When it comes to Dawsonville's own Chase Elliott, we have a very talented road racer.
Especially after this past Sunday when he earned the inaugural victory at the Circuit of the Americas course in Austin, Texas. Out of his 12 career NASCAR Cup victories so far, half have come on courses that offer both left AND right turns. In addition, he has won 5 out of the last 6 times that NASCAR has raced on a road course, dating back to his first Cup victory in 2018.
But how did Elliott suddenly become NASCAR's informal 'Road Course King'? His father and fellow Hall of Famer, Bill Elliott did win his first Winston Cup race on a road course back in 1983 at the now-defunct Riverside International Raceway in California. Bill would later earn a Busch series victory at Watkins Glen in 1993. More recently, the elder Elliott has actively participated and won in numerous vintage sports car races over the last few years.
But still, how has Chase Elliott become the undisputed favorite every time NASCAR heads to a road course? Some say it's the many curvy roads that North Georgia has to offer. So to understand how a racer that hails from the North Georgia Mountains is so good at turning left and right, you must first look at the ones that paved the way decades before.
This story continues below.
Long before NASCAR and stock car racing was a thing, high stake races were run on the back, curvy roads of these parts. The ‘racers' were bootleggers, brave men who would risk it all on high-speed runs to Atlanta with trunks filled with illegal Moonshine. This is exactly how pioneers and Hall of Famers such as Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall and Gober Sosebee (all of Dawsonville) would learn the tricks of the road, turning those skills into Stock Car Racing victories years later.
Dawsonville was known to most as the unofficial 'Moonshine Capital of Georgia'. Thousands of gallons of illegal liquor were produced and hauled out of this tiny town every week. Thirsty customers of the bigger cities such as Atlanta had a taste for it and it took skilled drivers to deliver it safely and quickly.
Highway 9 was the only way into Atlanta from Dawsonville until Ga. 400 was constructed in the ‘70s. And along that 60-mile stretch, the bootleggers did whatever they needed to make the delivery and return home; hopefully in time for another. Some would try and make two runs per night, pocketing more in one day than most did in a week. Many went at night, as fast as they could and one step ahead of the law, while some preferred to take it easy during the day and blend in with regular traffic. Regardless of when they did it, this was a race that you could not afford to finish second in.
To guys such as Seay and Hall, it was a thrill and would prepare them for the Stock Car races they would soon enter and dominate. A revenue agent once said that "Lloyd Seay could make a Ford Coupe climb a Pine Tree", referring to his natural talent behind the wheel.
One of my favorite stories involving Lloyd, he was headed out of Dawsonville and stopped for a traffic violation on Highway 9 just south of town. The officer told that the fine was $10. Seay then handed him two $5 bills. As the officer tried to give back one of the fives as it was too much money, Seay replied saying something to the effect of "I'm paying in advance. I'll be coming through later and I won't have time to stop".
It was these liquor haulers that would become boastful about how their car was faster than the others, and how one could deliver a load to Atlanta from Dawsonville faster than the other. As you could imagine, this led to friendly bets, usually on Sunday afternoons, when several would gather in an empty field to see who had the faster car and who was the better driver.
In comes Frank Christian of Dahlonega. One Sunday afternoon while traveling south on 9, about where present-day Rock Creek Park is, he noticed a dust cloud and a plethora of cars gathered around. He pulled over to see what was going on and found several cars playing around in a field with dozens of friends and neighbors gathered to watch. Christian, being a keen businessman, immediately hatched a plan to give these guys a proper facility in addition to giving the onlookers a better place to view the show.
He would rent the Lakewood Fairgrounds track in Atlanta and charge a dollar a head to spectate. Racing at Lakewood had been going on for over 20 years prior, but had mostly been purpose-built open wheel Indy-type cars. Stock car racing started at Daytona Beach in 1936 but had yet to make its way to Georgia.
And thus, on November 11th, 1938, the first organized stock car race as we know it occurred. Lloyd Seay of Dawsonville would capture that win, driving a 1934 Ford Roadster.
So the next time NASCAR visits a road course, and hopefully, a Dawsonville driver wins, remember the twisty turns of Highway 9 that led to it all.