Middle Georgia Raceway is snuggled within a peach orchard community called Byron, Georgia just south of Macon. Since it opened it has a history of making news. It seems the recently quiet but hallowed grounds that spawned great racing back in the day, a hi-tech moonshine distribution, and the 1970 Atlanta International Pop Festival are not yet ready to be written off. Many who have wished the old race track would be revived and preserved or even restored may see a glimmer of hope.
So don’t close the history books on Middle Georgia Raceway (MGR) just yet. This magnificent old racing facility that sits off State Highway 41 in Byron is poised to rise again to the call major events. On March 11 and 12, 2011 the Jeff Smith Chevrolet Middle Georgia RacersReunion will awaken the small town of Byron, GA for what is expected to be yet another historic happening. MGR will once again produce some familiar rumblings as classic show cars, vintage race cars, and music will be part of this event. The only element missing from its famous past will be the moonshine. But, there are rumors of a still (non-functioning…or course) being constructed for the event.
In addition to local and regional racing the facility held NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup) races from 1966 through 1971 with legendary winners such as Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Bobby Isaac, and David Pearson. The racing action had a brief interruption in November 1967 when Federal Authorities found an elaborate moonshine still operating under the race track. Entry to the still was reportedly through a trap door in the floor of a ticket office to a 125 foot tunnel under the race track. It seems the moonshine operation had been a major part of the MGR business plan from its otherwise humble beginning. Bobby Allison won the NASCAR Grand National race that day and had this to say about the discovery of the still: “We had heard rumors of some of that going on, but we didn’t really believe it. We were so busy with our race car, we didn’t even know all that was going on that day.”
In 1970 the second Atlanta International Pop Festival opened at MGR with Jimi Hendrix followed by performers such as The Allman Brothers Band, B.B. King, Procol Harum, Poco, Grand Funk Railroad, Mountain, and many more. Crowd estimates are said to have been between 350, 000 and 600, 000. Apparently the $14.00 admission gave way to “open” admission as the hoards of passionate spectators made (forced) their way in. Any conversation about MGR with Byron and surrounding residents will yield some entertaining stories about the infamous “Byron Pop Festival”.
The Jeff Smith Chevrolet Middle Georgia RacersReunion will play host to fans and participants from all forms of motor sports competition in the middle Georgia area. The event was spawned when RacersReunion.com founder, Jeff Gilder contacted Tim Thornton whose company owns the property. “This old race track and the surrounding region share a great racing heritage,” said Gilder who took the lead to seek interest for a RacersReunion event at MGR. “There are a lot of fans and participants who would love to see this track preserved. We were extremely pleased to find current owner and managing partner, Tim Thornton as an avid race fan. Mr. Thornton and his team of volunteers have actually rolled up their sleeves and have taken an active part in making this event a reality.” Though Tim Thornton was not the original owner of the race track property, he was well aware of its place in Georgia racing (and other) history.
Festivities begin Friday March 11 when the gates open at 4 PM for the Georgia Bob’s Barbeque Feast and Wine Tasting. Fans are invited to take The Candle Light Track Walk around the track and share their favorite MGR memories. Gates open Saturday at 9 AM for a full day including food, vendors, children’s activities, classic car show, vintage race car show, and an autograph / photo session with the legendary drivers who helped create middle Georgia’s racing heritage. Recent NASCAR Hall of Famer, Bobby Allison is scheduled to be on hand for this historic occasion.
Could MGR possibly be preserved and even restored? Only time will tell. As for now, it will live again to host another historic event. One can only hope the response to this event might lead to the preservation of yet another historic race facility. The same has recently occurred. In 2007 the Historic Speedway Group in Hillsborough, NC revived and preserved the Occoneechee Speedway to hold an annual event drawing thousands each year. That old race track with its significant history now serves as a park for surrounding residents. In April 2009, Columbia Speedway in Cayce, SC was uncovered (by over 100 volunteers) of years of undergrowth and prepared for a similar RacersReunion event. That event drew a reported 30,000 spectators and has resulted in Historic Columbia Speedway being preserved as an events facility. The Historic Columbia Speedway group has plans for a museum to be erected to commemorate the racing heritage of that facility. This April 14-16 the third annual Love Chevrolet Columbia Speedway Festival and RacersReunion will again fill the air with the sounds of race cars, the smell of race track food, and the happiness of passionate racing history fans.
As time and evolution change the face of racing today, more and more old-school fans are looking for opportunities to relive and share memories of an earlier time when racing impacted their lives. Events such as the Middle Georgia RacersReunion offer those opportunities. Because of this event, stories, photos, videos, and consequently memories will be brought out of storage and enjoyed. Parents and Grandparents will accompany children and grandchildren and share a special time. A new type of fan is born. They are racing history fans. They are the fans who hold a place in history as important as the sanctioning bodies, the sponsors, the promoters, the drivers, the track announcers, the mechanics, and car owners. Let’s face it, if not for the fans, the sport would most assuredly have died an early death.