Posted: Tuesday, February 18th 2014 at 12:45pm
Drivers from Dawsonville have dominated Daytona
By Brandon Reed Staff
Lloyd Seay, of Dawsonville, GA, was famous for bicycling his racer on two wheels thorugh the north turn during races on the Daytona beach and road course in Daytona Beach, FL. Seay scored the win on the Daytona sands on Aug. 24, 1941. / Photo: Georgia Racing Hall of Fame
DAWSONVILLE - Some say it may be something in the water. Others say it has something to do with what they make out of the water.
Regardless, the little town of Dawsonville, GA, nestled in the mountains of North Georgia, holds a distinction that few other single towns can claim.
It is the hometown of no less than five Daytona winners, between the beach years and the years at Daytona International Speedway.
Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall, Bernard Long, Gober Sosebee and Bill Elliott all came from Dawsonville.
Seay, Hall, Long, and Sosebee were all winners on the old Daytona Beach and Road course, while Elliott scored counts two Daytona 500 victories, in 1985 and 1987, among his multitude of wins at Daytona International Speedway.
You’d be hard pressed to find another single small town that produced so many winners at such a major venue.
In the case of the first four, the common thread between them was a money making substance that is still a part of local lore – moonshine whiskey. All four hauled bootleg liquor out of Dawsonville, which was known for its moonshine production, down Georgia Highway 9 and into Atlanta under the cover of darkness.
“This is the birthplace of stock car racing,” said Dawsonville racing aficionado Gordon Pirkle. “A lot of people want to press me and ask ‘where’s your race track’? It was down here in the river bottoms before there was any organized stock car racing anywhere.
“On Sunday nights, a bunch of the liquor guys would meet down here in the river bottom and bet on who had the best drivers. The word leaked out and people started showing up to watch it on Sunday evenings.”
Dawsonville native Frank Christian saw the people that came out to these events, and, sensing a profit, organized what would be the first event for what would become modern stock cars at the old Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta in 1938.
“That was the first organized stock car racing in this part of the country,” Pirkle said.
In the forties, the Georgia Gang made their way to Daytona Beach.
“In the decade of the 40s, out of 15 races run on the beach, 12 were won by the Dawsonville Gang, either as a driver or a car owner.” Pirkle said.
Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall were the first of the Dawsonville drivers to see success on the beach, driving cars owned by their cousin, Raymond Parks. Hall would win in his first time out on the beach in 1940. Seay would win in 1941 in a race that would see him bicycle his car on two wheels through the north turn on purpose, to the delight of the crowd.
Parks, himself a Dawsonville native, would also see success on the beach with drivers Red Byron and Bob Flock. His drivers would dominate the beach in the 1940s.
Pirkle said there were a few things that gave the cars owned by Parks their edge. Namely, it was the man who built the cars that Parks’ pilots drove.
“I think Red Vogt was the key ingredient,” he said. “He could get more out of a flathead Ford engine than anybody. Plus, they had more experience than anybody. They were racing seven days a week back then between the races and running moonshine through the week.
“If you come in second in a stock car race, you get paid for it. If you come in second running moonshine, you go to jail.”
Gober Sosebee holds the distinction of being the fastest NASCAR driver ever on the beach, setting the all-time NASCAR speed record for the Beach and Road Course in 1949. He would twice score modified victories, winning in 1951 and 1952 in the popular modified and sportsman events.
Sosebee’s record setting car is on display at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
When racing left the beach in 1959 and moved down the road to the new Daytona International Speedway, it appeared that Dawsonville’s dominance at Daytona also came to an end.
But in the eighties, when Bill Elliott hit the racing scene, it breathed new life into the Georgia Gang, and to their long time fans around Dawsonville.
“I’ve never seen so many people proud of one sport as most of the people in Dawsonville when Bill came along,” Pirkle said. “If Bill hadn’t come along and did as well as he did, the history of racing here in Dawsonville probably would have been lost.”
Elliott, driving for team owner Harry Melling out of Dawsonville, would score wins in the Daytona 500 in 1985 and 1987, along with setting the all-time speed record in qualifying for a stock car at the track in 1987 with a lap at 210.364 mph. Over the years, Elliott would also score two wins at Daytona in the July Firecracker 400, four wins in the Budweiser Duals qualifying races for the Daytona 500, two wins in the now defunct IROC series, a victory in the non-points Busch Clash and a win in 1987 in the Rolex 24 sports car event.
Pirkle said most of the reporters that came to the town to report on Elliott’s success back then knew nothing of the history, and learned about Seay, Hall and all the other racers that had been heroes to the long time residents of the area.
“It was so exciting,” Pirkle said. “I’ve never seen people have such a feeling. They were so proud of our little town and of the Elliott family.”
And that pride continues today. The city is home to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, which honors many of the Georgia Gang that went south annually to beat the beach.
In fact, all of the members of the inaugural class to be inducted into the hall in 2002 either won at Daytona or had a hand in winning as a mechanic or a car owner.
Plus, Dawsonville has a new hometown hero to cheer for, as Bill Elliott’s son, Chase, is set to make his move up into the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year. The first race, fittingly enough, is slated to be at Daytona.
And it all stems back to one little town in North Georgia, where racing history makers are born.
WDUN will have live coverage from MRN Radio of Thursday night's Budweiser Duals qualifying races at 7 pm on 102.9 FM, along with live MRN coverage of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season opener on Saturday, Feb. 22 on 102.9 FM, and live MRN coverage of the Feb. 23 Daytona 500 on 550 AM and 102.9 FM.
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