Macon and Middle Georgia has had a long love affair with auto racing, and it is carried on today by the National Vintage Racing Associations Vintage Thunder Racing series.
Maconite Richard Stafford is president of the NVRA, which competes during the spring, summer and early fall, usually holding two events each month. The races are held in Cochran, East Alabama Speedway in Phenix City, Talladega Short Track, Cordele, Lanier National Speedway in Braselton and, on occasion, in Birmingham and Montgomery.
The tracks range in size from 3/8 of a mile to a half mile. On the half-mile track, speeds top out at around 110 mph on the straightaway.
The competitors are the good ol boys, not the modern day millionaire drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon. Members in the NVRA come from seven Southeastern states, with more than a half dozen of those drivers coming from the Middle Georgia area.
The cars in the NVRA range from the 1930s to late 1960s models. There are five different classes, including a category for six-cylinder engines, overhead V-8s and full body late models, which take in vehicles from 1949 to 1968.
There is no doubt a fan base for this type racing. The NVRA has attracted as many as 8,000 fans in Talladega; however the normal crowd is around 1,500.
At one time the top three auto racing tracks in the South were the one-mile dirt oval at Macons Central City Park, Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta and the Fairgrounds Raceway in Birmingham.
The Central City Park track held its first race in 1903, and races were held there until 1957. A half-mile dirt track was built inside the mile track following World War II, and NASCAR sanctioned races were held at the site between 1951 and 1954. Winners included the likes of Lee Petty, Hershel McGriff, Fonty Flock and Herb Thomas, among others.
There were plenty of local drivers from that era who took part in races at Central City Park, as well. They included Barney Smith, Buck Smith, The Bennett brothers, Eddie MacDonald, Sam McQuagg, Jessie James Taylor, Big John Hutto, Charles Tidwell and Nero Steptoe, to name a few.
Prior to that generation, there were racing superstars that called Macon home. Ralph Mulford, a native New Yorker, was living in Macon when he finished second in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. There were reports at the time that he was the actual winner having taken the checkered flag, however Ray Harroun advanced to the winners circle despite the protests of Mulford, who had taken three extra safety laps.
Other Macon notables were brothers Buddy and Foggy Calloway, who were listed in the Whos Who of Auto Racing in 1932, Speedy Morelock, a sprint car racer and builder who went on to build NASCAR stockers, and George Yetter, who drove sprint cars and midgets.
Byron took over the local racing spotlight in the mid-1960s when Lamar Brown built the Byron Middle Georgia Raceway. NASCAR drivers such as Richard Petty, Bobby and Donnie Allison, Dale Jarrett and Cale Yarborough were regulars at the track, which had NASCAR sanctioned races from 1966 until it closed in 1984.
Even with the all the races held in Byron, the track may be remembered best for hosting the Byron Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1970, which featured Jimi Hendrix and the Allman Brothers.
Contact Bobby Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org