It’s not all peaches, but it’s a great history

I’m stepping way out of my comfort zone for this one. I grew up more than 500 miles from Atlanta, and I live nearly 700 miles away today. Of the 115-plus race tracks I’ve attended in 60 years as a fan, not one was in Georgia. In my entire life, I think I’ve spent about two weeks in that state.

Nevertheless, I’m going to talk about the Peach State today, because I don’t think it gets the respect it deserves from current fans for its role in stock car racing and NASCAR history. Under those circumstances, any history lesson from me has to be read with skepticism, but if you’re game, here goes.

Racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway, 1962 (photo from the speedway website)

The NASCAR world is heading to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend for the second of two 2023 visits, and the 118th Cup event held at that often-altered track since it opened in 1960. (If I was running the show at Atlanta, I wouldn’t want an early July race date, even if the starting time was Sunday evening; it’ll likely be either oppressively hot or thunder-stormy.)

Atlanta has never been one of NASCAR’s great success stories, and for some years it was reduced to one race date as a result. It’s also gotten some crappy dates, with the weather too cold or too hot. It’s hung in there, in part because NASCAR covets major media markets (hello, Chicago), and Georgia is the eighth most populous state.

And the farther you go back, the more important it was in this sport’s history.

When Bill France kicked off his Strictly Stock (later Grand National, then Cup) division in 1949, he had no Georgia tracks on the schedule, arguably because Atlanta’s mile-long dirt Lakewood Speedway (with a lake in the infield), the South’s most prominent track at that time, was controlled by other promoters. The first championship team, however, was very much a Georgia enterprise.

Red Byron (left) and Raymond Parks. (Photo from NASCAR Hall of Fame)

Raymond Parks had a nice Atlanta business supplying vending machines and the like to the area, but he also had a large side enterprise based on illegal moonshine, and that put him in the middle of fast cars and fast drivers. Before NASCAR and at NASCAR’s birth, Parks operated one of the first true super teams. With near-Georgian Red Byron behind the wheel, a Parks car won NASCAR’s first-ever race in 1948 and its first Strictly Stock championship the next year.

It took France until 1951 to bring Lakewood on board, but its mid-November race, won by Tim Flock, took place months after two other NASCAR Grand National events on Georgia soil, 200-lappers at the long-closed Columbus Speedway in Midland and Central City Speedway in Macon. Tim Flock and Herb Thomas won those races, which had most of the early stars running: all three Flocks, Lee Petty, Cotton Owens, Jim Paschal, Gober Sosebee, Augie Walakas (oops, how’d he get here?). Columbus also drew Fireball Roberts, Buck Baker, Marshall Teague, and even Red Byron (no longer running for Raymond Parks).

Central City Speedway was a fairgrounds track in Macon, built inside an older track that had been used primarily for horse racing, although pre-NASCAR auto races were held there. (photo is from the web; no idea of its origin)

Columbus Speedway closed the next year and never ran another GN race, but Central City, which opened in 1947 and ran a AAA “Big Car” race that year – won by Ted Horn – went on to host the GN tour six more times before it closed in 1956.

For the next couple of years, Lakewood and Central City each hosted a pair of GN races, but then Lakewood dropped to one event in 1954, and by ’55 both were off the schedule. However, there were other Georgia tracks in play by then. 1952 saw the only appearance of a track with one of my favorite names: Hayloft Speedway. Somehow, I can’t imagine a place called Hayloft Speedway looking much like Indianapolis, but Gober Sosebee must have liked the place, because he won that race over 13 other cars.

In ’54 the Georgia contingent was joined by Oglethorpe Speedway in Savannah, a track that only ran GN races for two years but remained open until last season.

Lakewood remained on the schedule off-and-on until 1959, after which its dates went to what we now know as Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the big dirt track remained in existence for another 20 years and ran other NASCAR divisions as well as other sanctioning bodies.

