By Ben White, special to ERH
As politician William Crosby Dawson worked to create and bring
Dawson County and Dawsonville, Ga. into existence in the mid-1800s, the art of
making moonshine was already a way of life among residents of North Georgia.
Campfires and copper boilers dotted the country-side, having been passed down
from generation to generation was their only means of survival. Estimates of
stills destroyed by Federal agents in Dawson County reached into the
Little did Dawson know the invention of the automobile just
after the turn of the century would give the city and county a special
distinction. Several of the greatest moonshine runners and race car drivers to
ever turn a steering wheel came right off the Dawson County roads making
deliveries to Atlanta.
George Elliott and his sons Ernie, Dan and Bill never ran
moonshine, but knew plenty in the area that did. Among its prominence, George
turned to the legitimate business of auto parts and building supplies while
building a stock car racing dynasty. Ernie became a mechanical wizard. Dan ran
the family businesses to support the racing while Bill, the youngest, became
the driver. From it came 39 NASCAR Cup series wins, 11 of them in 1985 that
included the Daytona 500 and Winston Million bonus as well as the 1988 Cup
Their desire to race started at an early age.
“When the boys came along, they were just that, boys,” George
Elliott said the in the book, Bill Elliott-Fastest Man Alive. “They started out
racing go-karts and motorcycles, but mainly they had to work in the building
supply business. As soon as Ernie became old enough, he went to work, the same
as the others. Not having time to participate in school sports, racing was a
natural diversion for them.
“By the time Bill came along, (local racing legend) Gober
Sosebee had retired, and they had other heroes. Jody Ridley of nearby
Chatsworth was one they admired along with the Pearsons, Pettys, and
Yarboroughs. Each had their own hero. It was pretty much split between Jody and
Before the Elliott boys built their legacy, several larger than
life figures enjoyed immense local popularity.
The exploits of Dawsonville moonshiner and racer Roy Hall still
resonate to this day. On one occasion, track announcers told a disappointed
crowd Hall would not race that day because he was in jail but promised to have
him there the next week. Hall was eventually caught in a shootout with police
in North Carolina and was taken back to Georgia for robbing a bank and served
time from 1946 to 1949. He often told the crowds from victory lane he would be
back, “if I’m still alive.” Hall passed away in 1991 at the age of 71.
Hall’s cousin, Dawsonville-native Raymond Parks, was the first
owner in NASCAR to field multiple cars and drivers. After serving in the
military and a stint in prison for transporting moonshine, he moved to Atlanta
and made a fortune in whiskey (legal and illegal), slot machines, juke boxes
and vending machines.
Parks’ cars won NASCAR’s first ever event, a modified race at
Daytona in 1948, as well as the first premier “Strictly Stock” series
championship with driver Red Byron in 1949.
Lloyd Seay, one of the sport’s early greats, is also a
Dawsonville cousin to Hall and Parks and also distant cousins to Ernie, Dan and
Bill. Honored by a large weathered tombstone with his likeness displayed through
a glass-etched photograph, Seay’s smile is bright as he sits behind the wheel
of the ’39 Ford that carried him to numerous stock car victories in the early
On Sept. 1, 1941, Seay won what was called the National Stock
Car Championship at the now defunct Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta. It was the
last of four consecutive victories including on the sands of Daytona, within a
nine-day span. The next day, he was shot dead by cousin Woodrow Anderson after
a quarrel over a load of sugar used for making moonshine.
Even though Seay’s death occurred nearly a decade before NASCAR
was formed, its founder Bill France Sr. claimed Seay was the greatest driver he
had ever seen.
Other local figures shared the spotlight as well.
Dawsonville native and NASCAR team owner Frank Christian
organized the first stock car race in the area in 1938. Moonshiner turned racer
Bernard Long fielded cars out of Dawsonville, scoring a lone win on the beach
at Daytona in July of 1941 in only his second-career start. With the win, he
gave up running liquor to become a legitimate businessman.
Also, Gober Sosebee holds the honor of becoming the fastest
NASCAR driver ever on the beach, setting the all-time NASCAR speed record in
earning the pole for the 1949 Daytona race.
He would win twice in NASCAR’s premier series during his career.
The people of Dawsonville are still close knit in what is known
as Georgia’s most famous mountain community.
“(Laughter) it seems as though everyone is related to each other
one way or another here in Dawsonville,” said local historian and business
owner Gordon Pirkle. “I’ve done some research on this and it looks like Audie
Reece, the Elliott’s grandmother (and Chase Elliott’s great-grandmother) is believed
to be third cousins with Lloyd Seay’s mother. As it turns out, Ernie, Dan and
Bill are seventh cousins to Lloyd. They are related but its way, way back.”
Stories of the good ole’ days of moonshining and racing continue
to be told throughout Dawson County.