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Johnny Hollins was just a youngster during Augusta's brief brush with NASCAR fame.

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Johnny Hollins leans on the tow truck he drove at the speedway  in 1960. "Driving the wrecker was a way to get in free," he said.  Chris Thelen/Staff
Chris Thelen/Staff
Johnny Hollins leans on the tow truck he drove at the speedway in 1960. "Driving the wrecker was a way to get in free," he said.

"My daddy owned a couple of race cars," he said. "And I drove my uncle's wrecker during the races."

That was back in the early 1960s, when the newly built Augusta International Speedway and its high-octane clientele seemed destined for the fame that has since blessed Daytona and Darlington.

The biggest names in the stock car circuit were all here for the early races: Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bobby Allison - even Richard Petty.

"People don't realize it, but this was one of the largest - if not the largest - facility of its kind, in terms of racing," said Henry Jones, who leads a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the memory of the once-grand venue on the site of today's Diamond Lakes Regional Park.

Each year, Mr. Jones, Mr. Hollins and scores of former drivers and fans who enjoyed the speedway during its decade of operation gather for a reunion of sorts to enjoy old times and preserve memories.

This year's event, "Celebrating Motorsports Racing Heritage," will be held Saturday and will include displays of about 100 vintage race cars and the expansion of a monument near the Diamond Lakes Community Center.

"This is our fourth year holding this event," Mr. Jones said. "We use this as a method of educating people about what was here. Our community has grown so much that a lot of residents don't even know we had a place like this."

One of the speedway's most important races occurred Nov. 17, 1963, when the "Augusta 510" lured fans from across the nation.

The winner was Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, an icon of his era who was killed the following season after a fiery crash in Charlotte.

His death was part of an eerie pattern that plagued the racing circuit in the days before more effective safety equipment and rules were devised.

"Six of the top seven finishers in that race died within a year of that race," Mr. Jones said. "It was a real ironic sequence of events."

The speedway operated for almost a decade. Its original design included eight tracks, of which six were built. There were also seven main grandstands, a 15,000-square-foot garage, 10 septic tanks with a capacity of 29,000 gallons and miles of access roads.

"It was lots of fun," Mr. Hollins recalled. "Back in those days I was just a kid - and driving the wrecker was a way to get in free - and meet some of the drivers."

Despite its ambitious beginnings, attendance at the events waned. "I think the last races out there were in late 1969 or early 1970," Mr. Hollins said. "It was closed by the end of 1970."

Today, all that's left of the once-proud venue is a monument and a few miles of track where asphalt that once accommodated stock cars is now evolving into a walking and running trail.

The Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society expects thousands of attendees at this year's event.

"We'll have a lot of the old drivers out there - and the workers and, of course, the fans," Mr. Jones said. "But the majority will be the general public."

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

IF YOU GO


WHAT: Fourth Annual "Celebrating Motorsports Racing Heritage"


WHEN: Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.


WHERE

: Diamond Lakes Regional Park, off Windsor Spring Road

EVENTS: Vintage race cars, visits with former drivers, dedication of a new section of the speedway monument, concessions and souvenirs
Bring Your old photos and memorabilia.


MORE INFO: www.augustainternationalraceway.com

Comments (16) Add comment
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rdunaway
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rdunaway 09/04/07 - 05:46 am
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Our family moved to augusta

Our family moved to augusta area in 1968.We lived on Cassel st. between boykin and travis road.They were still racing at the oval track. the rally track was cut up with a ditch witch to prevent the wanabes from killing themselfs.I should know because we would sneak in the rally track to go fishing.I hope no one forgets about the oval track.

LouLou
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LouLou 09/04/07 - 06:49 am
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I remember well the oval

I remember well the oval track:) Wouldn't it be awesome have something like that again?

alias1
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alias1 09/04/07 - 07:04 am
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Sure would be nice to have

Sure would be nice to have some kind of race track in Augusta, wheather it ba a DRAG race track or not.

mdbrave
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mdbrave 09/04/07 - 09:16 am
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I'm an Augusta native and had

I'm an Augusta native and had NEVER heard about this track until this morning. It is a shame that we cannot keep good things like this track alive AND that we don't take the time to memorialize such important parts of Augusta's history!

lariat98
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lariat98 09/04/07 - 09:40 am
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Close Bush field and make it

Close Bush field and make it a drag strip. Build an oval track out there somewhere. Nascar they say is still one of the fastest growing sports and look at the millions it takes to Daytona,Charlotte,Darlington, etc.....

deekster
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deekster 09/04/07 - 11:23 am
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Andy just had another vision.