If there was a heyday for NASCAR in Georgia, it was in the ‘60s, when several short tracks made regular appearances on the schedule. Augusta Speedway had a dozen races during that decade, and Savanna (different track than Oglethorpe) had 10 (including one in 1970). Middle Georgia in Macon had 9 (again through ’70). Using totals from multiple tracks, Macon had the most races overall, with Middle Georgia and Central City combining for 16 during NASCAR’s first 20+ years. Augusta had 14 (the Augusta International Road course and Hayloft had one each).

Grand National action at Augusta in 1965. Dick Hutcherson (29) went on to victory over David Pearson (6) and Ned Jarrett (11). (this photo came from Pinterest; I have no idea of its origin)

AMS, on the other hand, has run more Cup races than all the other Georgia tracks combined. That’s easily explained by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

Whereas Bill France would schedule a Grand National/Cup race just about anywhere with any kind of track that would pay for the privilege, Winston Cup eliminated the little 200-lappers with minimal purses, and Augusta, Savannah, Macon, and the other smaller Georgia tracks disappeared. Since 1972 – fully two-thirds of NASCAR’s 75 years – Atlanta has been the only Georgia track on the Cup schedule.

You have to wonder how close Macon – officially Middle Georgia Raceway – came to making it into the “modern era.” After all, for the last five years of the “pre-modern era,” the track ran a 500-lap race in November, yet Bristol, Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Richmond, and Nashville – all with 400-to-500-lap races in ’71 – continued on the new Winston Cup schedule, while Macon and Ona, W.Va., didn’t.

The West Virginia track paid the smallest 1971 purse by a considerable amount, but Macon paid only $110 less than Nashville, according to Racing Reference’s actual payout numbers.

Here’s my guess: All the tracks that continued onto the 1972 schedule had to pay a considerably higher purse that year, typically about $10,000 (nearly a 50% increase for those who were paying out the least); Macon might have just decided it couldn’t afford that.

Whatever the case, starting in 1972, Winston Cup in Georgia meant Atlanta, and in today’s NASCAR Cup world, it’s still that way.

Like I said earlier, that’s too bad, given Georgia’s early prominence. The Flock brothers, all from Atlanta, were among the biggest attractions in early NASCAR, and garage owner Gober Sosebee wasn’t far behind. Sara Christian, one of the first prominent women driving stock cars, was from Atlanta. Red Byron lived in Anniston, Ala., less than 50 miles from the Georgia line and less than 100 miles from Atlanta.

Lloyd Seay. If you have a minute, Google the Dawson County News article about this guy, who shouldn’t be forgotten. (Among other places, this photo is on the Dawson County News and Georgia Racing History websites)

Going back to pre-NASCAR days, Georgia gave racing Lloyd Seay. A moonshiner with incredible racing ability, Seay might have become southern stock car racing’s first superstar had he not been killed in a moonshine-related shooting.

Today Georgia’s primary contribution is the Elliott family – and that’s a lot – but let’s not forget that their home of Dawsonville is renowned for its moonshine past and even holds a festival, I think.

I suspect the fact that Georgia’s racing history is a bit rough-and-tumble and maybe doesn’t fit neatly into NASCAR’s official history narrative threatens to push a lot of this into the forgotten past, but I hope that doesn’t happen, because we need to remember the Lloyd Seays, Flock Brothers, Gober Sosebees, and other Georgia pioneers who helped make this the sport we love (and, yeah, the one we miss). Most of them would never have gotten a big corporate sponsorship and wouldn’t know how to do a podcast if you asked, but we owe them a lot.

Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts

You can find plenty more about Georgia’s rich racing history online; just Google “Georgia racing history” or “Georgia racing hall of fame” and check out some of the websites. Also, there are Lakewood Speedway film clips on YouTube which are well worth looking for and at.

Speaking of YouTube, if you think the Fourth of July means watching racing ON the Fourth of July (and not the weekend before), or if you associate the holiday with some place other than Chicago, pick out a couple of old races from the ’50s or ’60 from YouTube, grab a beer and some junk food, and party on.

