Throughout his life, Dawsonville legend Gordon Pirkle has spent time doing a lot of things.
Running a gas station meant for bootlegging, running the famous Dawsonville Pool Room, raising a family, volunteering his time with the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame and dozens of other causes, Pirkle did all that and more.
Friends and family say that through it all, Pirkle’s heart for the people and the place he loves shines brightly for everyone to see. The people who know Pirkle best say that love is why Pirkle is voted Best Volunteer in the Dawson County News’ Best of Dawson contest year after year.
“I’m very proud of it,” Pirkle said. “I’ve never voted on it. The people that vote for me are my people. That’s quite an honor to have my people vote for me.”
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Pirkle has volunteered at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame since it’s opening in 2002. Throughout the museum’s closure and the recession of 2008, Pirkle stayed faithful to his vision of what the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame could be.
"The night the hall of fame opened, he had just put his mother in the grave,” Pirkle’s son, Gordon Jr., said after Pirkle won the Founders Award from the GRHOF in Dec. 2013. “He said, ‘This is the worst day of my life. I just put my mother to rest. But this is the best day of my life, this is a 20-year dream of mine finally come true.'"
Over the past year the Racing Hall of Fame made several renovations and opened up a new Chase Elliott exhibit that would not have been possible without Pirkle’s volunteer work at the museum, honoring and preserving the racing legends from Dawsonville and throughout the nation.
“I really love the history of it,” Pirkle said. “Even though it’s a strange, strange history. It’s kind of hard to make heroes out of people who were outlaws.”
Pirkle made national headlines in 1983 when he set off an old siren at the pool room, celebrating Bill Elliott’s first Nascar Winston Cup Series victory.
Pirkle continues to set the sirens off for Chase Elliott’s win, most recently when Elliott won the 2020 Cup Series championship. Pirkle let the si-reen, as he would say, alarm for hours as the people of Dawsonville came together at his pool room late into the night to celebrate.
Rhonda Goodwin still remembers meeting with Pirkle at the Pool Room in 1993 to start what Dawson County now knows as K.A.R.E. for Kids.
“He put the hook in me then and he’s still got me hooked,” Goodwin said. “I respect his dedication and commitment.”
Pirkle and Goodwin remained very involved in the Moonshine Festival, which Goodwin said all started because of Pirkle making one call.
“I think people respected him and his heart so much that they wanted to spread it out as well,” Goodwin said. “He called someone and they called their friends who called their friends and it’s still going on. He still talks with at least 90 percent of the people that participate because they respect his heart so much.”
Goodwin added she would not be surprised to find Pirkle has a second heart hiding somewhere in his chest for the countless amounts of “selfless” love he’s shown to Dawsonville.
Unveiling the Gordon Pirkle Leadership Award
Pirkle’s lifelong accomplishments were recognized this year with the brand new Heart of Dawson Leadership Award, henceforth to be known as the Gordon Pirkle Heart of Dawson Award.
According to Dawson County News Editor Alexander Popp, the award will be given each year at the Dawson County News Best of Dawson Gala to a community member who “embodies the giving spirit and love for Dawson County that [Pirkle] shows.”
“You’ve got to spend a good time following before you can learn how to be a good leader,” Pirkle said. “I started out real young learning what life was like. My granddaddy was my hero and he was a good storyteller. I learned a lot from him, but I never dreamed back when I was getting busted that I’d end up 84 years old and have such a beautiful museum in a town that nobody could love more than Gordon Pirkle.”
Writer and columnist Ronda Rich told the DCN that she met Pirkle when she first got her start writing for The Gainesville Times in the mid-80’s and quickly saw him as a mentor due to vast roots in the world of professional racing and in the north Georgia community.
“He’s still a leader and mentor to me and I'm just one of a lot of people,” Rich said. “He makes me feel special, but I'm just one of the many people [Pirkle] has touched with his heart every day. It's important to him that the history flows through Dawsonville like the Chestatee River.”
In 2012, Pirkle’s daughter-in-law Karen Reece wrote the DCN, commenting on how Pirkle has been a family and community man throughout his entire life. She highlighted things like when Pirkle took on his wife Idilene’s first two children as his own and how he would close his restaurant for a week to feed the elementary school children in the county.
“He understands that sometimes free food will make folks come out and then stay and hopefully hear the gospel preached,” Reece wrote.
All four of Pirkle’s children still live on the same plot of land that Pirkle does, and the family has fought hard to stay close. Through the pandemic, Pirkle’s daughter, Hayley Garrett, said that Pirkle insisted on family outings because “their faith was bigger than their fear.”
“Our family’s love is more important than anything,” Garrett said. “Anything we’ve gone through as a family, that’s all that matters. Money can’t buy that.”
But for Pirkle, the meaning of family has extended well beyond those who he’s related to.
When asked about the Dawsonville legend, state Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville) said that he has always looked up to Pirkle and thought that he embodies the spirit of Dawsonville and Dawson County.
“He is a true gent and is always willing to give a helping hand to anyone, especially those in need,” Wade said. “He has always treated my family like his own and I can never thank him enough for how he has treated and taken care of my mom and dad over the years.”
Cody Dinsmore first started volunteering at the Racing Hall of Fame when he was 8 years old, and very quickly saw Pirkle as someone to look up to.
More than the knowledge of racing that Pirkle passed down, Dinsmore said that he appreciated Pirkle’s heart over everything. Dinsmore was always humbled by how Pirkle would send food to Bearden Funeral Home anytime that he saw a big group of cars in the parking lot.
“He just has a heart of gold,” Dinsmore said. “Gordon has been my honorary grandfather all these years. He’s just always been such an idol and hero to me. I’ve never met a single person more passionate about their hometown.”
When people around him want to give up, Pirkle’s leadership and heart combine into one to give each individual the confidence and affection they need to pick up their baggage and keep on moving. Goodwin remembers Pirkle telling her ‘We can’t let this mission die.’
“Those words have kept me still working,” Goodwin said. “And always will. Over the years, people might have wanted to replace me, but those words...he said we. His heart has ignited numerous volunteers and kept us around. He’s like family to me too. It’s not just a close bond.”
Pirkle said he has no plans of changing anything about the amount of time he donates to his town that his great-grandchildren are now a tenth generation of as natives. His 85th birthday will be celebrated in December and Pirkle said that he hopes to be able to throw a big party for everyone he loves to celebrate.
As far as his continued dominance in the volunteer category, Pirkle said he has no way of knowing why his name seems to pop up.
“I guess I’ve got some people fooled,” he said.
If that’s the case, consider an entire community duped.