Andy just had another vision. An International Motor Speedway in Augusta. Of course it would have to be downtown Augusta to attract tourism. $100 dollars tickets and 100,000 fans, wow. But it would only be "once a year" and that would be like the other "international sporting event" that is not in downtown Augusta. I went to that facility both while it was operational and later to drive on the "abandoned oval". A friend died in a motorcycle accident on the "abandoned oval". Then sections were removed to prevent driving. People bought stock in this venture which saw its demise in corruption and mismanagement.

1bigdaddy
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1bigdaddy 09/04/07 - 07:19 pm
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They should bring Nascar back

They should bring Nascar back to Augusta. That would really put Augusta on the map. They should have kept the track up. If they ever build another track, it would be cool to see a high banked 1 mile track like Dover, or a flat track like Martinsville. That could really make Augusta more popular. Even if it was just a truck race or an Arca race, another race track in Augusta would be cool.

tinnytiger
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tinnytiger 09/04/07 - 10:28 pm
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Reading this story caused me

Reading this story caused me to rember things I haven't thought of in years. I rember going to th races with my dad and uncle. I rember seeing Tiny Lund sitting on his 61 Ford with his dog signing autographs. I was about eight or nine years old. Thanks for the memories.

tcga3
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tcga3 09/05/07 - 10:37 am
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I raced on the Augusta 1/2

I raced on the Augusta 1/2 mile speedway. I enjoyed going to Augusta to race. It is too bad that facilities such as these mentioned are no longer in operation for whatever reason. It is good to know that the memories of tracks like this are being relived with hopes of making it live in the minds of generations to come. Keep up the GREAT work.

edmundhill
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edmundhill 09/05/07 - 11:28 am
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I remember being at the track

I remember being at the track when the woman sky-diver jumped from the plane and her parachute did not open...very sad day.....also remember Jim Miles and 'fireball" ......ezed

Phish
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Phish 09/05/07 - 11:41 pm
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to whoever it concerns: the

to whoever it concerns: the old grand stand for the track ended up being the bleachers at Hephzibah High School foot ball stadium and I understand they're fixin to build a new stadium at HHS wonder what will become of the old bleachers

Richmond county Mom
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Richmond county Mom 09/06/07 - 11:05 pm
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Hey all you race fans. My

Hey all you race fans. My father also drove out at the old international track in the early 60's after fireball Roberson's death my father took the # 71 and later he finished Gordon park in 1980 and they opened in 1981 he was killed in a truck accident in May of 1988 at Gordon park . He was known for #13 and known as handsome Herbert and then later he drove #31 and the last car he drove was # 38 . I have His old photo taken out at the old international speed way hanging on my wall . and I have lot's of memories of day's gone bye . Herbert Reese's Daughter.

The_Last_Word
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The_Last_Word 09/07/07 - 05:42 am
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The timing of the story was

The timing of the story was odd to me. Why are we hearing so much about Augusta's "racing history"? Could it be a not-so-subtle attempt to sway public opinion toward supporting a new race track? Hmm.

SeeYa
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SeeYa 09/10/07 - 08:54 am
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The Last Word, Did you happen

The Last Word,

Did you happen to think that the article was timed to coincide with the event of September 8th? Just a thought...

leaveitatthedoor
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leaveitatthedoor 11/29/09 - 09:16 am
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we need something here ---

we need something here --- whether its a race track or a dog run.....not all people are golfers !! you would need to get rid of the commision and vote people in to an advisory board with little or no power. then let them prepare events and bring them to the front for augustans to vote on.....granted that could also be tainted but atleast the people would have themselves to blame for the failures....just a thought!

leaveitatthedoor
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leaveitatthedoor 11/29/09 - 09:19 am
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those are great memories of

those are great memories of yours... thanks for sharing ..... which we know is not always a painless thing to do.... you should post those pics and stories for all interested to read ,,,,,, awsome !!

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