I had a chance to do some relieving of the past recently at the restored Latimore Valley Fairgrounds track, part of the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing complex, where I volunteer on occasion. Later this week, I will try to send
a few more photos of the old cars on the track. (Photo by the author.)

Frank Buhrman

Photo Credit (cover); Getty Images


  1. Great article Frank. There are names in your story that I remember, but the Flock family is the one I heard about the most. Probably because there was so many of them, and they won a lot of races combined.

    It’s been awhile ago, but I remember reading an article about Lloyd Seay. The writer said that without a doubt, Seay was the best pure driver to come from Dawson County area. He said that Seay was an unbelievable talent. This article was written after Bill Elliot had retired, and Chase was either the champ, or during that season. I’m not sure how many great drivers have come from that area, but the Elliots would seem to be a pretty good measuring stick.

    The third driver I remember hearing about was Gober Sosebee. I’d seen several pictures of his black #50 Ford coupe, at my much older cousin’s house in Asheville, NC. He had taken those pictures, from pictures that were on the walls at Banjo Mathews’ shop in Arden. As luck would have it, in the June issue of Speedway Illustrated, his car was on the last page of the magazine. They call that page “One To Go”, and it’s not always just bygone era racers. Some are still active driving. That picture in SI brought back a lot of childhood memories of a sport that I was just getting to know. The only negative about it being in SI, was that they managed to mis-spell Gober’s last name. What was so bad about that was his name was clearly spelled out in gold leaf over the door, and highlighted in red in the picture!! Gober’s son David restored the coupe, and it sits in the Georgia Hall of Fame, if the short article is correct. What has held that in my memory for more than 50 years was 2 things. First was his name, Gober Sosebee. I have never to this day seen that last name since, and trust me, you get to see a lot of names in the military, and they’re written on your shirt. The second was the sponsor that adorns the door, and part of the rear fender, Cherokee Garage Atlanta, GA. My cousin’s wife was Cherokee. My cousin’s wife was stunningly beautiful lady. She was my first and only crush growing up, of someone older than me. You would be amazed how much my Hispanic wife reminds me of her. Don’t tell my wife that though. My cousin, he was by far the “coolest uncle” ( I always called him my uncle because our age difference) one could ask for. He raced twin engine go carts over near New Asheville Speedway. He also was friends with several of the competitors that raced there, and they would come by his house. Unfortunately both have passed now.

    I have had the pleasure of attending 1 race at Atlanta, but it wasn’t a Cup race. I had gone to Warner-Robbins Air Force base, for a 2 week deployment that summer, in the short time that I was in the AF Reserves. We flew in on a Friday morning, and got settled in to our rooms at billeting. I decided to go by the aircraft shop, that I would be working at come Monday. I asked the supervisor there if there were any asphalt tracks around there, that were racing that weekend. The supervisor told me there was a race in the area on Sat, but it was at AMS. So a couple of my buddies and I rented a car. It was the very first “Truck” race. No not those trucks, the tractor-trailer type trucks. Not only did they race on the big oval, they had drag races too! Now that was funny. You should have seen over the road truck drivers trying to speed shift these things. For those that haven’t driven one, you’re supposed to double clutch them for shifting. Yeah I know, you can shift them without using the clutch, but that takes some really good skills to hit the next gear, while waiting for the RPMs to drop, to keep from exploding the trans, and oh yeah drag racing the thing. As my wife and I owned our own trucking business for a while, I got to pay for a couple of trans rebuilds because of drivers that couldn’t manage clutch-less shifting under normal operations. For those that didn’t attend that race weekend at AMS, watch the opening 5 minutes of Smokey and the Bandit 2 movie. All of the truck racing scenes, and the Jerry Reed up close truck scenes were from that race. They had the movie truck there, it it was the pace car for the event, but it wasn’t in the actual race. I forget the young lady’s name that actually drove the movie truck during all the sequences. She was really petite too. There’s one scene that made it into movie, showing 1 of the trucks blowing a right front tire in turn one, and hitting the wall. That driver got hurt, and got an ambulance ride to the hospital. The truck was destroyed. This was not a race truck either. As was most of the trucks that competed that day. That wasn’t the only truck that was either destroyed or severely damaged that day. I would have loved to hear those conversations with their insurance carriers on Monday.

