For more than 50 years, when drivers in Forsyth County had a wreck or breakdown, Harold “Speedy” Evans was there to tow them and get them back on the road.
Now, family and friends are remembering one of Forsyth County’s most prolific mechanics and one of the county’s biggest racing figures.
Evans, co-owner and founder of Evans Garage and Wrecker Service, the first wrecker service in Forsyth County, died Nov. 21, leaving lots of memories of his legacy with those that knew him best.
“It’s rewarding to know that we’re still in business for 60 years,” said grandson Evan Roper, who co-owned the business. “That’s something special to me, that I know that he left us something that we can carry on.”
Evans was survived by his wife, Dot Evans, of Cumming; daughter and son-in-law, Tracy and Keith Roper of Cumming; grandchildren, Brandi and Brad Dorsey of Cumming, Evan and Cole Roper of Cumming; great-grandchildren, Braxton, Braelen, E. J., Harper and Henley; sister, Evelyn Tate; sister-in-law, Emma Evans of Cumming; and a number of nieces, nephews and other relatives.
He was prolific in Forsyth County and the surrounding area for his mechanical prowess, particularly known for his work on Chevrolets, which made him a successful figure in racing.
“His cars won so many races,” said Gordon Pirkle, CEO of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Dawsonville. “If you were racing in north Georgia, if you were driving a Speedy Evans car, you had the best.”
Pirkle, who described Evans as one of his heroes, recalled a driver who left Evans’ team to join another with a “real hot car,” so Evans got another driver, who beat his predecessor in his old car.
Even Evans’ nickname came from his racing, though not on a track.
“The story goes that Speedy was coming up to come to work [at a gas station] up here, and he and Edwin Looper, who used to own Looper’s Market for years and years here in town, they were racing into town,” Pirkle said. “Speedy outran Edwin, and that was the biggest hangout, that station where Speedy worked, so Edwin followed him in … When Edwin came in, he called him ‘Speedy,’ and that name stuck all these years.”
Jeffrey Johnson, a former employee who now operates his own wrecker service, Johnson Towing, said he started racing in 1989 and Evans helped build the car, though typically wouldn’t come out to the races.
Johnson said he did remember an exception when he ran into Evans after a race, who told him to watch the next group of drivers.
“He said, ‘Watch these guys right here,’” Johnson said. “So, I’m standing there watching and still didn’t know what he had to say. I was watching, and he said, ‘You see where they’re letting off, watch this one right here. Watch where he’s letting off … You see where you’re letting off? You’re running it way too deep. Slow down and you’ll go faster.’ I won the next three races.”
In Forsyth County, Evans first began working on cars in a chicken house before building the garage in its current location, which has since been expanded, in 1960 and built his house next door in 1961, using the same phone number for both.
“When I was a teenager, you couldn’t get on the phone,” said Tracy Roper, his daughter. “I had a short, little time frame.”
Family members said Evans worked wrecks on just about every road in the county and would often recall old towing jobs driving around town.
“Every time we went up Bannister Road, he said, ‘I don’t think there’s probably a stretch of 20 feet down this road that I haven’t worked a wreck or managed a wreck,’” Evan Roper said.
Evan Roper said he rode with his grandfather “ever since I could ride in a tow truck” and some customers thought he was too young when he started working alone.
“I was going out on calls by myself by 23, and everybody looked at me like, ‘Well, you don’t know what you’re doing,’” Evan Roper said. “I was like, ‘I’ve been in a truck for years. He taught me everything I know.’ His motto was, ‘If you go to a wreck, don’t leave it there. You bring it back.’”
Johnson said he last talked to Evans three weeks ago and he said he was “extremely proud” of his grandson taking on the business.
“But he also added that he couldn’t wait for one that [Evan Roper] couldn’t figure out so he could go help [him],” Johnson said.
Evans continued coming to the garage until about six months ago, still diagnosing cars.
“He would come out here and examine every car that Evan pulled in, and he would try to figure out how they hit,” Tracy Roper said. “And pretty much, he was right.”
Beyond his racing and mechanical knowledge, friends and loved ones remember him as someone always willing to give.
“He would pull cars with people not even paying him because that’s the way he was,” Tracy Roper said. “If you didn’t have the money to pay him, he’d still pull your car, take you wherever you wanted to go to. If you came by and paid him, that was good. If you didn’t, that was alright, too.”
Johnson said Evans’ giving nature showed “just the kind of guy he was.”
“He was a giving man,” Johnson said. “He would help anybody. He took on too much; he tried to help everybody. It didn’t matter if he had five or six cars already to do, if somebody needed something done, he would say, ‘Just bring it on. Put it in line.’”
Evans was known for ingenuity in figuring out problems, sometimes before the solution was commercially available.
“He only went to the fifth grade, but he was very smart,” Tracy Roper said. “He built a motor stand before motor stands even came out. He built a transmission stand before Snap-On came up with the transmission stand. He figured all that out.”
To Johnson, what made Evans intelligent was his willingness to ask for help when he didn’t know something.
“A lot of people think they know everything, so they won’t ever ask you,” he said. “If something came in here, not so many years ago, and he didn’t understand it – if it was Ford or something – he’d called me and asked me what my thoughts were on something.”
Evans was also an early part of the Moonshine Festival in Dawsonville and was one of the four original cars known for being used to run moonshine.
“There were four people from Cumming that started bringing their ’40 Fords up here to represent the moonshine [runners],” Pirkle said. “Now there are about 200 of them every year.”
Today, the festival benefits K.A.R.E. for Kids, a nonprofit in Dawsonville which provides Christmas gifts and other items for kids in need. In lieu of flowers, his family asked that donations be made to the organization, which can be sent to P. O. Box 211, Dawsonville, Ga., 30534 or done online at KAREforKids.org.
“That makes me feel so good,” Pirkle said, a longtime member of K.A.R.E. for Kids. “I’m so proud of that.”