Dawsonville and the Roots of NASCAR
By Ben White, special to ERH
No matter the season, Dawsonville, Ga. is picture perfect for showcasing the simple life of the North Georgia mountains. The art of making moonshine and early history of NASCAR are deeply rooted into its culture and heritage.
Dawsonville was founded in 1857 as seat of the newly formed Dawson County, incorporated as a town in 1859 and as a city in 1952 and named for state senator William Crosby Dawson (1798 –1856). Even though Dawson was born and died in Greensboro, Ga., the county and city were named in his honor for distinguished service as a soldier, lawyer, judge and politician.
Many attractions offer visitors to Dawson County a grand look at one of the most historic regions of the state.
The Georgia Racing Hall of Fame located on Highway 53 in Dawsonville is a must for race fans visiting the area. The GRHOF opened in 2002 with Red Byron, Bill Elliott, Tim Flock, Roy Hall, Raymond Parks, Lloyd Seay, Gober Sosebee and Red Vogt being named inaugural inductees. Nearly 100 additional drivers, team owners and motorsports personalities from Georgia have been added to the Hall since then. Numerous race cars and prominent artifacts from the past eight decades are on display throughout the facility.
Dawson County is also home to Amicalola Falls State Park, which features the highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. The Amicalola Falls Lodge is located at the top of the falls. The famed 57 room facility is great to take in spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hiking, trout fishing, and sightseeing on the 1,020 acres complex attracts many visitors each year.
Another must-see is the Old Dawson County Jail and the cells moonshiners occupied in the 1930s and ‘40s. Moonshining and racing legends Roy Hall and Lloyd Seay are believed to have spent time in the small brick building for their illegal liquor exploits. The red brick structure was built in 1881 and was added to the list on the National Register of Historic Places nearly 100 years later in 1980. The oldest working courthouse in the state houses five offices and a courtroom.
Hall and Seay were not the only ones to spend the night there, as making moonshine was simply a way of life for generations. So much so that sheriffs of Dawson County often turned their attention elsewhere. In the early 1940s, one local resident shot the tires out on the sheriff’s car to get him to stop chasing so many moonshiners through town. As a result, he too, spent time in the county jail.
“It was kind of always known he sheriff of Dawson County never messed with the liquor guys at all because that was the Federal revenuers’ job,” said Gordon Pirkle, a local historian and longtime Dawsonville businessman. “My granddaddy told me there were four or five phone systems leading into Dawsonville. The guy at the mill would see the revenuers cross the bridge and he would call the next guy down the line to tell them they were coming. They would call with different rings and such and the guy that lived at the end of the line would get the word in Dawsonville they were coming.
“Dawsonville always had liquor cars sitting around. It would be like a farmer’s market when they would all come to town. When they got the word the revenuers were on the way, they’d all make a lap (around the square) and head back to Gainesville.”
Featuring free samples, the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery is a legal moonshine entity in Dawsonville where spirits are made from traditional recipes passed down for over 150 years.
Another good haunt is the old Dawsonville Cemetery located on Maple Street where several stock car legends are at their final resting place, such as team owner Raymond Parks, Seay and NASCAR driver and team owner Gober Sosebee.
Since 1963, the famed Dawsonville Pool Room owned by Pirkle has been in operation and is known for its Bully Burgers and thick cut fries. The famed siren was added in 1983 and was blown in celebration each time Bill Elliott rolled into victory lane for 35 years. It’s the same today when Bill’s son Chase collects a checkered flag in NASCAR’s Cup Series.
See video of siren with explanation by Pirkle.
Using the siren was an impromptu idea that became tradition.
“There was an old rental house behind the pool room I had rented that had extra machines in it,” Pirkle said. “Some of the boys that worked work for me wanted to watch races so I put a satellite in for them back there.
“We knew Bill was going to win that first race at Riverside (Calif.) in 1983 because he was out front and it was raining. The boys wanted to celebrate by blowing their car horns around the square and that stuff like that. I had bought the siren for the fire department but they put in a new system. It was lying in that old house with a drop cord right beside of it. Bill took the checkered flag so I plugged it in and away it went!”
Harbin’s Service Station on Highway 9 is another hallowed place for race fans to visit. Harbin’s is now Dawsonville Antiques, but at one time, it was where moonshiners played cards, traded stories and filled their cars with gas for deliveries day or night. For years, Harbin’s had the only public telephone in the county.
“It was the first all-night service station in the United States,” Pirkle said. “They had three shifts. It (hauling moonshine) would be the only reason you would have an all-night station in the 1930s. There were a lot of stories told in that building. It’s an antique store now, but they’ve still got the old gas pumps out front.”
For the moonshine or stock car enthusiast, a visit to Dawsonville, Ga. is certainly worth the journey.
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