Reflections One Year In And Other Observations

Brandon Reed

Brandon Reed

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 7/2/10

First off, let me start this column by saying a big thank you to all our readers!

Georgia Racing turned one year old on June 26.  So far, the response has been phenomenal, and we can’t say thank you enough!

The birth of this website actually started more than a year prior to the website being officially launched.  It began as a conversation between myself and Mike Bell, the historian and CEO of the Georgia Auto Racing Hall of Fame Association.

We had been discussing at length trying to find a way to get more of the great stories of Georgia’s racing history, many of which had been published in now long out of print issues of the Pioneer Pages magazine, out to a broader audience.

I hit on the idea of this website.  Mike agreed to be part of it by offering his stories from the Pioneer Pages, along with his advice.  I spoke a few weeks later with fellow writer and historian Eddie Samples, and the ball began rolling.

My lovely wife, Suzanne, who is a graphic designer by trade, worked to come up with the terrific logo you see above, incorporating one of my favorite photos from the long defunct Jackson County Speedway.  The family of the late Swayne Pritchett was kind enough to allow me to use the photo, and another piece of the puzzle was in place.

I actually had everything set to launch just after the first of June, 2009.  But a Sunday trip to the spot where the legendary Lakewood Speedway once stood changed that.  I shifted gears, and postponed the launching of the site until I could tell the story of the speedway, which, along with the famed Peach Bowl in Atlanta, is one of the most historic tracks in the state.

We hit another bump just before the official launch when we found the layout we wanted to use did not work with some of the web browsers out there.  That’s when I turned to my computer guru, Patrick Aikens, who came up with the blog style layout we now use.

We were also able to persuade a dear friend of mine, Kathy Wilson, to lend us her services as proofreader.

Once that all fell in place, Georgia Racing finally went live on June 26, 2009.  Since then, we’ve been striving to tell you stories of Georgia’s racing heritage, along with other stories that help to preserve the history of racing in general.

It’s been a strong first year, and we look forward to the next and many more to come.

Hoschton racer Jimmy Garmon celebrates his first victory in five years at Gresham Motorsports Park on June 19. Photo courtesy GMP Media

Third Generation Winner – If you were a part of the stellar crowd that came out to Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Georgia on June 19, you got to see a little bit of Georgia racing history written yourself.

Jimmy Garmon, of Hoschton, held off a hard charge by Bubba Pollard, considered by many to be one of the top Georgia wheelmen today, to win the Super Late Model feature at GMP that night.  It was Garmon’s first win since April 30 of 2005, when he won at the same track.

Now, here’s what makes that win so cool.  Garmon is a third generation Georgia racer.  His grandfather was Jap Brogdon, a pioneer throttle stomper who raced on the beach in the late 30s and in the 40s.  He was a constant competitor to the likes of Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall, Bill France, Sr., Bob Flock and others.

The biggest career highlight for Brogdon was his winning of the Lloyd Seay Memorial, a race that was attended by all of the big names of stock car racing of the day, in November of 1941.  The race was run in honor of the late Georgia racer, who had been gunned down by his cousin in September of that same year over an argument about sugar for the family moonshine.

Brogdon was quoted in the local papers as saying he was determined to win that race.  A pre-race photo showed he and Bill France, Sr. holding the trophy that they both wanted to win.

Brogdon took the trophy home.  For years, it remained in a place of honor in his Chamblee, Georgia transmission shop.  It stayed there until his stepson, Ronnie Garmon, closed the business many years later.  It now resides in a place of honor at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, a spot Brogdon will surely share one day.

Ronnie Garmon, Jimmy’s dad, would make a name for himself as a motorcycle racer around the state and the southeast.  He also spent time as a stock car pilot at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.

Jimmy himself started out racing motorcycles, but switched to the stock car set at his dad’s encouragement.

Jimmy won the famed World Crown 300 in 1998.  When he won on June 19, he didn’t get so many handshakes as he did hugs.  The win was a long time coming, and we were very glad to see him back in victory lane.

A Tough Year – So far, 2010 has been a rough one on Georgia racing’s history and heroes.  I know that there are probably some that we’ve missed hearing about, so my apologies for not mentioning anyone.

Charlie Burkhalter poses with his restored skeeter at the Athens Speedway reunion earlier this year. Burkhalter passed away back in May. His is one of several loses to the Georgia racing community over the past several months. Photo by Brandon Reed

Earlier this year, we lost veteran racer Charlie Burkhalter.  Burkhalter had been an ace skeeter pilot, and was a constant competitor all over the state.  His loss was a great one.

Just before we lost Charlie, the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame community was saddened by the loss of Annie Dean Samples.  Mrs. Samples had been a tireless champion for the Hall of Fame, and helped to get the building in Dawsonville, Georgia reopened to the public.  Her efforts were always appreciated, and her loss leaves a void that will be tough to fill.

