I bid you welcome gentle readers. Today, we have Johnny Mallonee back with us another time, with more tales of Southern Nights, racing style. Johnny is one of those folks that make me wish I’d had a chance to live here in Georgia fifty years sooner than I finally got here in 1993. But, as they say, I got here as fast as I could.
When he and I talked about doing some of these articles together, it was to be as part of the Saturday Night Hero series, but Johnny spins his yarns into a different fabric. Rather than aggrandize one single person, Johnny regales us with stories of tracks, yes, but also of the racing itself. Spending a Southern Night in Johnny’s company gives one the feeling that you are right there with him, driving to the track of choice, pulling your trailer or flat-towed car into the grounds of the track, unloading the car, taking her through time-trials and/or qualifying and running the race itself.
When I read Johnny’s words, both he and I are young again as he seamlessly slips from past to present and back again, with me just glad to be along for the ride. Johnny can tell the stories of way back when and make you feel as he felt, hear what he heard and see what he saw. The “seamless” part is my job. Together, we hope to present something that means the world to both of us and many others here at RacersReunion… a living history of stock car racing in Georgia. No, not by numbers and statistics; everyone’s brother, uncle and cousin can quote those. We want to bring you the men, women, tracks and circumstances that went into making those statistics… the how, why and wherefore of how we got from yesterday to today.
From today forward, these articles, Southern Nights, will stand alone and apart from the Saturday Night Heroes. As you have already seen, these tales of yesteryear entail much more than Saturday night; they already have us racing three or four nights a week… and there are more to come, just in the Warner Robins area of Middle Georgia. It’s a very big state, the largest east of the Mississippi, so fodder is plentiful and Johnny, I have found over several years, is an endless font of information.
In the first installment, Johnny gave us a two-part piece that encompassed Crazy 8 Speedway, Houston County Speedway and Jones County Speedway. Today, he adds to those the 441 Speedway in Dublin, Georgia, with promise of still more to come in this same area. Now, without further ado… something at which I excel… I’ll turn the stage over to Johnny and his tales of Southern Nights.
You would think that with having 3 quarter-mile dirt tracks and a half-mile paved arena running, there would be adequate racing—but— just south of Dublin Georgia on 441, there is yet another playground opening up. Yes, sir, and it’s a half-mile one too… but on dirt.
Rules show it will have two divisions. One will run 2-barrel carbs and the other 4-barrel carbs. But now, here is the kicker; in order to control the cost involved in building a car, the rules are very strict. Eight-inch tire rule… no quick-change… 365-cu in motor, no roller, no aluminum intakes… a racer’s dream if he is using his own pockets to fund a car.
Now we have decisions… swapping rears… building a new motor? A complete car was in order to run Dublin, and was it ever fun!
There were Plymouths, Fords, and Chevys of almost every year and size available. There was a tough ’61 Ford Starliner running out of Dublin, that sounded like thunder out on the track, and a couple of Chrysler products too. Fords were everywhere, but the Chevys were there too. You would see cars coming into the track on flatbed trucks straight off the farm, complete with the smell. They unloaded the cars out on the dirt dock that was built for them. How convenient! It seemed as though over-alls were the norm in driver attire, with the exception of a couple of uptown teams that were color coded. A lot of questions from drivers arose that first night, because you had some out-of-towners there that were not quite up to par on rules. All that was cleared and we time-trialed and boy, was it spread out. The tone was set by some character out of Augusta Georgia with a Chevrolet. We parked down on the end and both our cars were almost identical… both black with the exception of the numbers.
The two-barrel cars were only a tick slower than the four-barrel cars and one six-cylinder Chevy was out there from Hawkinsville, Georgia that put most all the two-barrel cars to shame.
One good thing about this track was there weren’t any guard rails on the outside except in front of the stands, and they were on a hill, so getting to them by car was out of the question. After a couple of weeks, it wasn’t impossible to get around the track at full throttle with no traffic, but if you slipped up any at all, the bank would let you go over with no ill effect, and I used it a couple of times, testing the waters.
The pay schedule here was better, with tow money and a fairly good points system.
The first season was so much fun here, and about half-way through, word came on the wind of another track coming, just 40 miles away, but that is for another time along with the current track that’s running on Friday night.
That first year, we ran almost year-round in conjunction with the other tracks already running. Drivers in Middle Georgia were in hog heaven because we had no shortage of tracks and cars. If your ride was broken, there were usually two or three cars there looking for a good driver.
The track was a clean, well-maintained facility and the food was above the norm there. Motels just up the road gave great discounts to drivers if you wanted to stay over. Cars were coming from Savannah, Augusta and Jacksonville Florida, and even farther out of state, so you got to meet a great mixture of drivers here. Some of them were known in NASCAR, but didn’t let it go to their heads. I remember one time, after the feature we were standing around getting our breath when I heard a car, full tilt on the back stretch. I looked up and heck, there my car was, flying around the track. I guess my dad couldn’t stand it anymore and crawled in it to clear the cobwebs out of his head. He drove a couple of heat races that year too.
There was a big Thanksgiving race and a Christmas one too that year. Life was good in racing, and the future looked great. But not to forget, we had three other tracks we were also running on, with an occasional paved race over at Middle Georgia Raceway. Now you see why we loved our racing so in Georgia.
Next segment brings in two more tracks in this same area; are you keeping count?
There you have it for today; more of Johnny’s “Memories”, the things that keep us young as we grow older. To all of my younger readers, and I know you’re out there because you tell me so, listen to the stories of yesteryear. Hear them and learn from them how it was in a time that existed before you were born or even considered. Whether you hear the stories from Johnny, from me, from the Legend or from Matt, the stories told here are about the roots of racing, which were different for each of us, but all a part of the flax that wove the cloth into what racing is today.
While you’re at it, don’t confine your listening to racing stories only. Listen to your parents and grandparents, not necessarily in that order. Consider which will probably be gone first. The older members of everyone’s family have stories to tell… stories that tell of how you came to be; how Grandpa met Grandma and Dad met Mom. Stories of older relatives that seem far away to you now, but once were a vibrant and important part of your family, and all that makes you, you.
Once they are gone… once we are gone, who will be left to tell the stories? Will it be you? Will you even know the stories? Were you listening when the older generation spoke… or were you quietly ignoring us and secretly wishing we’d hush and stop interrupting your concentration on whatever piece of electronics might be in your hand at the moment?
We have one of your generation here on RacersReunion that has listened to the stories since he was a small child. His name is Cody Dinsmore, and you see his articles here at times, and becoming more frequent as time passes. Cody has learned so well that when not in school, he works at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame… as a Historian. Cody is 16 years old, and has been doing that since age 11. He still listens intently to each of us that has something to offer. Cody, and those of you like him, are our hope for the future; our hope that racing history will be preserved, not distorted, as we hear each week by some of the TV “personalities” that now permeate the airwaves.
We’ll be back, Johnny and I, with more tales of Southern Nights, whenever Johnny feels like sharing another one with the rest of us. Until then, how about listening to Glen Campbell singing to us about what else… Southern Nights… accompanied by a fine array of beautiful scenery in where else… Georgia?
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!
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