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Racing in Dixie


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#1 Don Capps

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Posted 11 January 2003 - 20:54

Once in awhile I remind myself that "...someday..." I will get around to taking a hard look at the racing activities in the Southern United States. Contrary to popular belief, Bill France did not create the racing culture in that region. One need only look at the early activities at Daytona Beach and Savannah to realize that something was going on down there.

One reason this line of inquiry got jolted back into focus was finding the results for the 1920 Savannah road races. Held on 25 November 1920 over a 3-mile road course ("3 miles approximate"), there were two Class D Free-for-all events, one for 10 laps and the other for 15 laps. C.B. Humbert in the No. 2 Packard won both races.

In the second race, Neal Bolton, the racing mechanician for Copps in a Dodge, died from his injuries when the car crashed and flipped.

We know that racing seemed to be going on in the Atlanta area and elsewhere in Georgia. We know about the Beach Races at Daytona Beach. We know that Ted Horn raced and established track records in 1940 at Columbia, SC - the 1-mile dirt horse track at the State Fairgrounds; Joie Chitwood at the 1/2-mile Charlotte track; Mark Light in Spartanburg's 1/2-mile track; Frank Beeder, Joie Chitwood and Vern Orenduff at the Wilson, NC 1/2-mile track; and Joie Chitwood at the Winston-Salem half-miler in 1940.

Sounds like a great additional volume to "Where They Raced" if you ask me...

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#2 dmj

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Posted 12 January 2003 - 12:00

Surely there was some night racing there too... I remember a song "The night they drove old Dixie down"... But it was written by a Canadian, so who knows...

#3 fines

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Posted 12 January 2003 - 12:28

"If you'll be my dixie chicken..." Lowell George :p (Sorry, couldn't resist)

#4 ray b

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Posted 12 January 2003 - 16:56

anyone know anything about,
the miami board track in the 20's
in the indy cars style of the time
or maps or pictures of it, or results

my older bro raced in the 50's in south fla in club races
mostly airport tracks now long gone sadly, as is he
and I was just a little kid and donot remember much

#5 WGD706

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Posted 12 January 2003 - 20:11

Miami-Fulford Speedway,located on Miami Beach at Biscayne Bay, was a 1.25 mile wooden oval with corners banked at 50 degrees. Designed by Ray Harroun, the track was built by Carl F.Fisher, who also built Indianapolis. Only one race meeting was held on the 22nd February 1926, as the track was destroyed by a hurricane on the 17th September 1926, the wood and material being used to rebuild the town of Miami Beach.
The one race meeting held featured a 300 mile race won by Peter DePaolo, with Tommy Milton setting a fastest lap speed of 142.93mph.

#6 JacnGille

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Posted 12 January 2003 - 20:45

Originally posted by dmj
Surely there was some night racing there too... I remember a song "The night they drove old Dixie down"... But it was written by a Canadian, so who knows...


This is meant to be a joke, isn't it? That song by The Band is about the Civil War.

#7 Lotus23

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 03:31

Slightly OT, but in keeping with the Deep South theme of this thread and with a nod to Don, who began it:

My first venture S of New York City was at age 20 in the summer of 58, when I was sent to Ft Gordon, Georgia for a two-month "summer camp" as an ROTC cadet. I'd spent most of my previous life growing up within a 40-mile radius of Boston, Massachusetts and was facing the experience with a mixture of bemusement and apprehension. In those pre-Interstate, pre-passenger jet days, it was quite a trek to what was essentially a foreign country to me.

On our first Saturday at the fort, there was some sort of social "mixer" held: young southern belles about our age were brought out from Augusta, the adjoining town, to meet us. We were all spiffied up in our dress uniforms and anxious to make a good impression on these damsels.

Early in the soiree, I approached a group of three of these lassies and essayed some form of polite greeting. They all looked at me as though I were a cockroach which had scurried into their royal presence. And then one of them, obviously speaking for all, said through curled lips, "Why, you a Yankee!" with heavy emphasis on the second and final words. Then without another word, the trio turned in unison and walked away, leaving me dumbfounded. I had the feeling they felt that I had just ridden into town after putting the torch to Atlanta. Heck, my ancestors were still in Europe in the 1860s.

Great introduction to the Genteel South!