Long time Georgia racer Andy Buffington also passed away recently.  He was a tough competitor, picking up wins at Lakewood, the Peach Bowl, Douglasville and Senoia.  He was with us at last year’s Lakewood Speedway reunion.

We also lost Tim Richardson, who was a driver, fan and flagman at North Georgia and Cleveland Speedway.

The loss that has gotten the most attention, and rightfully so, was the loss of racing legend Raymond Parks on Father’s Day, June 20, 2010.

Parks record and his accomplishments have been touted quite a lot over the last weeks, so I won’t go into that.

What I will share with you is a moment from Mr. Parks services, which were held on June 23.

There were several NASCAR representatives on hand, one of which spoke during the service.  While his speech was respectful, it did have a tendency to begin sounding like an infomercial for NASCAR’s new Hall of Fame.

Once he sat down, Mr. Parks nephew, who is a preacher from Montana, took to the podium.

He began by thanking the folks from NASCAR who were there, but then pointed out that they hadn’t seen fit to put his uncle in their Hall of Fame.

He then listed off all the Halls of Fame that have honored Mr. Parks, including the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame, and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega.

The NASCAR folks, Mr. Parks’ nephew said, apparently didn’t “get the memo.”

Hopefully, now they’ve got it.

Buck Simmons

Buck Simmons – Word came down this week that 2009 GRHOF inductee Buck Simmons had been hospitalized.  He was apparently suffering from pneumonia and had suffered congestive heart failure.  Word is that he is on a respirator and soon will be moved to a regional hospital.

As has been said before, Simmons, of Baldwin, Georgia, is nothing less than a  Georgia racing legend.  With 1,012 victories, he is a member of the National Dirt Hall of Fame, along with being in the GRHOF.

Simmons raced all over the country, and even had a brief stint into Sprint Cup racing.  Anywhere his famed number 41 was unloaded, you knew he would be one of the men to beat.  He was the 1981 National Dirt Racing Association champ, and also recorded wins in the United Dirt Track Racing Association and the Southern All-Stars.

All of us at send our prayers and best wishes to Buck and his family at this time.

What’s the problem? – Last week I was fortunate enough to be a guest on the Cuzin Eddie Allen show on WMCL 1060-AM out of McLeansboro, Illinois.  While they don’t quite reach the Peach State, they do broadcast to four states, including Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky.

Cuzin Eddie’s co-host, Jeff Turner, contacted me about coming on to their show to talk about Raymond Parks, Lakewood Speedway and a few other items. It was a great time, and I’m very grateful to Jeff and Cuzin Eddie for having me on.

Fans were lined up early to get trackside parking at Gresham Motorsports Park's Super Late Model event on June 19. Photo courtesy GMP Media

One question that I was asked was my thoughts on the tremendous drop in attendance at NASCAR events all over the country, and if that drop had also affected small, local tracks.

The answer, unfortunately, is yes.  Everybody in the race track business is hurting right now.  And it’s not just from the economy.

What built stock car racing to its zenith, in my opinion, was a connection between the fans and the drivers that was unparalleled in the world of sports.

For years, after a NASCAR race, fans would pour out of the stands and into the pit area to meet their heroes.  Guys like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Buddy Baker, to name just a few, would spend hours after an event with their fans, signing autographs and talking.

Somewhere along the way, that got lost.  Racers got too busy to sign autographs.  The money they could garner away from the track made extra time spent there an annoyance.  While fans spent hours now in traffic, the drivers flew off in their corporate jets.

That common thread that connected the fan in the stand to the driver in the car has been lost.

Until we get the fans back down in the pits, on the big tracks and at the Saturday night short tracks, and make them feel like they are an important part of the show, auto racing will continue to suffer.

Remember, without the fans, we don’t have a reason to go racing on Saturday night.

One last thing – On Thursday night, the 25 nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame were announced.  Among them were three Georgia Racing Hall of Fame members – Red Byron, Tim Flock and Raymond Parks.

Of these three, the second inclusion of Parks is most ironic, in that, had the folks that vote had any foresight at all, they would have grabbed the opportunity to honor him while he was still with us.  Hopefully, as Mr. Parks nephew said during his funeral service, this time they’ve “got the memo.”

But to make sure, those of us who knew him, were friends with him or simply admired him need to go to work.  We need to make sure those that vote know how important Mr. Parks is, and how, without him, there certainly would be no NASCAR today.  We need to send emails, make phone calls and make sure the world knows why Raymond Parks deserves to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame this year. The final vote will be taken on October 13.

Mr. Parks did a lot for racing.  Now let’s do what we can to make sure he’s remembered for it.  Make your vote known at the NASCAR Hall of Fame website.

Brandon Reed is the editor and webmaster of Georgia Racing

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