The Peach Bowl Speedway was located at 1040 Brady Avenue, in Atlanta. It was literally blocks away from the Georgia Tech Campus, and not far from the Downtown district. It was a couple miles from the famed Varsity Drive-In and about the same from Raymond Parks' liquor store. In addition, over a dozen speed-shops and garages were all within 10 miles. Needless to say, they picked a good spot to build a track. And what a track it was - It opened on a Friday night, in May of 1949 as a 1/4 mile dirt track, as the only other paved track was Indianapolis and Darlington was still a year away. Roy Shoemaker was the owner and promoter and he knew how to draw a crowd. Opening night was completely sold out as fans wanted to see a new sight and the drivers that didn't enter were eager to know what they missed. For about the first year or so, Midget racers raced exclusively on the 1/4 mile, but still, crowds were ok. In mid 1950, NASCAR founder and president, Bill France, had attended a few races and finally got in touch with Roy Shoemaker. France's proposition was to bring some stock cars to the track and bill them under the NASCAR name, to hopefully attract even more to the young track. It was a no-brainer to bring in NASCAR. Even though it had only been operating for just a couple years at this time, it only grew in popularity every day. So France had agreed to take over operations for a couple of races as a "test-run." After those couple of races were up, the Peach Bowl had never seen so many people. Although these weren't Strictly Stock cars, the jalopies that raced had the NASCAR brand with them, and that's what brought people. To the fan's fortune, they saw a great race. In late 1950, Bill France wanted to "modernize" the track by paving it. After seeing the success of the first Darlington Southern 500, he knew asphalt racing would turn out to be more popular than dirt in the years to come. And what Big Bill said, got done... quickly. So now, they had the South's only paved 1/4 mile track, and some say it was the best thing anyone could've done to that track.
For 1952, after running weekly NASCAR sanctioned races on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, Bill France decided to turn the track back over to its owner and original promoter, Roy Shoemaker. With Jimmy Mosteller announcing and drivers such as Charlie Mincey, Jack Jackson and T.C. Hunt racing on a weekly basis, Shoemaker had a combination that couldn't be beat! One of the biggest attendances in the track history was the July 4th night race in 1952. The only stands were on the front straight, but fans were flocked at all corners of the track. It was also something that was different from other parts of the country, as the Peach Bowl did have lights. Lights were installed before it even opened in '49. At most tracks across the east during this period, they ran mostly during the day. For many tracks, night racing would not become common for another 10-15 years, or more.
For the next 19 years, races were held on a weekly basis and everything from Jalopies to Cadets, Convertibles to Grand National, Midgets, "Skeeters" and Late Models raced there. In my opinion, running weekly was the key to the track's 22 year history. You would always know when a race was happening and they didn't leave you with a complex schedule, wondering what race was going to run when. Another key point was that the track kept rules simple, and was good about keeping classes equal. That way, the average guy could compete with average equipment against others just like him.
Track owner and promoter, Roy Shoemaker was also known for something else. In 1965, when the southern U.S was being bombarded by Civil Rights Activists, Atlanta was one of the hotspots. Before this time, the track had two grandstands - one white and one black. In '65, Roy decided to conjoin the two and let both groups sit together. This was very controversial, but Roy decided this himself. He wasn't influenced by anybody; he wasn't told to; he just did it... something not many people could've done during that time. Heck, then Governor of Georgia, Lester Maddox sold his famed eatery, The 'Pik Rik' so he wouldn't have to enforce segregation laws
Starting in the mid 60's, when the "Skeeter Craze" was leaving history, they had to find something to still attract fans. That's where the idea came for something way out of the box - Figure-8 races. The Peach Bowl didn't really have an infield, just a bit of grass. No trucks or trailers were allowed; I believe the tow truck and/or ambulance might have sat in the infield most of the time. So none-the-less, towards the late 60's a big "X" was paved in the middle and dare-devils could flat-foot it through the middle of the track. Many were injured doing this, but I would say it was fun to watch. One in particular, Curly Allison, was named "Track Figure-8 Champion" on several occasions.
In 1970, a movie was filmed at the Peach Bowl. The movie, later released as "Corky" was a low-budget, "B-Film" about a guy from Texas who travels to Atlanta to find Richard Petty, who said that he would give him a ride. On the particular weekend the Peach Bowl scene was shot, it was a cold March night and the production crew wanted people in T-shirts, looking happy as if it were a hot July night. In reality, it was about 35 degrees and those that stayed were trying to wrap themselves in blankets and huddle together. Shooting for that scene wasn't good enough until about 4:30, the next morning.
In 1971, the last race was held at the legendary track. With new tracks popping up and new cars, the track couldn't compete. Also, with Atlanta growing every day, the track was being closed in on by new buildings. Hall of Famer, Jimmy Summerour was the honorary starter for the last race. His friend and former driver, T.C Hunt won the last race at the old track. In early 1972, the city of Atlanta bought the property and was to tear it down as soon as possible for Atlanta's new public transit project, MARTA. (Metro Area Rapid Transit Authority) MARTA covers both bus and train all around the Metro Atlanta area. The site of the former track is now the bus repair station. There have been recent talks of putting a historic marker near the site.
In 1989, early Peach Bowl Speedway pioneer, Jack Jackson came up with the idea to create a reunion to visit with and tell stories with his old friends and competitors. He said the only time he would see the old racers together was at the funeral home when a friend would pass. He held the first reunion in Riverdale, Georgia with attendance just over 100 people. It kept growing and growing, with the highest at one time of over 320. The crowd fluctuates every year, but the attendance is always a "Who's who" of racing legends, including people such as Charlie Mincey, Charlie Bagwell, Mike Head, Bruce Brantley, Donald Tyson, Wilbur Rakestraw, Rex White, and many, many more. It truly is a time to relive racing memories of the past.
Inside of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, we have a large list of over 300 names of those that were mentioned in the Atlanta papers that raced at the track. It certainly isn't every single driver, but if they were mentioned in the newspapers, a name was hand-painted on a special sign inside of the hall of fame.
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(Editor’s note: Cody Dinsmore is a member of the regular cast of the Tuesday evening racing show ” Racing Through History”, presented on Zeus Radio Network by RacersReunion®. Archives can be found by following the link. Live broadcasts can be heard from 7:00-9:00 PM every Tuesday. Please feel free to join us in the RacersReunion® Chat Room for the show.)