published Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Bradley County couple present dirt-racing documentary

Gary Petty
  • photo
    Charlie Mincey is shown at age 19 in his first race car in 1949 at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. He raced for 33 years all over the South.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Today's dirt track automobile racers may have a hard time connecting the dots between the early days of their sport and running moonshine, but a Bradley County couple believe they have done that with their newest documentary, "It's a Dirt Track Life."

Producers Ron and Debbie Moore have scheduled the first showing of the 80-minute documentary for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Museum Center at 5ive Points in Cleveland. The address is 200 Inman St. East.

According to Debbie Moore, the documentary explores the belief that dirt track racing originated from the unique driving skills of moonshine deliverymen. She said many of the drivers who were interviewed shared stories about that.

The Moores started last May with their interviews of pioneer dirt track racers and others involved in the "glory days" of the sport. In addition to interviews with about 20 men and women, the documentary includes home movies taken by friends and relatives of those involved in the early days of dirt track racing.

Also included are more than 200 vintage photographs of drivers and their cars -- some made from parts taken from junked vehicles.

Famed NASCAR racer Robert Glen Johnson Jr., better known as Junior Johnson, was convicted in 1956 of having an illegal still and served 11 months of a two-year prison sentence for it. He had started running "shine" for his father when he was 14.

On Dec. 26, 1986, President Ronald Reagan issued a pardon for Johnson, thus allowing him to vote.

While not quite as well known, Georgia Racing Hall of Fame member Charlie Mincey also made his mark in moonshine running. Mincey, who is included in the documentary, started hauling illegal liquor at the age of 14 and did so for the next five years before starting a 30-year racing career.

Mincey, who lived in Atlanta, would travel to Dawsonville, Ga., to pick up about 200 gallons of moonshine in his 1939 Ford and then travel back to Atlanta with a careful eye out for the law.

Another well-known racer interviewed was Freddy Fryar of the famous Fryar racing family.

"The Beaumont Flyer," as he was known, and his brother, Harold, became familiar racing figures in the Southeast. Freddy Fryar later became an instructor at the Richard Petty driving schools.

Other racing greats interviewed include more recent drivers such as Red Farmer, Morgan Shepherd and Norm Benning.

Cleveland resident Doc German also shares in the documentary his memories of his early days of racing.

The Chattanooga area was big in the early days of dirt racing with tracks located at Warner Park, Alton Park, Lake Winnepesaukah, Soddy-Daisy, Rhea County and Moccasin Bend.

A 1958 U.S. Geological Survey map shows the track located on the west side of Moccasin Bend, just north of the present sewage disposal plant. The Moccasin Bend track operated only for two years after starting in 1953, according to Debbie Moore.

Lake Winnepesaukah's dirt race track was in operation during the 1940s at the head of the lake that is now used for the amusement park's fireworks display, according to Talley Green, a public relations representative for the park.

Boyd's Speedway, just across the Georgia line from East Ridge, and North Georgia Speedway at Chatsworth are the only dirt tracks operating in the Chattanooga area this year. In its half-century of operation, Boyd's has changed names from originally being called Boyd's Speedway to Chattanooga Raceway, Tennessee Georgia Speedway and then back to Boyd's, according to Chuck Christopher, race director.

The one-third-mile banked speedway has transitioned from dirt to asphalt and back to dirt.

"I just think crowds prefer dirt. It is more popular on a local level, and very few people in this area had asphalt cars," Christopher said about why the changes have taken place.

"Dirt track racing is a big sport, especially in the Chattanooga area," he added. "It is a family thing, and I guess that is what makes it so much fun."

Cleveland Speedway opened to dirt track racing in 1954. After operating for 60 years, it is closed this year, its future awaiting bankruptcy action.

The Moores are natives of Bradley County and have been actively involved in historical preservation for years. They co-host a local history radio show every Saturday morning on WOOPfm in Cleveland.

The show can be viewed at www.woopfm.com from 10 a.m. until noon each Saturday.

In the spring of 2013 the Moores released a documentary about the history of a small village that was built by The Tennessee Power Company on the Ocoee River in Polk County. The documentary won an Award of Distinction from the East Tennessee Historical Society.

Contact Gary Petty at sports@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

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