Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November 8 - This day in Petty history

1970 - Richard Petty pockets his 119th career win by winning the Georgia 500 from the pole at Middle Georgia Raceway in Byron, Georgia - about 20 miles from Macon. It was The King's 18th win of the season.

Bobby Allison qualified second (not shown in photo). Newcomers Benny Parsons and Dick Brooks comprised the second row.

The race was pretty competitive with Petty, Bobby Isaac and Brooks leading sizable chunks of laps. Isaac was the lap bully of the day as he paced the field for 226 of the race's 500 laps. With 56 laps to go, however, the 43 Plymouth went around Isaac's #71 Harry Hyde-prepared Dodge for the final time. The King led the rest of the way to claim the win.

Isaac finished 2nd in the race - but was in the catbird's seat for the the season's championship. Despite Petty's 18 wins to Isaac's 11 wins, Isaac claimed the 1970 title. Petty finished 4th in the 1970 standings - largely because of the races he missed while recovering from his bad crash at Darlington earlier in the season.

Petty's win was the next to last NASCAR Grand National race in the 1970 season - and at the track. One year later, Bobby Allison won the final GN race at Middle Georgia. Local races continued to be held sporadically until the mid 1980s when the track was shuttered for good.

In 1977, the track was rental to film a a few scenes for the Richard Pryor movie, Greased Lightning, the picture based loosely on the life of driver Wendell Scott. And in July 1970 - just a few months before Petty's win - the track hosted the second Atlanta Pop Festival. While the races drew a few thousand fans, the music festival drew a monstrous crowd ranging from 350,000 to 500,000 people - depending on whose lie you believe. Among the artists who performed were local boys made good The Allman Brothers, Grand Funk Railroad, B.B. King, and Jimi Hendrix - who died about 10 weeks after this performance.

Perhaps the funniest (and maybe the most predictable) trivia about the track was its temporary closure in 1968. Government agents raided the track in 1968 and found an elaborate tunnel system leading to a moonshine still. Agents found a secret door in a ticket booth - which led to a ladder - which went down 35 feet to another hidden door. The second door led to a 150 foot tunnel - which ended at a cave below the infield - in which was found a large moonshine still. In his book, Forty Years of Stock Car Racing - Volume 3, Greg Fielden writes:
...there was a 2,000 gallon cooker, a 1,200 gallon box fermenter and a 750 gallon gas fuel tank for cooking. The operators had installed yellow lights to keep bugs out of the mash. Authorities put the still out of operation a couple of weeks after the race. Most of the 6,800 spectators who attended the race were unaware the still was ever located at their hometown track...The case came to trial on December 12, 1968, with [TMC: track president H. Lamar] Brown being found not guilty...
In 2010, the good folks from RacersReunion.com organized a reunion meeting at Middle Georgia Raceway. The track surface today was obviously far more weathered and weed-filled than in its hey-day. But that didn't stop someone from enjoying a couple of laps around the old track.

Oh yeah! Petty's win. Almost forgot for a moment.

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
As a final trivia note for this lost track, Chrysler Corporation rented the old track, repainted part of the wall with a 'dilapidated' fictional Brixton Motor Speedway name, and filmed a commercial in 2011 for its Dodge Durango.

Edited September 12, 2014

1 comment:

  1. Good write up on the track and of Richards win--Jimmy Hendricks was indeed a major draw -- and those awesome Dodge Commercials really show the tracks true dignity-- Oh and that little quick lap must have been by somebody that had been familiar with the track back in its hey-day ----------------------memories