Memories Of Athens Speedway Live On

The Athens Speedway in Athens, GA, seen here from 1966,closed in 1992, but lives on in the memories of those that will gather at the third annual Athens Speedway Reunion this weekend.

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Feature Stories 4/14/12

It’s been almost 20 years since the lights went out for the final time at one of the most popular and successful short tracks in Georgia history.

The Athens Speedway, located on old Jimmie Daniel Road in Athens, Georgia, saw its final race in 1992 after over 30 years of action.  Today, the track sits abandoned, mostly forgotten by people in Athens.

But on Saturday, April 14, people will come from all over the southeast to remember the speedway that played host to some of the best racers in short track history.

The third annual Athens Speedway Reunion will be held at South Jackson Elementary School just outside of Athens.  Organized by Donald Brooks, Freddie Massey, and Charles Burkhalter, Jr., the event is intended not only to remember the old track, but to give former racers, officials, and fans a chance to reconnect and remember.

The Athens Speedway was constructed in 1959, the brainchild of Athens native Bill Cooley.  Work was completed on the quarter mile track in September of that year, but after four straight rain outs, the first event was finally held on Nov. 9, 1959.

The speedway played host to Super Modifieds, winged racers known around the south as “Skeeters”.  The finishing order of that first race read like a who’s who of southern short track history.

Georgia Racing Hall of Fame member Tootle Estes scored that first win, followed by fellow GRHOF member Bud Lunsford in second.  Georgia open wheel ace Herman Wise ran third, followed by GRHOF member Charlie Padgett and Charlie Burkhalter.

Over the years, Athens Speedway would become one of the important stops for drivers competing in the southeast, along with the famed Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Banks County Speedway near Baldwin, GA, and Toccoa Speedway in Toccoa, GA.  Driver scoring wins at the Classic City raceway included Hall of Famers Charlie Mincey and Buck Simmons, along with Charlie Burkhalter, reunion organizer Donald Brooks, Freddie Fryar, Bill York, Claude Maldin, and Tommy Roberts.

While there were lots of great memories at the great old raceway, there were also some scary moments.  Like the night that famed announcer Jimmy Mosteller was nearly killed.

Mosteller had moved down to the track’s surface to help race officials determine if the track needed more water.  The red flag was waved, and Mosteller was crossing the track when a driver who had not seen the red come out came charging down the front stretch at speed.  He hit Mosteller, running him over and sending him flying down the race track.

Charlie Padgett was the first one to get to Mosteller.  Padgett leaned down and called Mosteller’s name.  Mosteller, who worked for the now defunct Hav-A-Tampa cigar company, had lost his cigar in the accident.  Padgett said Mosteller looked up at him, and said “Get me a cigar.”  Padgett ran to the pits and found a cigar.  He brought it back to Mosteller, and placed it in his mouth.

Padgett said Mosteller held the cigar in his mouth for a moment, then looked up at him and said “That’s not a Hav-A-Tampa.”

Mosteller would spend two years in braces, but the Georgia Racing Hall of Famer missed only a handful of announcing jobs in that time, calling races all over the southeast.

When the era of the Skeeters came to an end, Athens Speedway moved seamlessly to the Late Model era.  It would remain one of the most popular tracks in North Georgia right up to the point that it closed in 1992.

The reason it closed was the realignment of Jimmie Daniel Road, which took the road right through the track’s parking lot.  An attempt was made to keep the track open by moving the parking area to the other side of the track property, but eventually, the track closed, with much of its assets, including the catch fence, PA system, scoreboard, and clay surface being moved to Hartwell Speedway in Hartwell, GA.

The remains of the track now sit silent.  But its memory and the memories of those that raced there remain today, as active as ever.

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


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