But I was not easily daunted and as I write these words, I'm sitting less than 10 miles from the scene of that encounter.

#8 WGD706

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 15:49

In the same vein as 'Lotus23'......
A University of Georgia student was visiting a Yankee relative in Boston over the holidays. He went to a large party and met a pretty co-ed. He was attempting to start up a conversation with the line, 'Where does you go to school?'

The coed, of course, was not overly impressed with his grammar or southern drawl, but did answer his question. 'Yale,' she replied.

The Georgia student took a big, deep breath and Shouted, 'WHERE DOES YOU GO TO SCHOOL?!!!'

#9 Paul Medici

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 16:42

Lotus23,
Staying slightly OT, I never believed I would see Fort Gorgon mentioned on TNF. Did the Army ask you ROTC lads do the "Fort Gordon Boogie?" ;) I did basic & ait there in 1965.

Slightly back on track, saw the boys from Dixie (Joe Weatherly and company) race at Bridgehampton in 1963. Something to see, and hear, as they came down thru turn one and deposited their own line of rubber on turn two.

Would someone know when the Grand National folks first raced on a sports car circuit in Yankee country?

#10 Don Capps

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 18:53

I think that the period I am trying to get a better "feel" for is primarily that of the years prior to the US entry into WW2 and those years after WW1. Yes, there was the planked board speedway at Charlotte and another similar speedway in the Miami area. I know that there was a series of AAA Big Car events that swept throught the Mid-Atlantic area in late 1940 -- Ted Horn winning a number of events and setting a lot of track records in the process. The Daytona Beach road races of the mid-to-late 1930's were another of the few racing efforts of the time to receive any recognition. Somewhere, I am certain, I read about events being run in Georgia (Savannah, Atlanta, and Macon?), Florida (Jacksonville?), North Carolina (after Charlotte, Wilson but where else?), Texas (Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio?), and Virginia (Richmond and Norfolk?) among other places.

Plus, we should never forget about the single event that ARCA ran at Memphis in -- what? -- 1934? A road race over a generally square road circuit composed of dirt roads in conjunction with the cotton festival of that year.

Plus, the period from 1946 until, say, 1959 is also a fascinating period since there were several excursions into the Southland by the Champ Cars. Keep in mind that one of the reasons for building the Darlington track was to attract the AAA Champ Cars to the region, the Championship Trail visiting for the first time in December 1950. And don't forget the one-mile paved oval in Raleigh which also had a spot on the Championship Trail at one point.

Oh, the first Grand National event held under the lights was run at Columbia, SC in about 1952. Needless to say, there had been many modified and sportsman events held under the lights prior to this, but this was the first of many for the Grand National Division (now Winston Cup Series) drivers.

Okay, road racing at Savannah in 1920 and Daytona Beach from the mid-30's. Plus the attempt at the companion road race for the Vanderbilt Cup gang at Dallas using the roads around the Cotton Bowl.

I always find it interesting that we can dredge up the results, circuit information, and usually a good story or two about the remotest European event and yet we often have only a vague notion about some American events of at least middling status. Then again, we once knew more about Rome and its Empire than we did about Colonial America -- English, Spanish, French, and so forth.

#11 WGD706

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 20:15

Don
Sorry to be so 'OT', but your comments about "we once knew more about Rome and its Empire than we did about Colonial America -- English, Spanish, French, and so forth" made me think of a book that I bought myself for Christmas....
"American Colonies" by Alan Taylor is a history of the pre-revolutionary era in North America, from the Paleo-Indian migrations into North America 15,000 years ago, through European colonization of the 16th and 17th centuries, to the late 18th century exploration of hawaii and the settlement of California. He combines environmental, social, cultural, economic, and political history to reexamine North American colonization from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Arctic to the Caribbean, including the Spanish, French, Dutch and Russian cultures.
So far, it's very interesting.

#12 bpratt

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 20:55

Not sure how to copy and paste stuff here (and make it look presentable) so in reference to the Canadian/Night they drove old Dixie down question, the song was written by Robbie Robertson (according to my info), who is a First Nations Canadian. All of The Band is/was Canadian except for Levon Helm, the drummer. They played clubs in Toronto, etc., with Arkansas' Rockin' Ronnie Hawkins.

