The woman credited by many with saving Thunder Road and keeping Dawsonville’s racing history alive died Monday following a brief illness.
A lifelong Dawson County resident, Annie Dean Samples, 70, will be remembered for her tireless efforts to promote the city’s heritage as president of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
“Some of us old timers had about gave up when Annie Dean got involved,” said friend and fellow racing enthusiast Gordon Pirkle.
“When we realized [Thunder Road] was going to go under, she organized a group of volunteers to run the gift shop and kept the doors open. I bet people don’t realize she probably raised more than $50,000 for the cause.”
David Sosebee, who served on the hall of fame’s board, held back tears Tuesday morning as he remembered his friend.
“She never looked at odds,” he said. “If she thought it was the right thing, she took it as far as it would go.
“She was never afraid to stand up for what she thought was right, regardless of what it looked like.”
The volunteer board of directors was created in 2005 after the city assumed ownership of the failed Thunder Road complex. It disbanded in 2008.
Sosebee said he is convinced the museum, which chronicles the county’s racing history and native Bill Elliott’s rise to stardom in NASCAR, wouldn’t be here today without Samples’ efforts.
“She didn’t have a family history in racing, but what she had was a true passion for the sport and she saw what it represented to this county,” Sosebee said.
Sosebee and Pirkle agreed it was Sample’s love for her community that kept her fighting for the cause.
“They didn’t have any children, but they had all the people in the county as family,” Sosebee said. “They had no gain out of this. It was pure pride.”
Samples is survived by her husband of 49 years, Charles Samples.
Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at Bearden Funeral Home, with interment following in the McKees Chapel United Methodist Church Cemetery.