Drivers From Dawsonville Have Dominated Daytona

Gober Sosebee races his Ford down the beach. Sosebee, was one of five drivers from Dawsonville, Georgia, to score a win at Daytona.

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Feature Stories 2/24/12

Some say it may be something in the water.  Other say it has something to do with what they make out of the water.

Regardless, the little town of Dawsonville, Georgia, nestled in the mountains of North Georgia, holds a distinction that few other single towns can claim.

It is the hometown of no less than five Daytona winners, between the beach years and the years at Daytona International Speedway.

Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall, Bernard Long, Gober Sosebee and Bill Elliott all came from Dawsonville.

Seay, Hall, Long, and Sosebee were all winners on the old Daytona Beach and Road course, while Elliott scored two Daytona 500 victories, in 1985 and 1988.

You’d be hard pressed to find another single small town that produced so many winners at such a major venue.

In the case of the first four, the common thread between them was a money making substance that is still a part of local lore – moonshine whiskey.  All four hauled bootleg liquer out of Dawsonville, which was known for its moonshine production, down Georgia Highway 9 and into Atlanta under the cover of darkness.

“This is the birthplace of stock car racing,” said Dawsonville racing aficionado Gordon Pirkle.  “A lot of people want to press me and ask ‘where’s your race track’?  It was down here in the river bottoms before there was any organized stock car racing anywhere.

“On Sunday nights, a bunch of the liquor guys would meet down here in the river bottom and bet on who had the best drivers.  The word leaked out and people started showing up to watch it on Sunday evenings.”

Dawsonville native Frank Christian saw the people that came out to these events, and, sensing a profit, organized what would be the first event for what would become modern stock cars at the old Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta in 1938.

“That was the first organized stock car racing in this part of the country,” Pirkle said.

In the forties, the Georgia Gang made their way to Daytona Beach.

“In the decade of the 40s, out of 15 races run on the beach, 12 were won by the Dawsonville Gang, either as a driver or a car owner.” Pirkle said.

Raymond Parks and his drivers, Lloyd Seay (left) and Roy Hall (right). Photo courtesy GRHOF

Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall were the first of the Dawsonville drivers to see success on the beach, driving cars owned by their cousin, Raymond Parks.  Hall would win in his first time out on the beach in 1940.  Seay would win in 1941 in a race that would see him bicycle his car on two wheels through the north turn on purpose, to the delight of the crowd.

Parks, himself a Dawsonville native, would also see success on the beach with drivers Red Byron and Bob Flock.  His drivers would dominate the beach in the 1940s.

Pirkle said there were a few things that gave the cars owned by Parks their edge.  Namely, it was the man who built the cars that Parks’ pilots drove.

“I think Red Vogt was the key ingredient,” he said.  “He could get more out of a flathead Ford engine than anybody.  Plus, they had more experience than anybody.  They were racing seven days a week back then between the races and running moonshine through the week.

“If you come in second in a stock car race, you get paid for it.  If you come in second running moonshine, you go to jail.”

Moonshiner Bernard Long would score his lone win at Daytona in July of 1941 in only his second ever start.  Long made enough money to fund himself in a career as a legitimate business man.  He never raced again.

Gober Sosebee holds the distinction of being the fastest NASCAR driver ever on the beach, setting the all-time NASCAR speed record on the beach in 1949.  He would twice score modified victories, winning in 1951 and 1952 in the popular modified and sportsman events.

Sosebee’s record setting car is on display at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

But when racing left the beach in 1959, it appeared that Dawsonville’s dominance at Daytona also came to an end.

But in the eighties, when Bill Elliott hit the racing scene, it breathed new life into the Georgia Gang, and to their long time fans around Dawsonville.

The Elliott family team, Bill, George, Ernie and Dan, were tough to beat at Daytona in 1985. Photo courtesy the Ray Lamm collection

“I’ve never seen so many people proud of one sport as most of the people in Dawsonville when Bill came along,” Pirkle said.  “If Bill hadn’t come along and did as well as he did, the history of racing here in Dawsonville probably would have been lost.”

Elliott, driving for team owner Harry Melling out of Dawsonville, would score wins in the Daytona 500 in 1985 and 1987, along with setting the all-time speed record in qualifying for a stock car at the track in 1987 with a lap at 210.364 mph.

Pirkle said most of the reporters that came to the town to report on Elliott’s success back then knew nothing of the history, and learned about Seay, Hall and all the other racers that had been heroes to the long time residents of the area.

“It was so exciting,” Pirkle said.  “I’ve never seen people have such a feeling.  They were so proud of our little town and of the Elliott family.”

And that pride continues today.  The city is home to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, which honors many of the Georgia Gang that went south annually to beat the beach.

In fact, all of the members of the inaugural class to be inducted into the hall in 2002 either won at Daytona or had a hand in winning as a mechanic or a car owner.

And it all stems back to one little town in North Georgia, where racing history makers are born.

Brandon Reed is the editor and publisher of Georgia Racing History.com.


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