As officials gathered off the side of Hwy. 9 in downtown Dawsonville to unveil a new honorary designation for the roadway, in tribute to the city’s infamous moonshining past, it was only fitting that the morning air was filled with the thunder of engines.
And throughout that morning ceremony held on Friday, every so often the thunder would be preceded a souped-up racer of one make or another, which decades earlier would have sped down Thunder Road to deliver mountain made liquor to Atlanta.
"The mayor came to me a year and a half ago and said that [the city of Dawsonville] had an idea to name [Hwy. 9] south Thunder Road,” Rep. Kevin Tanner said at the Thunder Road dedication ceremony held Friday, Oct. 23.
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“We know the story,” he said. “This was the area that people ran liquor from the mountains of north Georgia down to Atlanta and they called it Thunder Road because they raced the revenuers down south to Atlanta, and that was the origins of NASCAR. That’s where it all got started, right here in Dawson County.”
Though the roadway has long since been commonly referred to as Thunder Road, with Friday’s event, the state highway’s honorary designation is now official from the Forsyth/Dawson County line into the city of Dawsonville.
This new designation is a result of Georgia House Resolution 1281, which was sponsored by Tanner and passed during the 2019-20 session of the general assembly.
According to HR 1281, during prohibition the moonshine “trippers,” or runners, made their living selling the illegal liquor and were in a constant battle to outrace enforcement agents, known as ‘revenuers’ on the way to Atlanta. This led to a boom in driving and engineering skills for the runners, as they made their cars faster and faster to outrun the law.
“...driving and engineering skills honed by trippers would eventually evolve into one of America’s favorite pastimes, NASCAR,” the resolution reads. “It is abundantly fitting and proper that a road be dedicated to honor the rich history and tradition of Thunder Road.”
Before cutting the ribbon on the roadway’s new sign located near BK Sports in downtown Dawsonville, Tanner, Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore and Dawsonville Mayor Mike Eason shared their thoughts on the designation, voicing stories about how important moonshining was to the north Georgia community during prohibition.
Pointing to the stores and buildings surrounding the Dawsonville square, Tanner said that the families of many locals still living in the city today, may not have survived without the moonshine trade.
"My grandfather was a moonshiner and went to federal prison twice, my dad made liquor every day of his life till he got drafted,” Tanner said. “But these stores and a lot of the property downtown, they got their money from having stores and selling sugar to the moonshiners. So a lot of people either fed their family directly or indirectly from the liquor business."
In addition to honoring the moonshiners that lived in Dawsonville, Tanner said that this designation also adds a new layer of authenticity to the NASCAR and racing tourism industry that has grown in Dawsonville.
Thunder Road was where NASCAR got its start, and people should know that, according to Tanner.
"The [Georgia Racing Hall of Fame], the [Mountain Moonshine Festival], all the things we do around tourism here in the community, this just adds to that,” he said. “this is another designation to recognize that this is where it all started."
And when it comes down to it, Tanner said he believes that communities have to face their past, both the good and the bad, in order to move forward.
"It's part of our heritage, you can’t run or be ashamed of where you come from, all of those circumstances make us the people we are today,” he said. "A lot of people wouldn't have survived if it wasn't for this industry.”