Charlie Mincey Part 1: Moonshine Runner Turned Stock Car Racer


By Cody Dinsmore

Imagine it’s a quiet summer night in 1945 on GA Highway 9, somewhere between Dahlonega and Atlanta. A black 39’ Ford Tudor just went whizzing by with a young man behind the wheel. A real young man. It very likely could’ve been a 14 year old Charlie Mincey, who was already out of sight. Mincey was on his way to work, or rather he was working. 

It’s hard to imagine that scenario now, but it was very much true and very much a reality in that time period. And as wild as the thought of running moonshine at 14 wasn’t enough, this young man actually started driving at 10, legally at 12..... yes, twelve years old

This was the start of a lifelong driving career for Charles Mincey, who went on to race stock cars for over 30 years and later become enshrined into the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in 2004.

Charlie was born in 1931 in Northwest Atlanta. His father, Roy, owned a paint and body shop and he eventually allowed his son to deliver customer cars at the age of 10. Charlie was tall for his age, and Atlanta was a much different and smaller place. Two years later, while his father was always busy with his shop, Charlie convinced a neighbor to pose as his mother, and take him to the State Patrol office to apply for a driver’s license. He was 12 years old and had been driving on the road for two years, so he figured, why not be ‘legal’.  Of course in those times, you didn’t have to provide proof of residence, bills, social security, etc. You just needed a guardian's approval. So Mincey said he was '16', and this was his 'mother'. He gave the officer a quick test drive and off he went with his new legal driver’s license!  In fact, he got his first speeding ticket not long after getting his license. He was delivering a 1935 LaSalle for a paint customer and was clocked at a reported 85 miles per hour in downtown Atlanta! 

Charlie got into hauling moonshine when he was 14. It wasn’t looked down upon - most people looked at it as a necessity to survive. Charlie was looking for greater income than what he could make at his father’s body shop. He had got hooked up with a few people from Dawsonville, the ‘unofficial’ moonshine capital of Georgia, and a time and meeting place was set. Charlie and a friend, Guy Waller, who was a part time racer and part time liquor hauler, took his 39’ Ford sedan up to the mountains at night, paid for his load of liquor at $2.50/gallon and headed back to Atlanta where he had a buyer lined up. The very first run, he was spooked by headlights in his rearview, presumably from the law. His passenger immediately wanted to lighten the load by the gallons, but Mincey had just spent hard-earned money on the load, and needed every gallon to make it back. He told Guy to hold on and give him a minute, they’d lose them. And eventually, they did. In a 5 year run of hauling moonshine, that was as close as the law ever got to Mincey. Once or twice were the revenuers able to shoot at his car, but since his father owned a body shop, covering up bullet holes was an easy fix.

After one run, Mincey decided that this industry could be profitable for him. He had bought his used Ford for about $500 and had legendary racer, Bob Flock, prepare a modified flathead engine for the car. He soon had the suspension reworked and all the seats removed but the driver’s. He eventually bought another 39’ for personal use and reserved this one exclusively for his night time driving duties. 

Charlie told me in a 2010 interview that he tried to be crafty with his liquor cars. For example, he had a switch wired to cut the brake/tail lights off, but kept the headlights on. That way if someone was tailing him at night, the pursuer would have no idea where he was braking. Mincey also had the typical extra leaf springs in the rear, that would make a loaded car sit as level as a stock one. He also explained that he had a 'hopped up' flathead V8, with three carburetors, custom cam, intake and headers with dual exhaust. However, he purposely cut one exhaust pipe off before it reached the rear bumper. In those days, if a lawman noticed a car with dual exhaust, chances were, it was a ‘trippers’ car. He even had an aftermarket Columbia 2-Speed Overdrive installed. With the flip of a switch, it would give his Ford a higher top speed and lower rpm's. Charlie told me even with a full load, he could reach speeds of well over 100 mph on a straight stretch of road. 

Mincey would prefer to do his hauling in the wee hours of the morning, when traffic was at its lightest. He’d leave Atlanta late at night and get to Dawsonville around midnight, Then he’d go to the pickup point about 5 miles outside town. The distance from Dawsonville to Atlanta is roughly 60 miles, via the narrow and twisty Highway 9. Charlie would keep a pace of 50-60 mph if he was alone on the road and could get back to the city in about an hour.  Of course, back in the late 1940’s, rarely did anyone have a reason to be out at night. According to Charlie, “We’d leave Dawsonville at 1 or 2 in the morning and there wasn’t anybody on the road except you and maybe the law. If you saw a set of headlights behind you, you knew you had to go because you didn’t know who it was. You couldn’t let them catch up to you.”

Fortunately for many moonshine trippers like himself, the local law usually wasn’t a worry. Back in those days, the rural towns on the way to Atlanta usually could only afford six cylinder patrol cars. However, the federal agents, or the ATF, had a bigger budget. Over time, the revenuers would learn to take their cars to the same garages and performance shops that the bootleggers would. While it did level the playing field, the moonshine haulers had more money for even more performance parts, and in many instances, you just had to out drive them. 