Trying to get a racing connection here, Hawkins also employed David Foster on keyboards for a few years before Foster moved on to other things. David is Billy Foster's cousin (Billy ran USAC from 1964 to early 1967 when he lost his life at Riverside). A few years back David's son was trying to break into racing through the Barber Dodge series (I think that's what it's called.) Don't know if he's still at it.

There is an interesting overview of early southern racing in the Journal of Southern History. Not sure of the issue. August, 2002 I think. The purpose was to point out that racing in the south didn't start with NASCAR.

Brian Pratt
Burnaby, BC, Canada (nowhere near the south)

#13 Ray Bell

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 20:57

Originally posted by WGD706
.....Designed by Ray Harroun, the track was built by Carl F. Fisher, who also built Indianapolis. Only one race meeting was held on the 22nd February 1926, as the track was destroyed by a hurricane on the 17th September 1926, the wood and material being used to rebuild the town of Miami Beach.
The one race meeting held featured a 300 mile race won by Peter DePaolo, with Tommy Milton setting a fastest lap speed of 142.93mph.


The body of information in this post!

50 degree bankings? 142.93mph! Ray Harroun designed it?

Then, to top it all off... destroyed by a tornado!

Wonder if anyone posting on Atlas lives in a house containing some of the recycled timbers?

Another strange fact is that there was a period of seven months between the first race and the hurricane... how come no more racing in that time?

Originally posted by ray b
my older bro raced in the 50's in south fla in club races mostly airport tracks now long gone sadly, as is he and I was just a little kid and donot remember much


Sorry to hear your brother's long gone, Ray... but have you got any information about his racing?

#14 Don Capps

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 21:08

Warren,

Fortunately, over the past generation or so, there has been much scholarship devoted to areas ignored either by commission or omission in American history. The result has been a much more complex and fascinating history of the Americas. Even study of the most mundane and pedestrian of topics has led to some serendipitous discoveries when patterns formed that led in some very unexpected directions. Plus, it was interesting to see how deep that some of the historical myths had penetrated into society and its idea of what "history" was. A few to such an extent that it may take generations to finally correct the errors from the errors fostered in the past. For instance, the entire death toll from Indian/Native American attacks on wagon trains and so forth from the 1830's or so onward was actually less than 300. Scarcely the picture, literal and otherwise, that most have of that experience. Likewise, rare is the American pupil who has any knowledge of King Phillip's War, the bloody conflict in the late-17th century in which the Native Americans of the New England area almost literally swept the English into the sea. Nor, is it mentioned that the settlers of the New England area generally made their settlements on the sites of towns once occupied by the Native Americans and abandoned as a result of the plagues -- and other disasters -- that swept through the area in the early years of the 17th century, killing scores upon scores of the native inhabitants.

It is also a fascinating element of how we twist history to our own purposes that "Southern Heritage" seems to be confined by many to a period scarcely over four years in length. And it has been an uphill battle to end uphill battles to finally convince many that even after they read the words of the bills of secession that the preservation of slavery was the prime motivation for the creation of the confederacy. And don't even get me started on the all the nonsense that is actually believed about the Reconstruction Era, even by those who should certainly know better. But, I digress.....

Although we generally first have Daytona Beach and Savannah pop into our minds when we ponder the Nostalgia Era in Southern racing, what about Atlanta? Or Miami? Or Birmingham? Or elsewhere such as the race in Sumter, SC in late 1903?

#15 ray b

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 23:14

miami was a ghost town in the summer back then
all most everyone went back up north or to other resourts
as did the drivers to the normal summer races

my 1/2 bro[ dick russell] ran mostly club races at a local level in cars
porsche 356 mostly at the drive the street car
to the temp air base tracks that were leftovers
from ww2 training bases all over South/central fla
at the time, style of the 50's races were local mostly
sebring is the only track that made the big time of these tracks and is still used
bikes like zundaps and dukes were more his style and he had more succeses on them
on some of the same air base road tracks
but as he was 25 years older than me and did not live with us then
I only saw him race a few times, mostly on bikes
in fact his kids are about my age, his son rick also raced bikes but on dirt mostly
on jap 2 strokes in the 70's 250 mx mostly with good results, but allso at a local level

#16 Jim Thurman

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Posted 15 January 2003 - 05:05

Originally posted by Don Capps
Once in awhile I remind myself that "...someday..." I will get around to taking a hard look at the racing activities in the Southern United States. Contrary to popular belief, Bill France did not create the racing culture in that region. One need only look at the early activities at Daytona Beach and Savannah to realize that something was going on down there.

