Race down memory lane

Hall of Fame to induct track's first backers and stars

 

This year's annual celebration of Augusta's racing heritage will be expanded to two days -- in honor of the 50th anniversary of the international speedway that once lured thousands of fans.

"It's an important year for us," said Harvey Tollison, the president of the Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society. "The opening date was May 1, 1960, and it closed in July of 1970 -- so this is also the 40th anniversary of its closing."

When the speedway opened, it was among the largest of its kind and routinely attracted the biggest names in the stock car circuit, including Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bobby Allison -- even Richard Petty.

One of its most important races occurred Nov. 17, 1963, when the "Augusta 510" was won by Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, an icon of his era who was killed the next season in a fiery crash in Charlotte, N.C.

Roberts' 1962 Pontiac, Tollison said, is among the vehicles that will be on display at this year's festivities and car show.

"In the past we've had just a Saturday event, but this year we're going to make it a two-day event because it's such a significant year," Tollison said.

The additional day will allow an induction banquet on Friday, Sept. 17, for the organization's newest Hall of Fame members. The event is also open to the public.

The honorees, he said, will include Bob Burson, who had the original idea of establishing a track but died of cancer before it was built.

His widow, Rosemary Burson Padgett, will receive the award. She is also the widow of Mike Padgett -- another race supporter who fought to keep the track open.

Tiny Lund, a frequent competitor at Augusta, was the subject of a documentary film, Hard Charger, portions of which were filmed at the Augusta speedway. The film company was owned by Hank Williams Sr.

Lund was killed in a crash at the Talladega, Ala., speedway. His widow, Wanda Lund Early, will attend the banquet to receive the award.

"Right now we're trying to find someone to help us get Tiny's car, which is at the International Motor Sports Museum in Talladega, Ala.," Tollison said.

"We have permission to exhibit it, but we have to find someone who can bring it here, and then take it back. But we're working on it."

Other honorees will be:

- H.G. Rosier of North Augusta, who launched his NASCAR career racing cup cars and micro-midgets at Augusta, and was part of a famous "40 day and 40 night" promotion at Daytona for Mercury's then-new Comet -- for which he became a touring spokesman.

- Bosco Lowe of Asheville, N.C., who won 19 races at Augusta, later became a test driver for famed race car builder Banjo Matthews, whose shop carried the logo, "Where Money Buys Speed."

- Tommy Porter of Savannah, who first raced in Augusta as a drag racer. He was a frequent winner and raced the popular Chevelles in 1969 and 1970. He later raced a Hemi-powered dragster built by Don Garlits.

The regular annual events, scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Diamond Lakes Recreation Area, will include a classic and custom car show, vintage race cars on display and a swap meet. Admission is free.

If you go

WHAT: 50th-anniversary celebration of the opening of Augusta International Speedway

WHEN:

- Friday: Raceway Preservation Society Hall of Fame induction banquet, 7 p.m., Diamond Lakes Regional Park, with country cooking and music by Jaycie Ward. Tickets are $20. Call (706) 829-6825 for more details.

- Saturday: Annual celebration, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Diamond Lakes, with events including a classic and custom car show, vintage race cars on display, Fireball Roberts' 1962 Pontiac and a swap meet with car parts and memorabilia. Free admission.

DOCUMENTARY AVAILABLE: Copies of a one-hour documentary about the Augusta track will be available for purchase. Produced by Ken Moore and narrated by radio personality Harley Drew, the documentary released in Febraury tells the story of Augusta's NASCAR legacy from the track's creation until its closure in 1970. It is titled Augusta International Speedway -- a Race With Destiny.

Go back in time

Read stories about big-name drivers such as Richard Petty and Bobby Allison at Augusta International Speedway at augustaarchives.com.