Georgia’s Deep NASCAR Roots
by Tom Jensen March 18, 2022
The Peach State has played host to more than 175 premier series races at more than a dozen tracks since the early 1950s.
When NASCAR rolls into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500, it will mark the 116th race that track has hosted since Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts (2014) won the Dixie 300 on July 31, 1960.
This year, all eyes will be focused on the newly paved and reconfigured AMS track.
Here at Curators’ Corner, we like to look back. So this post will feature a dozen other Georgia tracks that have hosted premier series races. Collectively, these 12 tracks hosted 61 races between 1951 and 1971.
The first premier series race ever run in Georgia was a 200-lapper that took place on June 10, 1951, on the 0.500-mile Columbus Speedway in the Western part of the state. Hall of Famer Tim Flock (2014) won in a 1951 Oldsmobile over Atlanta racer Gober Sosebee. It was the only premier series race ever run at the track.
Central City Speedway
On the way to his first of two premier series championships, Hall of Famer Herb Thomas (2013) won the first race at Macon’s Central City Speedway, which went on to host seven races between 1951 and 1954. Thomas would again the following year at the 0.500-mile dirt track, as would Lee Petty (2011) in the same season.
In the 1950s, Atlanta’s Lakewood Speedway was a hotbed of auto racing of all sorts. A fast and tricky 1.0-mile oval, the dirt track ringed a lake in the infield. Eight of the 11 premier series races run at Lakewood between 1951 and 1959 were won by Hall of Famers: Herb Thomas and Buck Baker (2013) each won twice there, while Junior Johnson (2010), Lee Petty (2011), Tim Flock (2014) and Curtis Turner (2016) won one race apiece.
One of three tracks in Augusta that hosted premier series races, Hayloft Speedway was something of an orphan, as its one and only race came in 1952, when Atlanta’s Gober Sosebee bested a 14-car field that included Hall of Famer Cotton Owens (2013). Of the 14 drivers in the race, only Sosebee, Owens and Donald Thomas ever won premier series races.
Al Keller’s main claim to fame is that he is the only person to win a premier series race driving a Jaguar. Keller also won the first of two races at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway, winning a 100-miler behind the wheel of his Hudson in 1954. The following year, Lee Petty won the second and final premier series race at the 0.500-mile dirt track.
During the 1962 season, four new Georgia tracks hosted premier series races for the first time. Jack Smith won the first race, the St. Patrick’s Day 200 at Savannah Speedway. That track went on to host 10 races by 1970, with Hall of Famer Richard Petty (2010) winning three times and Ned Jarrett (2011) claiming a pair of victories. Hall of Famers Bobby Allison (2011), Joe Weatherly (2015) and Bobby Isaac (2016) each won once there.
A 0.500-mile paved track, Augusta Speedway’s 12 premier series races all-time ranks second among Georgia tracks, behind only Atlanta Motor Speedway. In 1962, Augusta hosted three races, the first two won by Joe Weatherly and the third by fellow Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen (2015). Three Hall of Famers – Richard Petty, Bobby Isaac and David Pearson – won twice each at Augusta, while Ned Jarrett (2011) won once.
A somewhat obscure footnote in Georgia racing history, Boyd’s Speedway was a 0.333-mile paved track in the northern Georgia town of Ringgold. The first race at the track was won by Joe Weatherly in the summer of 1962. Two years later, David Pearson won the only other premier series race ever run at this track.
Valdosta 75 Speedway
Yet another Georgia track added to the 1962 premier series schedule, Valdosta Speedway hosted just three races on its 0.500-mile dirt surfaced. All three were claimed by Hall of Famers, with Ned Jarrett winning the inaugural race in 1962, Buck Baker taking the 1964 event and Cale Yarborough (2012) scoring his first of his 83 career victories in the track’s final race in 1965.
Augusta International Raceway
A 3.0-mile road course, Augusta International Raceway, hosted just one premier series race, the
First 510, on Nov. 17, 1963. Shortened by darkness from 500 to 417 miles, the race was the 33rd and final career victory for Daytona Beach native Fireball Roberts. Six of the top seven finishers in the race perished in the next two years because of crashes, either on track, or in one instance, on a public road.
Middle Georgia Raceway
Nine times between 1966 and 1971, the premier series raced at Middle Georgia Raceway in the town of Macon. All nine races at the 500-mile paved oval were won by Hall of Famers: Richard Petty won four times, including the first race, while Bobby Allison was thrice victorious with the distinction of winning the final race. Also chalking up victories were David Pearson and Bobby Isaac.
Gresham Motorsports Park
Also know as Jefco Speedway, Gresham Motorsports Park was located northeast of Atlanta and northwest of Athens. Cale Yarborough won the Peach State 200 in 1968, while fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac claimed the only other race run at the track, the Commerce 200 in 1969.