doing research, I found nothing but advertisements in the local paper as well as Anderson.  I went to a source that has not failed me on racing in the area – Wendel Roach.  We met Wendel at his house, which is only four and a half miles out of Lavonia.  Yeah, Wendel lives within walking distance of the site.

The track was built and owned by Henry Martin Ford and was where Ford Road (the name now but it was just another dirt road then) ends at Georgia Highway 59 less than a half-mile from Wendel’s house.  As you turn off the highway there is a brick house about a quarter-mile after you turn.  Wendel assured me that that house did not exist when the track was built.  In fact, the edge of the track was quite near the front door of the house.  The next house was Mr. Ford’s home – a white house that honestly looks younger than its fifty plus years.  A nephew of Mr. Ford’s lives in the white house.

The track opened to the same kind of racing everyone else was having – sportsman and jalopy.  The track itself was according to Wendel “longer than a quarter mile.”  Wendel said the problem was the track surface.  Mr. Ford didn’t put down any clay and as the races progressed during the night’s events the surface became a series of ruts and potholes, some “big enough to swallow a car.”  The drivers complained to Mr. Ford but to no avail.  Thus the track died after only about 6 races.  He even tried Wednesday night races.

So the next time you are riding around the area, remember these and other track’s that started out in the days when the majority of the roads were dirt and the cars were home built.

Mike Bell is the CEO and historian for the Georgia Auto Racing Hall of Fame Association, Inc. (GARHOFA)

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