A lot has changed in Dawson County over the past four decades, but people can expect to experience a bit of both old and new during the 41st Annual Mountain Moonshine Festival this weekend.
Festival organizers anticipate record crowds in Dawsonville with festivities beginning Friday night when the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame inducts eight men who played integral roles in Georgia’s unique auto racing history.
Just outside the racing ceremony, one of Atlanta’s premier party bands, Chappelle, will rock the evening, followed by a diverse selection of local singers and dancers entertaining on three stages during the festival on Saturday and Sunday.
As in years past, more than 200 vendors from across the Southeast will be on hand offering a variety of merchandise, products and services — from handmade ornaments and artwork, to authentic NASCAR collectibles, face painting, raffles, and information on a number of local initiatives.
And what fall festival is complete without greasy, delicious, fried fair delights, like apple pies, corn dogs and Dawsonville Pool Room burgers that people come from across the country to eat.
New to this year’s festival is a special autograph session with three brothers who grew up in Dawson County and now play football at Georgia Tech.
Lance, Levi and Logan Walls, who graduated from Dawson County High School with honors before going on to play football for Georgia Tech, will be at Dawsonville’s Historic Courthouse at 2 p.m. Sunday to meet and greet the community that their mother Torina said helped raise them.
“When their dad died, the entire community kind of adopted them and kept up with them over the years,” Torina Walls said. “Dawson County has been good to my boys, and any time they can give back to the community that gave to them, they’re going to without hesitation.”
KARE for Kids, the local non-profit agency that organizes the Mountain Moonshine Festival each year and uses proceeds to provide for the county’s children in need, invited the Walls brothers to participate in the festival as role models for today’s youth.
“These three genuine personalities have already positively impacted our county and have just begun to influence and inspire the future of our young boys and girls,” said KARE for Kids Vice President Rhonda Goodwin.
“We are fortunate to have the three of them together on Sunday to meet, sign autographs and to give back to the community that has embraced them for so many years.”
The festival’s official start will be at 9 a.m. Saturday when more than 100 bicycles will roll through town to lead the annual parade of moonshine-era cars and this year’s grand marshal, legendary NASCAR driver and commentator Buddy Baker.
A host of other NASCAR legends, including David Pearson, Cotton Owens, Ray Fox and possibly Bobby Allison, last year’s grand marshal, are also expected to make appearances during the festival weekend.
The first stock car driver to top 200 mph, Baker’s career spanned three decades and 19 wins. His victory in Daytona remains the fastest Daytona 500 ever run, with an average speed of 177.602 mph.
Baker is one of only eight drivers to have completed a career “Grand Slam” by winning the sport’s four major races — the Daytona 500, Winston 500 at Talladega, Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Southern 500 at Darlington.
Baker is the only one of the eight that did not win a points championship.
“He was a lot more popular than his record shows,” said KARE for Kids board member and local racing historian Gordon Pirkle. “He didn’t know nothing but wide open.”
Following his last NASCAR race in 1992, Baker becamr a commentator, and was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 1997.
Baker is now the host of a motorsports radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio.
“He’s a good story teller. We hope we can keep him still long enough to listen to him,” Pirkle said. “We’re sure going to try.”
E-mail Michele Hester at firstname.lastname@example.org.