John Henry Maddox – A Tough Georgia Racer

John Henry Maddox, a tough man with a big heart who was a great race car driver.

By Mike Bell
Posted in Feature Stories 4/22/11

Whoever said big men come in small packages knew John Henry Maddox.

In a lot of sports, there are special considerations for size, but then they always talk about “heart” when someone comes along that doesn’t meet their requirements.

In racing, the first requirement is “heart”, or whatever the unknown qualifier is that makes a race driver a “great” race driver.  Great race car drivers win a lot of races, money, championships, and even the fans.

John Henry did those and more.  From humble beginnings, he rose to dirt track racing greatness.

John Henry Maddox was born in a rural part of Gwinnett County, Georgia, now called Flowery Branch.  His father, Ernest Maddox, farmed for a living.  His mother, Lula Belle Frazier Maddox, raised 14 children with Ernest.  They lost two children within two months of their birth or there would have been 16.

With such a family, Ernest found work in a lumber yard in 1952 and then worked at Georgia Boot Factor after that.  Asked to name all 14 children, John Henry smiled and rattled them off one by one.

“Flosse, the twins Emory and Ezra, Chester, me, Louena, Gene, Anderson, J.E. (James Emmett, who also raced), Thurman (who raced some at Winder), Louise, Carl, Margie and Barbara (the youngest born).”

Sadly, John Henry has lost a lot of those siblings.  Louise passed away from cancer in 1998, while Chester passed in 1994, J.E. in 2001, Carl in 2003 and Anderson in March of 2009.

The 1939 Chevy that John Henry won 58 races out of 81 starts and two track championships in. Check out all those trophies.

He was introduced to racing at the Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, as so many race fans in Georgia were.  It was in 1952 and Tim Flock won the race.  John Henry didn’t go to a lot of races until he was sixteen – mostly at Lakewood, but then he ventured over to Forsyth County Speedway and one time to Daytona in 1968.

John Henry said he saw Howard Corbin drive a skeeter (a cut down Model A with a 327 Chevy engine) at Forsyth County Speedway.  It was from Willard’s Wrecker Service there in his home town of Buford, Georgia, and he started following them to different tracks.

Then he ran five or six races in 1965.  With the help of the late A.D. Seabolt, of Buford, he built and ran a 1939 Chevrolet in the jalopy class at Hall County Speedway.  They built the car themselves with a 261 Chevy 6-cylinder engine.  John freely admitted that he had no idea how to build a race car, but they had looked at many cars and came up with ideas of their own.

They must have been quick learners, as John won 12 races after only starting in mid-July.  In 1968, with a 292 Chevy engine, John won 58 races out of 81 starts and two track championships, one at Forsyth County and one at Hall County Speedway.  They also ran at the “Cow Pasture” near Cumming, Georgia and Coweta Raceway near Newnan.  He won both races he ran at Coweta.  He was so far ahead in the points standings at Forsyth and Hall County that he knew it would be okay to race down there.

A Chevy II that John Henry built for the 'B' Class.

“We went the first time and won and they told me to change the carburetor (from a 4-barrel to a 2-barrel),” John said.  “We went back and won again and then they wanted me to change the tires and wheels.  They just didn’t want me down there.”

Georgia Racing Hall of Famer Bud Lundsford had built the 202.  It was bored 30 over with Jahns Pistons, a Crane cam and a 650 Holly 4-barrel.

“When I started out, I didn’t know anything and had to learn it all myself,” John said.  “In September or October, we broke the crankshaft and I replaced it to finish the year.  In 1969, we had trouble with the 292, and I built a spare engine until we could get the main engine fixed.”

In 1969, John and his friends had to build a new car.  The tracks figured if they made him change, maybe he wouldn’t win so much.  So they outlawed the ’39 Chevy.  They built a 1952 Chevrolet that used a 292 Chevy engine.  They ran such tracks as Canton International, Hall County, both tracks in Forsyth County, Cherokee Motor Speedway, Senoia Raceway and Holiday Downs out near Fairburn.

John Henry remembered Forsyth County very well.

“I turned the couple over one time,” he said.  “We turned the car back over and started in the rear.  When I turned it over, it tore the battery all to pieces.  We replaced it and changed a flat tire and still finished second.”

He only won 29 races but doesn’t remember how many races they went but it wasn’t as many as the year before.  At one of the tracks, he and Luther Carter spun each other out during the race.  After the event, Luther came over to John Henry’s pits “to gripe about the finish.”  He wound up hitting John Henry square in the mouth.  Do you think that ended the discussion?

