The Grand Marshall for the 52nd Annual Mountain Moonshine Festival, taking place on Oct. 26 and 27, will be short-track racing legend Bud Lunsford. Lunsford started his career in the early 1950’s after running a few laps on the Looper Speedway in a friend’s car.
“I had a friend, before the lake come in, which is Lake Lanier, he wanted to go out to the old Looper Speedway and he asked me “would like to go out there with me,” and I said sure,” Lunsford said. “He went out and made a few laps. He said, “would you like to make a lap or two,” and I said sure and that gave me the bug. That’s’ where it started.”
From that starting point, Lunsford went on to become the winningest driver in short-track history. Running five nights a week, 65 – 75 events a year, Bud won 1,139 races over his 25-year career in venues across the southeastern United States. He was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in 2005.
"I used to race five nights a week. Start in Greenwood, South Carolina, on Thursday; Andersen, South Carolina on Friday; Banks County or Toccoa on Saturday; two races in Cumming on Sunday - one Sunday afternoon and one Sunday night.” Lunsford said. “Then I'd start all over again the next week."
“Our racing is not anything compared to what you see on the weekend on the TV,” Lunsford explained. “Ours would be 50 laps or 100 laps, something like that, that’s all we’d run. Anywhere between three-eighths or a quarter mile.”
With almost 1,600 races under his wheels, Lunsford had to think for a moment to define a singular moment as the high point of his career, but he settled on “the race I won at Dixie Speedway on a Sunday afternoon.”
“I wasn’t running very good that day, and all the big boys from up North and everything were there. It’s a big dirt race, paying $15,000 a win,” Lunsford said. “The Hoosier (Tire) representative said, “well, you didn’t do any good, let’s put some asphalt slicks on that car.” So, we put some asphalt slicks on that car, and it was like going to a Sunday meeting. That was a thrill.”
By comparison, Lunsford needed no time at all to recall his low-point on a track – the only major accident of his career - when he went over the wall at Canton International.
“It hurt pretty bad … When I went over the wall over there it landed on it’s top, upside down, it broke the roll cage out,” Lunsford said. “I stayed in the hospital three days, but we raced that next Friday night.”
Over the course of his career, Lunsford was also instrumental in the growth and development of short-track racing in north Georgia. He built the Dixie Speedway in 1969, re-opened the Douglasville Speedway in 1971, and built the Lanier National Speedway in 1982. He was named the Auto Racing Promoter of the Year in 1987.
Lunsford permanently retired in 2000 to Gainesville, Georgia where he owns and operates the Funtastik Bowling Center with his wife, Laquita Lunsford, but he talks openly about his love for racing and his desire to be a part of the community.
“I would just love to stay in that type of atmosphere, racing. I enjoy racing, if there’s any racing on TV I watch it. It don’t have to be NASCAR, or whatever it might be, I watch it,” Lunsford said. “I’ve got racing in my blood.”