Sounds like a great additional volume to "Where They Raced" if you ask me...


That would be great. Also, in addition to forays by the open wheelers (let's not forget the IMCA as well), it would be interesting to compile info on the early Stock Car races. I've seen mention of "big" Stock Car events on the mile dirt Lakewood Speedway pre-war. There are bound to have been others in that formative stage.

Also, it would be interesting to attempt to chronicle the post-WWII Stock Car races run either independently or under other sanctioning bodies (without digging it out, Greg Fielden touched on these in "40 Years of Stock Car Racing - Vol. 1" - one group was known as SCARS and Bruton Smith was involved with one). I know Sam Nunis promoted independent races at Lakewood. One of which I recall one of the top drivers in NASCAR points went to instead of running the NASCAR event the same day (!). I have a few winners listed for a couple of those events, and a date, but that's about all.

I think it would be great if others would do what Harold Osmer did, and do "Where They Raced" type books for their regions or locality.

And Brian, thanks for adding the comments on The Hawks....errr, The Band :) I knew that aside from Helm, they were Canadian. Even know who they backed up before Bobby Z.


Jim Thurman

#17 cabianca

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Posted 15 January 2003 - 05:48

Don and South of the Mason/Dixon race watchers:
Don't forget that the ARCA (preWWII road racers, not the outlaw roundy-round folks) held a race in Savannah in the 1930s. Some very genteel parties were part of the weekend. Since the spirit of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was certainly alive and well then, the get-togethers must have been interesting. Handsome, rich, Yankee racing drivers and offbeat southern belles on a tear. Guess I was just born too late.

#18 dmj

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Posted 15 January 2003 - 15:50

Don, sorry for hijacking such proportion of thread for Hawks/Band/Ronnie/Robbie/Bob/Big Pink discussion - I just couldn't resist to make a joke, obviously so poorly shaped in English that some weren't sure if it is joke at all. Gentlemen, please close that part of discussion and let's concentrate on Colonel's original question. Sadly, from other side of Atlantic I have nothing to add but I am looking forward to see your contributions on this very interesting subject.

#19 Don Capps

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Posted 15 January 2003 - 17:04

Michael,

I know about the ARCA race at Memphis, but somehow missed the Savannah race. When was it?

Jim,

There were obviously efforts by IMCA to include the South in its activities, I am not too clear about the extent of that effort. I think that Tennessee and Kentucky had several venues which hosted IMCA events as well as others in perhaps Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina.

And, yes, there seems to be not much that has been published on all the various racing organizations which popped up and spread like, well, kudzu in the South after WW2.

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#20 Don Radbruch

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Posted 19 January 2003 - 00:45

Among the southern cities where the IMCA raced are Atlanta, New Oreleans, Shreveport, Nashville, Montgomery, Chattanooga, Jackson MS and Macon, Georgia. This list comes from some research on IMCA driver Fred Horey. Horey won races at these tracks. I'm sure there were other IMCA venues. The dates on these races are in the late 1910s or early 1920s

#21 Lemans

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Posted 19 January 2003 - 02:53

Hi , new guy here. I am very impressed with the level of conversation here and the knowledge here is impressive. The topic of racing in the South piqued my interest as former resident of Louisiana now in Boston. During the 1960's, I attended many IMCA races at the Shreveport fairgounds where I saw Ramo Stott (sp) win and Red Farmer. It was a wild dirt track.

Also, saw Bobby Allison and Red Farmer race at a local paved track near Baton Rouge. Some history:was constructed by the Teamster local union run by Edward Grady Partin (his testimony put Jimmy Hoffa in prison) and a 5/8ths mile track. Bobby Allison appeared there one nite in the Coke Chevy (complete with Coke pants)!!

At a local dirt trak near Baker, LA saw Paul Neuman run a dirt late model for a few laps. He was in the area making a movie.

Hope to add my own little bit to the inquiry here.