Good day gentle readers and welcome to another installment in our series of Saturday Night Heroes. If you’ve been following these articles, you are already familiar with Johnny Mallonee as the gentleman that has love affairs with race tracks. Well hey, that’s perfectly OK by me; I’ve had my head turned by both Martinsville and North Wilkesboro, along with Spencer Speedway many years ago, and I’m sure it was far more acceptable to Johnny’s lovely wife than other pastimes in which he might have engaged.
Johnny originally hails from what they call “Middle Georgia”, though from my seat up here near the Tennessee border, it looks a whole lot “South” to me. Then he reminds me that where he lives now is truly South Georgia. I think he said something about Okefenenokee Swamp, but I could be mistaken. (Did y’all know that translates to “Land of the Trembling Earth?”) Just had to throw that in to show off my education… or lack of same.
When Jeff [Gilder, HMWIC] and I had the idea for this series, I asked everyone within the sound of my voice or fingers to get over his or her timidity and give me things with which to work. No one has to be a writer to contribute to this series. All that is needed are little anecdotal racing stories; it doesn’t matter the year, the track or the folks involved. The only gift God and my little Irish Mom gave me was the ability to write. I can take your words and make them sound pretty without changing the meaning one iota.
To date, the cooperation here has been… well, in a word, lacking. As an old race fan, I am living in a dream world here, surrounded on all sides by the very folks that helped make up the history of our sport. A few have been wonderfully cooperative… Johnny and Barbara Scott (Wife of Dirt Hall of Famer Billy Scott), for sure. Bill McPeek contributed one lovely story about his Saturday Night Hero, Jack Anderson, and I now can’t wait to meet Jack next year when Bill promises to bring him up for the Moonshine Festival in Dawsonville.
Our wonderful Legend, Tim Leeming, has contributed several stories to the series, notably when he knew that with the way the Holidays fell this past year, I would be terribly short on any sort of article, with “Racing Through History” taking a two-week hiatus for Christmas and New Year’s Day. With the package of things he handed me, he became my Every Night Hero. Tim is of course, an accomplished author in his own right and needs no help from me. His articles stand alone and each one is a treasure. Our young Historian, Cody Dinsmore, lends some of his work to this series by default, as writing about Georgia’s heroes is what he does best.
Now that everyone is up to speed on the why and how of this endeavor, I’ll turn the stage over to Johnny to spin you tales of “Southern Nights.”
In 1965, a brand new race track opened in Middle Georgia. If you follow Highway 247 south from Macon towards Warner Robins, you will come upon a small town called Elberta, Georgia. Dunbar Road turns off to the right and about 4 miles up the road you will find the Crazy 8 Speedway on your left.
At first glance it kinda looked like a horse ring, with all the fences up. Turn left in and pull around back if you’re pulling a car.
The first race was on a Friday night and the crowd was big, along with over 40 cars the first night out. Inside that high fence was a huge track with a figure 8 built in it. Cars were first let out on the track to try out the new surface, which was served up nice and slick; it was well watered. After practice, a drivers’ meeting held in the middle of the Figure 8.
The rules were explained and how the payout was set up. If you won the heat race you were paid $35.00, and if you won the consi you got $20.00. Feature paid $150.00 and the Crazy 8 paid $175.00 to win. Positions in the feature were by points system, most points started in rear and so on. 10-lap heats and a 5-lap consi, along with 40-lap feature and 30-lap Crazy 8. So you see, there was a mad rush to always get to the front.
To start with, most cars were on the line of street cars, with a couple of hotter cars from out of town. 302 cu in. no roller, no hot gas from the airport and roll bars had to meet requirements.
The first races were a mixture of fun and excitement with a temper tantrum thrown in for good measure.
On the first night there was a ’55 Chevy sitting on the pole that was bought the week before at the auction. It had a 265 with an automatic trans, along with the rear being welded up, or “locked”, as some would say. The green flag waved and they were off, with everything from a 6-cylinder Chevy to a Buick Roadmaster clawing for the lead. First lap… there was a ’55 Ford being pushed by a car from Columbus, fighting to get to the front. Finally the race was over with the little ’55 from the auction winning.
