Martinsville Was A Great Place For The Georgia Gang

1960 Sprint Cup Champ and GRHOF member Rex White was the last Georgia racer to win at Martinsville Speedway. Photo courtesy GRHOF

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 3/31/12

With the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series heading into the legendary Martinsville Speedway in Virginia this weekend, it makes one think about the history of such a famed place.

Of course, when I think of racing history, my mind always turns to the Georgia Gang, and the impact that drivers from the Peach State have had on certain venues.

The half-mile, paper clip shaped Virginia track is no different.  And from the beginning, the Georgia Gang has written a lot history at the speedway.

That history dates back to the very first time that NASCAR raced at Martinsville.  It was in the sanctioning body’s first year of existence, coming on Independence Day, July 4, 1948.

Georgia Racing Hall of Famer Fonty Flock scored the win on that day, besting Pee Wee Martin and Buck Baker.  The event featured NASCAR’s modifieds, as the Strictly Stock (now Sprint Cup) was still a year away from coming into being.

When the Strictly Stocks made their first appearance at Martinsville, it was again the Georgia Gang that scored the win.  This time, it was Hall of Famer Red Byron, piloting an Oldsmobile owned by the legendary Georgia car owner and Hall of Fame member Raymond Parks, who streaked across the finish line first.  Byron led 97 of the race’s 200 laps, beating runner-up Lee Petty by three laps at the finish.

A Georgia racer would again pull into Martinsville’s victory lane on Oct. 14, 1951, when Hall of Fame member Frank “Rebel” Mundy took the win in an Oldsmobile owned by fellow Hall of Famer Ted Chester, leading 114 of 200 laps en route to the win.

It would be three years before another Georgia Gang member scored a win at Martinsville.  On May 15, 1955, Hall of Famer Tim Flock drove his Carl Kiekhaefer owned Chrysler 300 to the win, beating fellow Chrysler pilot Lee Petty to the checkered flag.

Another Georgia Hall of Famer would put a Kiekhaefer Chrysler into Martinsville’s victory lane one year later, as Jack Smith dominated the event, leading 185 of 400 laps for the win.

Hall of Fame driver Rex White became the first Georgia Gang member to win a 500 lap event at Martinsville, picking up the victory on Sept. 27, 1959.  White led 202 laps, beating out home state hero Glen Wood for the win.

White returned to victory lane at Martinsville one year later, this time beating out legendary driver Joe Weatherly for the victory.

It would mark the last Sprint Cup victory at the tough short track for the Georgia Gang to date.

One other historic Georgia footnote at Martinsville should not be overlooked.  Back in 1952, NASCAR sanctioned events for an open wheel, IndyCar style series for cars using big block engines, called the Speedway Division.  One of the stops on the tour was at Martinsville.

Indiana native Bill Miller sat on the pole in a car owned by Atlanta’s Raymond Parks.  The Oldsmobile powered car led 55 of the first 58 laps of the event before falling out with fuel pressure issues.

The race was won by Marietta, Georgia racer Tex Keene, piloting a Mercury powered racer.  Jack Smith ran second in a Chrysler powered entry owned by Roy Shoemaker, himself the owner of the famed Peach Bowl Speedway in Atlanta, GA.

While it’s now been some 42 years since a member of the Georgia Gang has won a major NASCAR event at Martinsville, there is still a chance for the Peach State to get back into victory lane this weekend.  On Saturday, Griffin, Georgia’s Max Gresham will be competing in the Camping World Truck Series race, along with fellow Georgians Chris Cockrum, and Ryan Sieg.  Georgia’s John Wes Townley will be looking to qualify for the event on time.

On the Sprint Cup side, Unadilla, Georgia’s David Ragan will start on Sunday, with fellow Georgian Reed Sorenson looking to make the show.

Any of these drivers could following Fonty Flock’s tire tracks, and be the person to put the Georgia Gang back in victory lane at Martinsville.

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


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