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Bill Elliott launches moonshine label
bill elliott

All his racing life, Bill Elliott has known how to go fast.

Now, with the upcoming launch of his own line of moonshine products, hes learning how to take it slow.

Were just going to take it one step at a time, he says of his recent partnership with the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery.

In October, just in time for Dawsonvilles 47th Mountain Moonshine Festival, the Motorsports Hall of Famer and 16-time winner of NASCARs Most Popular Driver Award plans to launch three, moonshine products.

Its also just in time to celebrate Bill Elliott Day on Oct. 8, an honor Gov. Sonny Perdue declared in 2005.

Even though moonshining is a first for Elliott, theres more than 300 years of history working in his favor.

Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery Owner Cheryl Happy Wood is the granddaughter of Simmie Free, a famous moonshiner of Northeast Georgia.

Wood is the first woman in the family to make moonshine legally.

Simmie learned his craft from his father, Fate Free, who died when he was 109.

Everybody said it was the liquor that finally killed him, Wood said. Great-granddaddy Fate learned it from his father, and our familys recipes were handed down through nine generations of moonshiners without sacrificing quality.

Elliotts White Lightning Moonshine is 109 proof.

And, theres something to the number 9. It was Highway 9 from Dawsonville to Atlanta that became known in the early days as the whiskey trail.

Elliotts No. 9 car ran 446 races, posted 38 wins, 135 top fives, and 227 top 10s. In downtown Dawsonville, the historic Pool Rooms address is No. 9 Bill Elliot St.

Other moonshine products Elliott is launching include a Georgia Corn Whiskey, Georgia Mountain Apple Pie, and a seasonal Georgia Apple Brandy that will be available for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Elliotts schoolmate and friend, Backwoods Distiller Dwight Bearden, is a fourth-generation moonshiner from Dawsonville whos in charge of the 250-gallon, custom-made copper still at the distillery.

Cheryl and Dwight have definitely got what it takes, Elliott said.

Located inside the same building as city hall and the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, the distillery itself is one of the most unusual in the country.

Im looking forward to a great working relationship with Bill and his team, Wood said. They are such down-to-earth, genuine people.

Elliotts products are up against some stiff competition from Robert Junior Johnson.

Johnson was one of the early superstars of NASCAR in the 1950s and 60s before retiring in 1966. In May 2007, Johnson teamed with Piedmont Distillers in Madison, N.C.

Hes got seven years on us, but theyve gone about it a different way, Elliott said. They are more about mass advertising and less about what theyre putting into their products. I feel like weve got a leg up on them in that department. But theyve got some big players, which will be hard to beat.

Johnsons products are distributed in 48 states. Dawsonville Moonshine Distillerys products are available only in Georgia for now.

Georgia Racing Hall of Fame President Gordon Pirkle, 77, is the official moonshine taste-tester for the Dawsonville Distillery.

They turn out great products and Ill swear, by far, Bill Elliotts moonshine is the best moonshine on the market, he said.

Pirkle admittedly has been tasting moonshine since he was 16-years-old.

My taste buds been fine-tuned over a long time, he said.

Pirkle, Elliott and Wood said they believe the partnership is good for the local economy.

Everybody has to understand its not just about us and the distillery, Elliott said. It helps everybody locally. Cheryl uses all Georgia grown ingredients. The corn and apples come from here. It means jobs, and it brings people to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

White lightning, Pirkle said, gave birth to stock car racing as we know it today.

Looking into U.S. Treasury records, it appears that for every moonshine still busted in Tennessee or the Carolinas, four were busted around Dawsonville.

Local legend has it that Burnt Mountain, in the northwestern corner of Dawson County, got its name from the number of times moonshine still fires ignited the woods around them.

Some people still dont realize the connection, Pirkle said. We were racing 10 years before NASCAR was founded. Lloyd Seay won his first race in 1938. NASCAR didnt run their first race until 1948, and Raymond Parks from Dawsonville won the first sanctioned NASCAR race with Lloyd Seay driving.

When trippers werent running moonshine to thirsty patrons in Atlanta, they often raced each other.

And it was these early races that drew a crowd.

It was soon realized that selling tickets to races could make money, according to Pirkle.

Im really excited about this partnership between Bill and the distillery, he said. Theres always been a connection between moonshine and racing always will be.

Wood said she feels similarly.

Now, Awesome Bill from Dawsonville has his own still, she said.