Gresham’s Mid-Week Racing A Throwback

Brandon Reed

Brandon Reed

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 7/15/11

The recent news that Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Georgia would be hosting Wednesday night races for the first time in several years brought back memories of a time when mid-week racing was the norm in Georgia.

While modern day fans might not know it, long time race chasers remember the days when drivers would face off at various tracks around the region all through the week.

The Peach Bowl, which was located on the corner of Brady Avenue and Howell Mill Road in Atlanta, Georgia, was famous for running three nights a week.  Drivers would start there and move on to the famed Athens Speedway in Athens, Georgia, then travel to Banks County Speedway, which was located just south of Baldwin, Georgia before moving on to Toccoa Speedway in Toccoa, then back to the Peach Bowl.

Plus, there were other tracks along the way that would host mid-week races, like Douglasville and Jefco, which is now, of course, Gresham Motorsports Park.

The reason mid-week racing was so popular in the south was that there wasn’t a heck of a lot to do back then recreation wise during the summer months.  With only three channels on the television and only the Braves in Atlanta to follow in terms of Major League sports, fans would flock out to the tracks night after night to see their favorites do battle.

Built in 1949, the Peach Bowl Speedway was one of the most important and historic tracks in Georgia.

The Peach Bowl Speedway, located near downtown Atlanta, hosted three nights of racing each week during its heyday.

Plus, the drivers back then were some of the greatest of all time.  The names of those that would face off night after night reads like a Hall of Fame who’s who.

You had famed throttle jockey Bud Lundsford, whose immaculately prepared #49 was always a car to beat, no matter if it was in the days of the “Skeeters”, which were the southeastern version of Super Modifieds, or in later days in the Late Model division.  Then you had veteran drivers like Charlie Mincey and Bruce Brantley, who had competed at tracks all over the southeast, and young up and comers such as Jody Ridley, Ronnie Sanders, Mike Head and some kid named Bill Elliott.

But the one that stood out to many was Buck Simmons, the Baldwin, Georgia driver who was as smooth, calm and talented as they come.  Simmons raced all over, and could win at most any track he unloaded his #41 at.  Before his short track career was through, he would top the 1,000 win mark.

As the years wore on, though, the Wednesday racing began to die out in north Georgia.  The Peach Bowl closed in 1971, followed soon after by Banks County.  Other tracks folded, or found that a Friday, Saturday or even a Sunday afternoon show worked for them.

But the one hold out for many years was Gresham Motorsports Park (then known as Georgia International Speedway and later Peach State Speedway), who, thanks largely to the vision of one wily series promoter, kept mid-week racing alive.

Bob Harmon’s NASCAR All Pro Series was always one of the best shows to see at any track they went to.  But Harmon and his drivers had a special knack for the high banks in Jefferson, Georgia.  It was not uncommon to see anywhere from four to seven cars all jockeying for the lead as the All Pro events at GMP would approach the money lap, and the fans loved it.

Drivers mix it up in turn one at GMP in the early '80s. Photo courtesy the Robert Turner collection.

Harmon started coming to the speedway in the early 80s.  He would usually bring his popular All Pro tour to the Jefferson high banks for mid-week shows, sometimes on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.  And almost every time, the crowds were enormous, with cars backed all the way to I-85 waiting for a parking spot.

The races Harmon’s drivers would put on were always worth the wait.  In the early days, certain NASCAR starts could be counted on to come compete, such as Neil Bonnett, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby and Donnie Allison, Dale Earnhardt and Tim Richmond.  Then there were his regulars, such as Jody Ridley, Ron Young, Randy Couch, Steve Grissom, “Hot Shoe” Gary Balough and countless others.

But it was the racing that brought the fans back time after time.  With two grooves, GMP would always be a fan favorite, with races often being decided on a late or last lap past.

And now, we get a chance to go back in time a little.  On July 20 and Aug. 3, Gresham Motorsports Park will hold old time Wednesday night shows – even going so far as to hold a trophy dash to determine who will start on the pole for the Late Model feature!

When the green flag falls that night, those racers will be holding up a long standing Georgia racing tradition.  Let’s hope its one that can continue on for years to come.

Brandon Reed is the editor and publisher of Georgia Racing

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