Q&A with Larry Smith

August 21, 2013 

Larry Smith

City of Residence: Byron

Occupation: Track coordinator, Middle Georgia Raceway

QUESTION: How did the coming Middle Georgia Racers Reunion start?

ANSWER: In 2010, we talked to guys from Columbia, S.C., who were doing Racers Reunions. They brought local drivers by who raced here and suggested we do one. Tim Thornton -- he owns our track -- and I went to see one then decided to do it. Our first was in 2011, so this is the third. It was the first event at the track since the last recorded race in 1984. It had been dormant all those years.

QUESTION: So there are similar events elsewhere?

ANSWER: Yeah. They began in South Carolina to bring tracks back to life and honor drivers of yesteryear who started the sport. It’s also a way to contribute to a fund to help older drivers. We contributed to that, but this year our grand marshal is Richard Petty, number 43, and we’ll be contributing to the Petty family’s Victory Junction camp for chronically ill children. We’re also working on getting a foundation to help save the track instead of opening another supermarket or something.

QUESTION: What can people expect?

ANSWER: It’s really a family festival. It’s a reunion for fans and drivers, and it’s a classic race car and regular car show. It’s not a race, even though sometimes we do parade laps. That depends on safety factors year to year. There’s food, there’s regular arts and crafts and things, so it’s not all racing. There’s something for the whole family, even those not into racing.

QUESTION: But obviously a racing theme.

ANSWER: Right, but directed toward the whole family. The best part to me is meeting and greeting the old drivers, seeing the cars and talking with other fans about the old days and what happened. It’s fun seeing the kids enjoying the rides like the monster truck ride, and we actually have real helicopter rides. Pretty cool to see things from up there. And of course Richard Petty will be there mostly through the middle of the day. You can’t beat that.

QUESTION: What era are the race cars from?

ANSWER: Mostly the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Another thing we’ll have on display is an old replica moonshine still.

QUESTION: Really?

ANSWER: Racing and NASCAR got started by moonshine runners getting together on weekends to see who was fastest. And of course, this track started in 1966, and in ’67 they found a moonshine still here. A lot of people think that’s what closed the track, but it’s not. For a long time people ignored the moonshine thing, but it’s part of racing history and this track’s history.

QUESTION: The track does have history.

ANSWER: Back in the day, it was Grand National Racing and as big as Bristol and a lot of famous tracks. Then Winston got involved. They focused on fewer but bigger races. Before that we had 500s and racers like David Pearson and Donnie and Bobby Allison. Richard Petty raced here and won first in four races and placed in the top in eight. Plus throw in the rock festival and that’s a lot of history.

QUESTION: When and where is the Racers Reunion?

ANSWER: Aug. 31 from 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) at the Middle Georgia Raceway on U.S. 41 in Byron. It costs $10, and kids 10 and under get in free. If you want to show your car, just bring it -- you don’t have to pre-register. We’re looking for a good group of cars and lots of fans. Last year 2,500 to 3,000 came. With “The King” here (Richard Petty), we could double that.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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