Movies Give A Glimpse At Racing Past

Brandon Reed

Brandon Reed

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 8/6/10

For some reason in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a slew of stock car racing movies filmed in the south.

Some were okay, some were terrible, but many of them had one thing in common – they were made by people who really didn’t know what stock car racing was all about.

The film “White Lightning Road” is just such a film. It was made in 1965, written, directed and produced by Ron Ormond, a low-budget filmmaker from Nashville.

Make no mistake, the film was no award winner. But, what it gives us is a window to stock car racing in the mid 1960s.

The movie was filmed mostly at the old Cumming Speedway, which was known as “the cow pasture”, due to it literally being cut out of a cow pasture.

Movie poster art from the release of "White Lightnin' Road".

The film revolves around our hero, a local bootlegger and racecar driver who gets himself mixed up with a big-time crook out of Atlanta (played by Ron Ormond himself). Along with the racing footage at the Cumming Speedway, we also see some neat footage of a small track “skeeter” racer taking laps at the Atlanta International Raceway.

Some of the acting was, to be honest, bad. The lead actor was Earl “Snake” Richards, who would star in two other films, “That Tennessee Boat”, and the infamous “The Girl From Tobacco Row.”

The main female lead is played by Arline Hunter, who’s other claim to fame was being Playboy magazine’s playmate of the month in August of 1954. She tried in this film to look and act like Marilyn Monroe, but succeeded mostly in acting like she had taken a crowbar to the head at some time in the past.

But forget the acting. That’s not the point of what makes this film a time capsule. It’s the people that helped to make it, and the people in the background.

Another such movie was filmed around Georgia called “Corky.” The movie, which was made in 1970 and released in 1972, starred Robert Blake as the title character, Corky Curtiss, a dirt track racer and mechanic from Texas.

The story revolved around Corky’s obsession with becoming a big time NASCAR racer, based solely on a picture taken with himself and Richard Petty. Corky leaves his wife and children to travel across the country from Texas to Atlanta in an attempt to break into the big time at the Atlanta International Raceway.

The film "Corky" was filmed in 1970, but went unreleased until 1972.

Also starring in the film is Charlotte Rampling as Corky’s wife, veteran actor Ben Johnson, and a host of NASCAR and local racers in cameos. One scene features Corky turning laps in a modified 1966 Plymouth Barracuda (sporting a Superbird rear-wing, no less!) around Atlanta International Raceway, swapping paint with the Dodge Daytona of Bobby Allison. Another shows Buddy Baker, Allison, Cale Yarborough and several other NASCAR stars during a coffee break in a suite at AIR.

But for Georgia race fans, there are some priceless shots. The movie’s finale was filmed at the legendary Peach Bowl Speedway, a raceway that sat closer to Atlanta’s downtown area than the Atlanta Zoo does today. The film shows the track towards the end of its existence. Roy Shoemaker, the owner, builder and promoter of the track, sold the speedway in 1970, and the track closed one year later. A MARTA bus repair depot now sits on the spot where the track was.

Racing scenes were also filmed at the old West Atlanta Raceway in Douglasville. In that scene, Corky takes on local drivers in a borrowed racecar. In that sequence, he picks up a win after a spin by none-other than Georgia racing legend and NASCAR winner Jody Ridley, with Ridley piloting his famous number 98 Ford Falcon. The track would later become Seven Flags Speedway. Sadly, it too is now closed.

Needless to say, Blake didn’t do his own race driving in the film. Georgia Hall of Fame inductee Charlie Mincey was behind the wheel in the racing sequences, one of several movies Mincey worked on in the Georgia area. Mincey was a track champion at the Peach Bowl, as well as at the Toccoa Speedway and the old Athens Speedway.

After its 1972 release, “Corky” fell into obscurity. After a run a drive-in theaters and occasional late night television runs, the film faded into the dust. It never even made it to the home video market. Neither did “White Lightnin’ Road”, for that matter.

You can occasionally run up on a “collector’s” copy here and there. If you’re so lucky, go ahead and take a look at both of these.

Despite what they appear to be cinematically, it is another rare opportunity to see a couple of Georgia’s grand old racetracks in their glory. It’s another chance to see Tommy Roberts and his contemporaries slug it out at the Cow Pasture. It’s one more chance to see cars at the Peach Bowl. It’s a chance to see Jody Ridley’s blue Ford on dirt again. It’s a chance to see the winged Dodges on Atlanta’s original layout, before it was turned into a Charlotte clone.

Chances like that are hard to come by.

Brandon Reed is the editor and webmaster of Georgia Racing

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