    1. Love the big-rig stories, Ron. Thanks for adding those. That form of racing has continued in fits and starts on ovals since ’79, although there doesn’t seem to be much this year other than an annual event at Onaway Speedway in Michigan. I’d kind of like to see one.

      1. The first GA driver I saw race in person, is still one of my favorites, Jody Ridley. I will never forget the first time he showed up in Cincinnati, at Tri-County Speedway. He was driving the 1965 Ford Falcon. I had never seen a Falcon late model before. Many hobby stockers, but never a Falcon. He was showing up a bunch of the local hot shoes, so they wrecked him. Years later I bought a 1965 street car. Oh yeah, it was the same color blue as Jody’s. I ended up selling that to an AF pilot friend. He kept it for a year or so, then he sold it to another pilot that I didn’t know. I was a bit bummed out that my friend had sold it. But I got to see it about a year later. The guy turned it into a late model to run in vintage road races here in TX. I never got to see it race, but at least I wasn’t bummed out anymore. He kept it the same color blue, just gave it a re-spray. My only regret was that I never got a picture of it.

  2. I never get tired of the history and reading of it in your articles, Frank.
    You have a lot of great stuff to write about and share with you.
    Thank you so much.

  3. The best thing I could say about that race, was simply that I was there, and the footage made it into the movie. The worst thing was just how many of those trucks popped/exploded right front tires and wrecked. If you’ve never driven one, and had that happen to you, you can’t really appreciate how dangerous & helpless you feel. At best you are just along for the ride, because it’s going where it wants to. Having a steering stabilizer helps, but only so much. If you think it’s difficult to stop an 80,000 lb truck from 70 mph, try steering one with a blown out steering axle tire.

    When I lived in England, there were truck races, but they occurred mostly on road courses. I also saw one on tv that took place on a dirt track. The speeds weren’t as high, but of course these trucks don’t really like trying to make corners at any speed. The laws of gravity & centrifugal force don’t change. Over there they raced mostly cab over rigs. Now that throws another negative into the mix, a much higher center of gravity. You should have seen all the track runoff carnage when 1 would not make the corner, and that occurred often. I don’t know if anyone still has an organized series here in the US, but I have seen a couple of hit/miss shows over the last 3-4 years. I surely won’t be searching for a race near me. I can’t remember what the name of the oval track was, from the snippet of video I saw a couple of years ago. But I bet they didn’t ask for those trucks to come back. The first truck that hit the turn 1 wall fractured it. The second truck to hit that spot went through the wall towards the pit area. They called the race, and probably spent a week to two rebuilding the wall. I doubt that they made any money that weekend, as the stands were “lightly” populated.

    NASCAR has a new fan reward program. It’s a Diamond Race Package for 2, for the Championship weekend at Phoenix. When I lived in Tucson, every year I would take our motorhome to PIR for 4 days. My only reasons for entering, is to see the track after all the millions they spent on revamping evertyhing, and to try and see some of our friends from the 14 years that we lived in Tucson. I’ve enjoyed the racing from there, and still do. But I’m not that big into really large crowds anymore. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m not blocking out that week on my calendar lol..

    1. Very much in agreement on the crowds. At Selinsgrove Speedway, where I plan to be Saturday night, there should be little or no traffic backup by the time I’m done with victory lane photos. Takes nearly two hours to get there, so I’m happy not to be delayed in getting away.

      1. I’m way past enjoying being around big crowds. Try to time my grocery shopping for least number of shoppers possible! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.