Houston & Peach

Jimi Hendrix. NASCAR. Moonshine. Middle Georgia race track with rich history up for sale

Did you know all of this history behind the Middle Georgia Raceway?

Tim Thornton, owner of the Middle Georgia Raceway, talks on Aug. 30, 2019 about the history of the raceway and what he hopes the next owner will do with the track.
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Tim Thornton, owner of the Middle Georgia Raceway, talks on Aug. 30, 2019 about the history of the raceway and what he hopes the next owner will do with the track.

Anyone who can come up with about $1.2 million can be the owner of a local race track with a long and colorful history.

Middle Georgia Raceway, once a full-blown NASCAR Grand National track where Richard Petty and other racing legends battled it out, is for sale.

A field adjacent to the track was the location of the Second Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1970, commonly called the Byron Pop Festival, which drew hundreds of thousands people. It featured more than 30 musical acts, including Jimi Hendrix and The Allman Brothers Band. A historical marker at the property recognizes it as one of the largest public gatherings ever held in Georgia.

Nine NASCAR races were held there from 1966 to 1971.

The owner, developer Tim Thornton, said the property on U.S. 41 includes about 61 acres. It is zoned general commercial, and could be an industrial park or even a housing development, he said.

But what he really wants is to sell it to someone who will keep the race track there and make it an event location, or even bring back racing. He thinks it would be a good location for a public park.

“I want to see it preserved,” he said. “It’s got a lot of history out there. It would be a shame for it to be torn down.”

Thornton himself planned to put a light industrial park there when he bought the property in 2006, but fate intervened. The economy soured and people began approaching him about having a racers reunion there, which he allowed. He cleaned up the track, which hadn’t seen a race in years, and more events were held. He dropped the idea of an industrial park.

The largest event was a reunion of the “Dukes of Hazzard” cast, which drew tens of thousands from around the country.

The track has also hosted a monster truck rally and other events while Thornton has owned it. In 2011 Dodge shot a commercial there. He hasn’t had an event there in years mostly because he has been busy with planning a major development in downtown Macon, he said.

Now the track is overgrown again, with grass sprouting through the seams of the paved half-mile oval. A thick row of mimosa trees grows at the base of the stands. A lot of work would be needed to get it ready for an event again but Thornton said he would still consider leasing it for an event. There has been some talk of having another music festival there.

Thornton once planned to have a moonshine festival there to commemorate another infamous event in the track’s history. In 1967 federal agents discovered an elaborate underground moonshine still buried off turn three of the track. The track owner was arrested and tried. He denied knowing anything about it and was acquitted. Thornton eventually dropped his plans for the moonshine festival.

He said the tract has been for sale for years, but he hasn’t promoted it much. There’s not even a sign at the property stating it is for sale and Thornton doesn’t have it listed on the website of his real estate company.

The property includes an active golf ball driving range adjacent to the highway. One reason Thornton has been in no rush to sell it is that the lease to the driving range operator pays the property taxes and upkeep, so it doesn’t cost him anything to hold onto the property. He is considering, however, making a more active push to find a buyer.

“I’ve been kind of waiting for the right person, waiting for the right opportunity to sell to somebody to try to preserve the history,” he said.

Wayne Crenshaw has worked as a journalist since 1990 and has been a reporter for The Telegraph since 2002. He holds a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Georgia College and is a resident of Warner Robins.
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