The figure 8 was a crowd pleaser, with several hits at the cross. This first night set the local area on fire to build as many cars as possible, it seemed. Finally a 40-car limit was set on the races because only so many could fit on a 1/4-mile track. Racing was so big that another track, Houston County Speedway, was built on the south side of Warner Robins at 196 and Houston Lake road. One ran on Friday night and the other on Saturday night. Cars were getting faster and drivers were getting better and the show just got BETTER. Labor Day rolled around and a 100-lap race was planned for Monday afternoon, with $1000.00 to win. Cars were coming from North Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. The competition was stiff, I tell you. When the likes of TC Hunt, Shep Worthington along with Bob Moore, Charlie Burnette and many more out-of-towners show up, you can imagine the fireworks that followed. One car took a Roller motor out of a Skeeter from North Georgia and put it in a ’55 Chevy… and boy, did it run! They borrowed two 10″ wide tires for it from another car and when the race was over, they were down to the cords. It was up front battling the hot shoes, with first one, then the other, leading the lap. Three laps from the end the ’55 Chevy lost the right front wheel. It continued carrying the right front on the straightaways but in the turns it would bottleneck the cars behind, and coming out of the turn they would sometimes be three wide. Picture that if you can! Well the li’l ’55 didn’t win, but did finish 3rd… a close third.
This track gave a lot of drivers a start in racing in Middle GA. There were many drag cars converted to dirt cars. A lot of teens on the verge of big trouble converted to racing as a means of burning off energy and learning a trade for later years.
Tracks started springing up all over the state and you could run 3, 4 or even 5 times a week and make living out of it, but never get rich quick .
Going back to those days brings many fond memories of how we in middle Georgia spent our “Southern Nights”.
I did not tie any names to any particulars because the list of great drivers we had would be extensive.
Part II ~ Jones County Speedway
If you told us God wasn’t looking over us in the ’60s we would have proved you wrong.
After having two dirt tracks open in Warner Robins, with them running on Friday and Saturday night, along comes another good old boy, who opens a pristine 1/4 mile with the stickiest red clay you will ever see and turns you could almost drive Lazy-boy style. Oh by the way, did I mention fast too? You drive up through Macon headed towards Gray Georgia, but don’t worry; you can’t miss the turn. On the left was, and still is, Ronnie Green Well Drilling services; across from it is an old style country store that has a road into the woods just to its left. Now stop and listen and you just may hear Pat Nipper airing his 289 Ford out on the back stretch or maybe Woody Moore could be stretching the legs on that straight 6 cylinder GMC. I never pulled up there that a crowd of cars wouldn’t be at the store and a line down the dirt road to the track.
This place time trialed, so everyone was on the loud pedal here. Only one class of cars allowed here… fast… really fast. A 50-car field was not out of the ordinary here.
You could run down the straight and throw it without a thought of brakes. Heat races were a sight to be seen, but the feature was poetry in motion; that is until someone missed a note; then it was total chaos. I remember one time, I thought I had gotten through a mix-up, only to be hooked on the left rear wheel causing the drive shaft to pole vault me end over end. Not fun, watching the fence come at you through the top of your windshield. This track also had a figure 8 in it and the final show was the figure 8.
Some time ago, Tim Leeming had Charlie Burnette on the Tuesday night radio show and he discussed his method of winning in the figure 8. He doesn’t lift [at the intersection] and many knew that, so that was his method–until he met another as bull headed as he was. In all the running, I don’t think a driver was ever fatally injured. This track also had the flagman out on the track during qualifying . It was really cool to watch him work the crowd and the drivers—— until one night, as we were lined up to qualify, a car got away from its driver and he was run over.
Jones County Speedway was the one where everyone chose to set their cars up, because a setup there seemed to work at all the others. Competition was tight when you had great drivers like Al Smith, who is still driving, along with Woody Moore, TC Hunt, Stewart Seymore, Bob Moore, Johnny Quick, and many more. On occasion, the bunch from Upstate would venture down to sample the clay. Although this track has long been closed and those tall Georgia pines have retaken the track, my memories, along with many others, are still vivid and reliving a night there is still clear in my mind, even if a tear does trickle down occasionally, with a red mud stain in it.
This is the original Georgia Gang out of Warner Robins GA.
From Left to right: JA Davis, Bob Brown, Charlie Burnette, JW Brown, and Stewart Seymore.
Well guys and gals, could you feel the excitement of cars roaring around those old red clay tracks in and around Warner Robins Georgia? When Johnny starts telling tales of racing way back when, everyone sits down to listen. The best part is, he has so many of them he may never run out. I am so very privileged that he has agreed to share some of them with me, and thereby, with you, my gentle readers. Please mind your manners and remember to thank Johnny for his time and effort on our behalf. Johnny, my friend, I most certainly thank you for letting me feel the excitement once more that I remember from my youth. Sometimes, we spend too long being old and not nearly enough time remembering when we weren’t.
And one note to all my gentle readers before we close. My invitation to be a part of this series is certainly not limited to members of RacersReunion, though I do wish each of you were a member. If anyone within the reach of my keyboard would like to share a story or even several, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I post an email address with every article, and I am active on Twitter as well. Sorry… no FaceBook for me. Been there; tried that; hated it and not going back. Remember, the ability to write in not necessary. I will take care of that part, just as you see here. Johnny trusts me implicitly with his memories, as have others. No one has been disappointed to date.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!
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