The Georgia Racing Hall of Fame played host to a veritable who’s who of short track racing during the inaugural Lanier Raceway Reunion on Nov. 23. Highlighted by legendary names such as Bud Lunsford and Mike Love, the event was open to anyone involved with the racetrack during its thirty years of operation just outside of Braselton, Georgia.
GRHOF volunteer and event organizer Cody Dinsmore was the driving force behind bringing together nearly 200 drivers, car owners, mechanics, announcers and fans that made the Lanier Raceway a Saturday night staple of the southeastern racing circuit.
“We’ve had a couple of different racing reunions but this one was sparked by Lanier reopening a couple of years ago,” Dinsmore said. “We saw an opportunity to get these guys back together and honor them in some small way. These are the pioneers of the sport.”
Designed and opened in 1982 by Lunsford, a hall of fame inductee with 1,129 wins in his career, the Lanier Raceway was originally a quarter-mile dirt track and operated under the NASCAR Whelen All-American banner.
Racing every Saturday night for nine months of the year, the track featured Super Late Models, SuperTrucks, Junkyard Dogs, Outlaw Late Models, Mini Stocks, INEX Legends Cars and INEX Bandolero Cars. In addition to the standard weekly race, the raceway hosted five NASCAR Busch Grand National Series (now known as the Xfinity Series) from 1988-92.
“We used to average about 4,000 people a week at Lanier,” Lunsford said. “That would go up to 8,000 for a Bill Elliott or Dale Earnhardt personal appearance.”
In his nearly 30-year career with the track Glen Simpson wore many hats, serving as an announcer, the flag stand operator and finishing his tenure as the Director of Race Operations. Simpson remembered the track as a busy place where the primary goal was to “keep the show moving.”
“We raced every week, from the middle of March up until the middle or end of November,” Simpson said. “The end of the season was usually affected by the start of deer hunting and college football.”
Longtime racetrack announcer Charles Head, who worked the booth from 1991-2000 and then again from 2009-11 recalled the track in its hey day as a place that sported the best of everything from the overhead lights down to the concession stands.
“Bud (Lunsford) never did anything half-way,” Head said. “Lanier was the showplace racetrack, if somebody wanted to build a track or attract NASCAR’s interest they would be put in a plane and flown over Lanier so they could see what their track should look like.”
The .375-mile venue also provided a unique challenge from an announcer’s point of view.
“How quickly the cars got around the track,” Head said. “At some of the bigger tracks I would need to come up with five or six minutes of information to talk about a driver during their qualifying laps, but at Lanier is was maybe a minute.”
The quickness of the track was one of the reasons hall of fame driver Mike Love ranked Lanier Raceway as one of his favorite places to race. Over thirty years, Love missed only one race at the complex and is recognized as the driver with the most wins in track history, although no one could recall the precise number.
“I raced every week from the night it opened to the night closed and only missed one race. So, what’s that? 450-500 races,” Love said. “I didn’t keep track of wins, I kept track of championships and I won 26 championships.”
GRHOF President Gordon Pirkle was thrilled with the turn-out for the event and looked forward to watching it grow over the next few years.
“I’m just tickled about the number of folks that showed up,” Pirkle said. “And this is something that will just get bigger every year. So many people were involved with the track. Since it raced Bandalero cars, some of the drivers got their start there when they were very young.”
In 1995, after almost 50 years in the racing business as a driver and promoter, Lunsford sold the track to Donnie Clack who rebranded the operation as the Lanier National Speedway. The venue continued to feature weekly racing until 2011 when economic conditions forced the track to close.
“Disposable income disappeared for everyone in 2008,” Clack said. “It was economic reasons, pure and simple. All the fans saw was the race on Saturday, but so much goes on behind the scenes to get ready for that one day.”
Jim Downing purchased the facility in 2014 and after several years of redesign and renovation, the track re-opened in 2016 as the Lanier Raceplex.
According to Corporate and Event Sales Director Kathryn Richardson, the Raceplex primarily operates as a go-karting facility, but the venue is available for a wide range of events as evidenced by the Pro All-Star Series Championship that took place on the track over the weekend of Nov. 15-16.
“Anytime you see an event like that at the track, it has been rented out to that particular group and they are hosting their own event,” Richardson said. “The VIP grandstands that were part of the original track are still here and are available for corporate events as well.”
For more information on the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame or the Lanier Raceway contact the GRHOF at (706) 216-7223 or visit them at georgiaracinghof.com.