Of course, when one thinks of Georgia in terms of motorsports, one name is almost always the first to pop into their head: Bill Elliott.
William Clyde Elliott is one of the all-time iconic Georgian sportspeople, perhaps its No. 1 icon. Awesome Bill from Dawsonville is also regarded as one of auto racing's greatest drivers ever. His exploits in Fords are especially noteworthy: his 40 triumphs behind the wheel of Harry Melling and Junior Johnson's Blue Ovals rank second all-time to the 43 wins Ned Jarrett recorded in Ford race cars.
Racing is a family affair with the Elliotts, however, and the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame pays tribute to the entire clan from Dawsonville with the Elliott Family Legacy Room. As the driver and therefore the name that went into the record books, Bill is largely the room's focus. He would be the first one to tell you, however, that he was just one part of a family operation that took the sport by storm in the 1980s.
As soon as you enter the room, you are greeted by a case that stands front and center, holding the Winston Cup championship trophy Bill won in 1988. One of his Coors T-Birds from that championship season, along with the six trophies he scored for that season, sit in front of a mural of the race teams.
For Bill and his brothers, Ernie and Dan, to have dominated the superspeedways, there of course had to be a mom and pop involved somewhere. One of the glass cases in the room pays tribute to Mildred and George Elliott, with various photographs from their lives, two of Mrs. Elliott's dresses, and Mr. Elliott's Coors pit crew shirt among the various mementos.
From there, the row of cases becomes a tribute to the success the Elliotts put together. Every trophy that you can imagine that Bill won over the course of his career is right there. Even his Harley J. Earl Trophies from the 1985 and 1987 Daytona 500 wins - back when the trophy looked more like a trophy and less like a headstone - and the PPG Cup from his 2002 Brickyard 400 victory are on display. Various pole awards, including the one he claimed for Dodge at the 2001 Daytona 500 in the automaker's return to top-level stock car racing, and other mementos such as the funny money that was dropped at Darlington when he won the Southern 500 at Darlington only serve to make the collection that much more impressive.
It is quite an experience to look at the trophies claimed by one of Georgia's own and think the stories you've heard about those races. I can personally recall Elliott's last 11 wins, and seeing the trophies he claimed for those victories and recalling watching those races on television was especially enjoyable.
Once Bill officially retires from driving - he outright stated that his run in the Coke Zero 400 this past July very well could be it as he has nothing else on the table - the Most Popular Driver award will fittingly carry "The Bill Elliott Trophy" as its moniker. Bill won the award a record 16 times, including ten in a row from 1991-2000. He puled himself from the voting in 2001 so that the late Dale Earnhardt would claim it, won the award once more in 2002, and then permanently removed himself from the ballot. Bill's Most Popular Driver awards are all displayed in the same case, illustrating that he was beloved across NASCAR Nation, not just in Georgia.
The room houses one memento dedicated to someone not named Elliott. At the season-ending Atlanta Journal 500 in November 1990, Ricky Rudd locked up the brakes on his Chevrolet and spun into Bill's No. 9 Ford as it was being serviced. Mike Rich, the 32-year-old rear tire changer for the Melling team, was pinned between the two race cars and died later that evening. One of Mike's pit crew shirts hangs alongside a photo of the man who's passing led to the pit road speed limit that remains in effect to this day and likely until NASCAR runs its last race after all of us are long gone.
The Georgia Racing Hall of Fame as a whole is an incredible experience that any race fan must experience, but the Elliott Family Legacy Room especially stands as a highlight. The collection of trophies, awards, and various other memorabilia serves as a demonstration of what the tall redhead from the North Georgia Mountains and his family have meant to our great sport and their influence not only on a region, but on the entire racing world.