by: Cody Dinsmore
A new track was built in Woodstock, Georgia in late 1968, known as the Dixie Speedway. With the duo of racing legends, Bud Lunsford and Max Simpson, the 3/8-mile dirt track was a reality. As for racetracks, there weren’t many around in that area during this time. It’s Cherokee County though. That had been home to close to a dozen tracks before the mid ’60s, but the later ’60s did not produce the racing success it had seen in the years before. Dixie was really ahead of its time, especially with the banking; it wasn’t much, but it was different. The inaugural season was more than Lunsford and Simpson could’ve asked for – packed attendance and good racing all throughout the season. And for the next couple of seasons, it was some of the best racing in Georgia. In 1972, the two promoters decided to do something different. They saw the success of the Jefco Speedway, another 3/8 track about 60 miles away, except Jefco was paved, and that’s what was done to Dixie. Editor’s note: Jefco or Jeffco Speedway later became Peach State Speedway and now operates as Gresham Motorsports Park)
But near the mid 1970′s, with the oil crisis and all, attendance was severely down, both drivers and spectators. I guess you could say it was getting to be a Quattlebaum of a race. Bud Lunsford had sold his share to Max Simpson making him the sole owner, and Max had been trying to sell it for quite some time. Nobody it seemed, wanted a racetrack, especially one that needed work, both physically and mentally, meaning the track desperately needed improvements and it needed something to draw in people.
At the time, Mickey Swims was already a track promoter. In 1967, he had bought the small drag-strip in Cumming, Georgia (below Dawsonville) and kept at it for several years. Before he closed the track around 1971 or ’72, he bought another track, this time a dirt oval in Rome, Georgia, which is close to Alabama, about an hour’s drive from Dixie. Rome was a 1/2-mile clay D-shaped oval which drew a large crowd of drivers and fans when it had races. So by the time Dixie was put up for sale, both Swims and his family had experience in the promoting field. He decided to purchase the failing Dixie track in early 1976 and tried many different things to attract people. For about the first year, everything was kept the same, the way it was when he purchased the turn-key track.
But this is where controversy begins……
No matter who you talk to that was involved with racing at Dixie Speedway, you ask them asphalt or pavement and you will certainly have very different opinions.
Seeing how his track in Rome, with a clay surface, was doing, Mickey decided that dirt is what Dixie needed to get back attendance and drivers. Some say this was exactly what it needed; some say that that was the worst thing anyone could’ve ever done to the old track. Personally, I’ve talked to dozens of people about Dixie’s dirt vs. asphalt and it’s usually about half that will be on either side. I’ve had some tell me that when it was under its paved surface, it was the best and fastest paved short track in the south. And the other half will say that is was terrible under asphalt and it was the
greatest thing to tear it up. Needless to say, Mickey and his construction team tore up the $200,000 surface and trucked red clay in from his other track in Rome. 1977 was the first season under Mickey’s ownership with dirt. Many of the former asphalt drivers of the track came back with cars modified for dirt competition. The ones who were strictly asphalt drivers didn’t really have many options now as Jefco, known in the 70′s as Georgia International was closed and Middle Georgia Raceway was over a hundred miles away. Many people such as Jody Ridley, Charlie Mincey, Charlie Bagwell, Buck Simmons, and other adapted well to Dixie’s new look.
In 1978, Mickey, feeling good about his racing operations, bought yet another dirt track, this one in Douglasville, Georgia, named West Atlanta Raceway, or WAR to some. It was a dirt-surfaced short track. Now with three dirt tracks, similar in size, in Swims’ ownership, he decided to connect all three together and called it the “Tri-Racing Circuit”. He would run West Atlanta on Friday Nights, Dixie on Saturday and Rome Speedway on Sunday. He operated 90 shows a year during this short-lived system. It was a great idea, but running a family business every weekend for more than half the year, was a lot of work. I’m honestly not sure on how long the Swims carried on this ‘series’ but I know it was not for an extended period of time… not more than 10 years, I believe. After he decided to end this, he sold WAR in the late ’80s and decided to keep just Dixie and Rome, still operated by the family today.
The decade of the 1980s brought great success to Dixie. Woodstock Georgia began to be more populated toward the end of the decade. At the time when Mickey bought Dixie, there were three businesses within 7 miles of the track – two service stations and a used car lot. By the late 80′s, Interstate 575 was built and Woodstock was becoming filled with malls, super markets and restaurants. Needless to say, Dixie was quickly gaining popularity. 1981 was the first year that the UDTRA (United Dirt Track Racing Association) visited the track, and remained there for many years. Towards the late ’80s, many current NASCAR stars visited the track such as Bill Elliott, who got his first auto win there when it was asphalt, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, who also raced there when it asphalt with Richard Petty, Rusty Wallace, and Ken Schrader.
In 1990, Mickey, his son Mike, and long-time friend and track announcer, Jimmy Mosteller formed the Hav-A-Tampa Dirt Series, with Dixie as its home track. In fact, for the entire Series history, Dixie was always the finale race, known as the Dixie-Shootout. Mosteller retired from his Sr. Vice President position of Hav-A-Tampa in 1994, and stepped down from the Series in 1999. He left the multi-million dollar series to the Swims’ family. Between Mickey and Mike, they kept up with the series for another two years before selling out to the Lucas Oil Corporation. Still today, the Lucas Oil Dirt Series visits both Dixie and Rome.
Today, 45 years after completion, and 37 years after the Swims’ purchase of the track, Dixie probably has the best crowd and best racing it’s seen. I’ve talked about this track numerous times. They run from early April to early October, every week. There aren’t many tracks that I know of anywhere in the south that can run every single week, and be successful. The family does still operate Rome, but it only runs on Sunday nights, usually on days when most people aren’t working on Monday, such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Independence Day. With the exception of the Lucas Oil races, every show costs just $10 to enter, with a lower price for seniors and children under 17. Not a thing in their concession stand is over $5 and they provide good, clean racing for about 4 hours. They run about 7 different divisions of racing and they send one race, right after another. No I didn’t get paid for this segment, but I do enjoy going to Dixie Speedway. It was the first racetrack I went to, when I was either 8 or 9, and I hope y’all get to experience Dixie Speedway one day.
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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.)