Charlie preferred to do his hauling with metal one gallon cans, wrapped in burlap. Many people think of glass mason jars and pottery jugs when you think of a moonshiner’s trunk, but Mincey liked the metal cans, because they were stackable and more importantly, wouldn’t shatter. Charlie would say if the cans were stacked right, and the rear & passenger seats were removed, he could get 200 gallons in his car. At roughly 8 pounds per gallon, figure on an additional 1600 pounds in that car! Not only was a stiffer suspension and faster engine needed to compensate for the weight, but also a skilled driver that was fearless on the curvy trek to the big city. 

Once back in Atlanta and unloaded, Mincey profited $1 per gallon; that’s $200 a night for a couple hours of ‘work’. He would make this run at least once a night, sometimes twice, seven days a do the math. Mincey was one of many that made more in one month, than the national yearly average for that time! And he still worked at his father's shop during the day. 

Not having a savings account, Charlie once flew himself and a few friends to New York City in 1947. He feared he had too much money stashed at his home and needed to get rid of some.

So they went on a spending spree in Manhattan on fancy clothes, Broadway shows, and fine food. At the end of their week, they shipped their purchases back to Atlanta and flew back themselves.

In 1950, at the ripe old age of 19 years old, Charlie would retire from his days running the backroads in exchange for running ovals for the next 30 years. It wasn’t a sentence, he never once got caught. It was his new bride, Carolyn, and his father, Roy, that feared his luck was running out. Roy Mincey arranged a meeting with Roy Shoemaker, who was the owner and promoter of the newly opened Peach Bowl Speedway in Atlanta. He sought advice on how to get his son racing on track and not the roads. Shoemaker directed him to Ralph ‘Bad Eye’ Shirley, brother in law to Raymond Parks, and Billie Hester, owner of the Cherokee Garage. Together, they entered the young Mincey in a race in the amateur division at the Peach Bowl. He won the first two races he entered. For his third race, the track promoted him to the Sportsman’s division. Now he was against real racers. Grown men and veteran racers like Gober Sosebee, Bob Flock and Jack Smith, who would finish second to this ‘kid’. He beat them all in his first outing. What Smith didn’t know was that while the young Mincey didn’t have any actual racing experience, he had logged thousands of hours of seat time on Highway 9.

Charlie soon was driving a specially built 1934 Ford modified under the Cherokee Garage banner. Gober Sosebee would soon build a sister car for himself after seeing the success of the young racer. Mincey was a regular favorite at the Peach Bowl Speedway where he won countless races, but also branched out to other racetracks across North Georgia and Metro Atlanta such as the Dallas Speedbowl, Looper Speedway in Gainesville, Boyd’s Speedway in Ringgold, Columbus Ga, Lakewood in Atlanta, and Toccoa among others. 

In 1954, Roy Shoemaker, owner of the Peach Bowl, was so taken aback with Mincey’s driving, that he bought a 34' Ford racecar and hired Charlie to drive it all over the state. In 25 races, he won 22 of them! The following year, he would be named the 1955 Georgia State Modified Champion. Quite a step up from delivering cars across town as a child a little over a decade prior.  In 1957, Charlie had begun to race a brand new 1957 Chevrolet  among many southern tracks on the Southern Racing Enterprises (SRE) circuit, a regional circuit that many future Georgia Racing Hall of Famers found great success in. 

And while it seems that Mincey had a pretty rewarding driving career up to this point, he was a mainstay and regular winner on tracks across the state for the next 20+ years.  In a future article, I’ll address his later years in both the “Skeeter” era of the early 60’s, as well as the late model era of the 1970’s, both dirt and asphalt.  

Charlie wasn’t shy to talk about his moonshining days of his youth. Later in life, he even had another 39 Ford Standard Sedan - a tribute to the beloved car of his youth. In 2010, I videoed him talking about his Ford and him explaining the many tricks and modifications that bootleggers used. While he was unsure if it was the exact car he had decades prior, he noted it did have many of the same features and upgrades he would’ve had back in the day. When I did this quick interview, I was about the same age as Charlie when he started hauling. It was maybe the second time I’d ever used a camera, but even today, that video still has almost 400k views! If you’d like to see the video of Charlie telling a young me about his car, I posted the link below.

In the summer of 2013, I invited Charlie to bring his car to Dawsonville as the Discovery Channel was working on a short excerpt about Moonshine for their 'Mysteries at the Museum' tv show. The production crew had asked if I could round up a couple of period correct cars for a quick scene. We went to a rural part of the county and spent several hours collecting shots of Charlie's 39' and another 40' Ford going up and down a gravel road. After a few passes of slow driving, the producers asked if the cars could 'speed up a little'. And that's all Charlie Mincey needed to hear. He was 82 years old at the time, but what I witnessed could've been him at 18. Needless to say, he hadn't lost his touch as he gave his old Ford a proper thrashing on the Georgia backroads. 

When he passed away in 2016, I was asked to be a pallbearer at his funeral. An honor I still hold highly today.

Charlie was truly one of the last of his kind - a real moonshine runner turned hall of fame stock car racer that not only made a career of it, but also lived to tell it!