Houston & Peach

NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Jack Ingram takes a spin around old Byron track

BYRON -- After seeing a revival in recent years, the old Middle Georgia Raceway is surrendering to nature again, but on Friday it briefly roared with the sounds of racing.

Jack “Iron Man” Ingram, a member of the NAS­CAR Hall of Fame, drove an exact replica of his 1980 Pontiac Grand Am race car around the track. Ingram built the car himself, and it has been in the Hall of Fame for the past four years. Saturday it’s being auctioned off by Peach Auction Sales in Byron.

Ingram, 78, was a star of NASCAR’s Busch Series, more recently known as the Nationwide Series and this year, the Xfinity Series. He raced for 10 years on the Busch Series, winning 31 races, with championships in 1982 and 1985. He last raced in 1991.

In the 1960s, he said, he raced and won many times at the Middle Georgia Raceway, a half-mile track. On Friday he backed his race car off the hauler, strapped on an old-style open-faced white helmet and took off for a couple of spirited laps.

The concrete stands, which are being overtaken by mimosa trees, were routinely full when he raced, Ingram said.

He built the car when the NASCAR Hall of Fame asked for one of his cars, but he didn’t have an original. He never kept one of his cars, he said, because funding was more scarce in those days. When NASCAR changed the body type, he would just rebuild over the car frame from the previous year.

“It was so expensive to buy a new one,” he said. “These modern-era teams, they don’t even care how many they wreck.”

Tim Thornton, the owner of the track, said it’s rare to see a running replica of an old race car. Most replicas, he said, are just the shell.

Ingram gave an encore performance after a surprise visitor showed up. Shortly after he finished his first couple of laps, a helicopter started hovering over the track before landing on the infield.

Out of it stepped Andy Petree, a former NASCAR crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Sr. and current rules analyst for the Fox network. Petree helped Ingram build the car, but Petree had never seen it run on a track. When he heard Ingram would be taking it out for a spin, he flew over from his home in Hendersonville, North Carolina, to see it. Since Petree got there a little late, Ingram took it around again.

Petree seemed keenly interested in the track and asked questions about its history and Ingram’s memories of it.

“A little bit of Roundup and a coat of sealer, and we could be racing here Saturday,” Petree said.

The car is expected to go up for auction at Peach Auction Sales, 660 Peavy Road in Byron, from about noon to 1 p.m. Saturday, said Richard Stafford, who works for the auction company. It’s one of four classic car auctions he does each year, and about 100 other vehicles are up for sale Saturday. He said he has gotten a good bit of interest in Ingram’s car from around the country, and he expects some to bid by phone.

There is a reserve price set, but Ingram declined to say what it is.

Thornton has breathed some life back into the track with some major events, including a racer’s reunion that featured Richard Petty and a reunion of “The Dukes of Hazzard” cast that drew a huge crowd.

However, it has been idle the past couple of years as Thornton said he has been busy with his real estate business. But he is planning to hold an event to commemorate the track’s 50th anniversary next year.

He also is still considering holding a moonshine festival to commemorate the legend of an underground moonshine distillery discovered at the track when it was still in operation. Ingram said he well remembered the still being found.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.