John Henry at Rome Speedway in his Vega, which he won 22 races with.

They build a Chevy II for the ‘B’ Class – cars that looked like the top class but were limited on engine displacement and carburetion.  With his new car, John Henry won 22 races at places such as Dixie Speedway, Rom International, Canton International and both Forsyth County tracks.

In 1971, John only ran about five races and won only one of those.  He shut down for a year or so.

“I just didn’t mess with a race car at all,” he told us.

In 1974, Bill “Bulldog” Hammonds of Gainesville, Georgia, wanted John Henry to build a new car and run it.  Bulldog owned Hammonds Automotive Service and Septic Tank Company.  John had actually driven for him for a short time in 1967.

They built a Vega to start with and own some 22 races over the course of the 1974 and 1975 seasons.

One night, John Henry qualified the Vega at Rome and was 10 hundredths of a second between his ‘B’ Class Vega and Charlie Mincey’s time in the ‘A’ Class.

“I out qualified all the late models except for Charlie, and that was something I was proud of doing,” John said.  That was with the 307 engine.  Most late models were running 350s bored thirty over.

In 1976, they built a Chevy II on a 1955 Chevrolet frame, as was the Vega, with both cars powered by Chevrolet engines for the ‘B’ Class.  That same year, they ran a 307 until they blew it.  It was the best engine they ran in that division.  It was built by Johnny Thomas from Cumming.

They stacked up 21 wins that year.

“We even ran some ‘A’ Class with the ‘B’ Class car,” John Henry said.  “Up at Rome, they didn’t have enough cars and let us start in the rear.  I always ran with a good finish.  We outran every one of them – Jody Ridley included – except Charlie Mincey.  He out ran us every time.  And once a Jefco, they ran the dirt cars on asphalt and I ran second.”

In 1977, they rebuilt the Chevy II and ran the late model, or ‘A’ Class, with it.

“We outran Bud (Lundsford) at Lavonia and Doug Kennimer and Buck Simmons at Anderson,” John said with a smile.  “I outran Doug and Buck more than they out ran me.  I won the championship at Anderson that year.”

But they didn’t fare as well in 1978 or 1979.  John Henry was just trying to make a little extra money, but those two years were not profitable, so he retired – so to speak.

In 1985, John Henry ran six races and retired for good.

John Henry Maddox at Lanier Raceway in 1984.

“I actually made money in 1967, 1968, 1970, 1974, 1975 and 1977,” he said.  “The most money I ever won in one night was at Lavonia in 1977.  I ran fourth and got $1,000.  We were running so good we went to Kingsport, TN for a big race.  There were 91 cars there.  I qualified 33rd, but you had to qualify in the top 32 to make the feature.

“Most of the time, the race only paid $250 or $300 at the most.  One weekend, I won $942.  That was my part.  I got 40 percent and Billy got 60 percent.  I made some money when I sold the ’39 Chevy to bill Hammonds.  I sold the 1952 Chevy to Talmadge Bond of Senoia.  I even ran the car for him one time and won a race at West Atlanta.  I didn’t travel much.  I had to get up at 4:10 a.m. to make it to work by 6 a.m.  Billy Hammond hauled the car and I would just meet him at the track.  Billy died of a heart attack about three or four years ago.”

During all this, John Henry became a family man.  He met his wife in 1954 and he married Barbara Hutchins in 1956.  Their son, Tracey, was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1960.  Their daughter was born 13 years and 10 days later on March 27, 1973.  They have three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.  They all live in the same area and get together often.  John gardens and is proud that he can grow food for all his family and neighbors.

Some of the things he did he is not so proud of.  In 1974, John Henry spun Mike Head out down at Senoia Raceway.  A scuffle broke out, and, as John put is, “It was more trouble than anyone could stand form 1974 until 1976.”

At the annual Mountain Moonshine Festival in Dawsonville, Georgia in 2009, John Henry was talking to some friends when he turned and here came Mike head, glad hand extended.  He and Mike discussed all the “water under the bridge” and parted friends.

Afterwards, at church, John Henry’s preacher wanted to know if anyone had anything to discuss.  John Henry raised his hand and told the congregation about meeting Mike Head at Dawsonville after all those years and closing the door on some un-Christian like behavior.

Can people change?  Yes, it just takes time to heal all wounds.

Editors note: This story originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of the Pioneer Pages magazine. John Henry Maddox passed away on April 15, 2010 at the age of 75.

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

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