On October 8, I had the great and long-overdue pleasure of finally visiting the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame and Museum. Located in the self-described birthplace of stock car racing of Dawsonville, "Thunder Road USA" is host to an extraordinary collection of race cars, trophies, and other mementos and memorabilia that tell the story not only of Georgia's racing history, but also that of the sport of stock car racing in general.
Before one even enters the Hall of Fame, they are greeted by one of our state's most-favorite sons and its most iconic motorsports competitor. Yes, Awesome Bill from Dawsonville is standing outside to welcome all visitors. Okay, actually, it is just a Coke machine with a large image of Bill Elliott on the front of it, but still.
Stepping through the building's front doors is like stepping through a portal to our sport's history. First you see Atlantan Jack Smith's burgundy No. 47 Pontiac, the first car to turn testing laps at the Atlanta International Raceway - now the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Behind it sits Buck Baker's famous No. 87 1957 Chevrolet Black Widow that was sponsored by the Atlanta-based Nalley Chevrolet dealership.
Lined up across "The Alley" is an silver and black Ford driven by Dawsonville's "Lightning Lloyd Seay," the man whom Bill France referred to as "the best pure race driver I ever saw." Beside it is Charlie Mincey of Atlanta's No. 16 modified he raced in the 1960s. Then comes Gober Sosebee's Cherokee Garage modified with which he won three Daytona Beach Course races and set the beach circuit's record. Sitting off to the left from that trio of racers is the gold sprinter driven by Herman Wise - who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this Friday - to a win in the 1971 Little Indy 500.
Finally, at the back of the room, sit two black automobiles. One is a '39 Ford owned by Mr. Mincey and similar to the car with which he made many a bootleg run. Behind the car sits an actual moonshine still so that visitors can see for themselves the complexity of making the 'shine (I told my mother I would have blown Dawson County clear off the map had I attempted to do anything like that).
The other black ride, one of the most iconic cars in all of motorsports, is one of Dale Earnhardt's No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolets. This particular car is the 1990 Lumina that lost the Daytona 500 on the last lap thanks to a flat tire. The car was converted to a road racing piece and was later driven by sports car standout John Paul Jr. at Road Atlanta in Brasleton.
After viewing a short film entitled "Saturday Night Races," visitors move on to see even more terrific racing heritage. A car driven by the Blond Blizzard of Virginia himself, Curtis Turner, sits alongside a wall of newspaper clippings from both racing and state history including Lloyd Seay's incredible three wins in 15 days, his murder at the hands of cousin Woodrow Anderson, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and highlights of Bill Elliott's incredible career.
Speaking of Elliott, the highlight of the museum is perhaps the Elliott Family Room, which features trophies and memorabilia from Bill's fantastic racing career, along with the 1988 Coors/Melling Ford Thunderbird with which he became the only native Georgian to claim stock car racing's highest-level championship. The trophies he won along the way rest alongside the car, save for the Winston Cup trophy. That is housed in a case of it's own - with other trophies for top-10 points performances - right at the room's entrance. I'll cover that room in more detail in Wednesday's "Part Three: The Elliotts."
Once you leave the Family Room, you come to five of Bill's most-famous race cars, backed by a wall of photos, paintings, and other mementos from his career (my favorite being a handwritten note from Tony Stewart thanking Bill for his participation in the Prelude to the Dream at Stewart's Eldora Speedway). The cars are a 2002 Dodge Intrepid he raced for Ray Evernham (and won twice at Pocono and Indianapolis), the 2000 Ford Taurus with which he competed his final race as a driver-owner at Atlanta Motor Speedway (the beating those once-pristine race cars take over the course of 500 miles, without even making contact with the wall, is very well illustrated), the 1992 Junior Johnson-owned Budweiser Thunderbird with which he won five races - including four in a row early in the season and both '92 races at Atlanta), and his 1987 Coors T-Bird.
Finally you arrive at a room that houses cars driven by some of Georgia's past and future homegrown stars. The Chase Elliott exhibit is quite impressive, with a wall covered in trophies Bill's son has already attained over his short career and three of his race cars. One of the most somber exhibits in the museum is the Casey Elliott Display, which includes his 1993 NASCAR All-Pro Series race car. Casey - Ernie Elliott's son, Bill's nephew - was a rising star destined to join his uncle as one of the sport's best. Sadly, his life and career were cut short by cancer in 1996 at the age of 21.
Among the other cars on display in this room is Georgia short track legend Ronnie Sanders beautiful red and white No. 18 Camaro. Sanders, who won more than 500 races in his career, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009. Another great looking Camaro, a red and gold No. 27 driven by 2007 inductee Bruce Brantley, is also on display.
This is just a brief overview of the incredible exhibits one can see at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame. We'll get into more detail over the next few days, but the words don't do it justice. If you love racing or Georgia state history, you must take the trip through the gorgeous North Georgia mountains to Dawsonville. They are constantly adding new exhibits and memorabilia - since I was there on October 8, two new cars have already been added - but you'll want to make at least a second trip anyway just to make sure you didn't miss anything while picking your jaw up off the floor.
Admission to the Hall of Fame is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for kids aged 7-13, free for children under the ages of six, and the experience is worth every single penny and then some.