The Legend of The Peach Bowl Speedway 


Cody Dinsmore

On the last Sunday of January, I attended the annual Peach Bowl Speedway Reunion. While the track has been closed for 53 years, the reunion of drivers, crew, fans and family members have been held for the last 34 years. While it is upsetting to see less and less of the old drivers every year, the reunion still goes on with those eager to keep the memory of the track alive. Last week, NASCAR held the Clash at the Coliseum for the third consecutive year at the ‘temporary’ quarter mile bullring in the LA Coliseum.  I figured this is the perfect opportunity to talk about the Peach Bowl Speedway, in Atlanta. 

Imagine it’s a Friday night in Atlanta, circa 1951. There’s a lot the city has to offer for entertainment, but much different from today’s nightlife. Before the modern technology era of the 21st century, Atlanta was a different place as you can imagine. Sure there were movie theaters and shows, and a few minor sports teams where you could catch a game (Atlanta Crackers Minor League Baseball, and Georgia Tech Football). There were no museums, or multi-million dollar attractions, and the city's first shopping mall was still close to a decade away. So where would you go for entertainment? Chances are, you might find yourself at Peach Bowl Speedway - a ¼ mile track packed with thrills, courtesy of your local daredevils with their screaming Flathead Fords. For only a $1 entry, you could get an entire evening of entertainment where you could cheer for the heroes such as Jack Smith, Gober Sosebee, Charlie Mincey, Charlie Bagwell, Jack Jackson, TC Hunt and the Fabulous Flock Brothers. Regular men doing extraordinary things behind the wheel. 

Unlike other stock car tracks of the era like the one mile Lakewood Speedway, south of town, the Peach Bowl was a bullring right in the heart of the city that hosted races every week. Many tracks of the time would host only special big races every so often, or even once a month. The Peach Bowl at one time, ran as many as three nights a week. It was a place where numerous future hall of famers cut their teeth into the sport of stock car racing. 

In 1949, Georgia Racing Hall of Famer, Roy Shoemaker, built a quarter mile, dirt oval in northwest Atlanta at the corner of Howell Mill Road and Brady Avenue. It was approximately two miles from the world famous Varsity Drive In and the Georgia Tech Campus.  Shoemaker spent roughly $125,000 on construction ($1.5 million, adjusted for inflation) and the track even had lights! Today, it would be rare to not have lights at any sporting complex, but in post war America, the amount of race tracks that could operate at night was extremely few and far between. Opening night in May of 1949, welcomed a capacity crowd of 5,000, eager to experience something totally new. For the first year, the track exclusively hosted midget car racing - purpose built, v8 powered, tiny open wheeled cars. These were the granddaddy of the modern midgets that offer spectacle events today such as the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals. Midgets were very popular in the North, and previously had several races at the 1 mile, dirt Lakewood oval. With the opening of the Peach Bowl Speedway, it was the first time that the little cars had a regular ‘home’ in the area. 

Late in the year, an exhibition was held with just three stock cars. The test was to see how the much larger stock cars could maneuver around the small track, and to see how the fans would react. After the 10 lap dash, it was deemed successful on both accounts. 

Starting in 1950, stock car racing was added to the regular line up under the direction of Bill France Enterprises. NASCAR President, ‘Big Bill’ France, saw a lot of potential in the tiny track in a southern metropolis. Nearly every track that NASCAR had hosted a race at up until that point in time was mostly away from a large city and in a rural area. France worked a deal with Shoemaker to lease the facility for NASCAR-sanctioned Sportsman stock car races, held on Wednesday nights, allowing the midgets to still race on Saturday nights. This move to add stock car racing proved to be immensely successful to the Atlanta crowd, who had already adopted stock cars over the last decade.  

Hall of Famer, Bob Flock, would claim victory in the first stock car race at the track in April, 1950. What transpired almost immediately, was an influx of cars built with the Peach Bowl in mind. Those seasoned racers who preferred the 39’ Fords on the ½ mile and mile tracks, now were building smaller, lighter coupes of 1928-1934 vintage, just for the Peach Bowl.  

In addition to the veterans of Atlanta stock car racing, the Peach Bowl offered an entry level amateur class that welcomed gear heads and dare devils off the streets and put on a show on a real track in front of thousands of fans. That's exactly what happened with Hall of Famer, Charlie Mincey, who’s full time job for five years was running moonshine from Dawsonville to Atlanta. Although he never once got caught by the law, his new bride and his father feared his luck would run out. Mincey’s father who ran a body shop near the track, talked with track owner, Roy Shoemaker, who then orchestrated a car to be built and to let Mincey try out the whole ‘racing thing’.  Mincey won his second race he entered and never raced the backroads again. With a few years’ success under his belt and regularly beating the ‘veterans’, Mincey even drove a 34’ Ford owned by Shoemaker. Together they not only cleaned house at the home track, but often found the winner’s trophy at a host of other local tracks.

In September of 1950, at the heels of the Inaugural Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Bill France worked a deal with Shoemaker to pave the track. A paved and lit track….in 1950!  Jack Smith won the last race on dirt and the first on asphalt. 

With the addition of asphalt, the lightweight midget cars did not make the transition as well as their heavier full bodied counterparts and soon faded away from the schedule. This gave France both Wednesday night and Saturday night NASCAR-sanctioned shows. France gave up the lease of the track in 1952, but continued to host sanctioned races there for many years to come including a Convertible Division race in 1956 & 1957. 

Around 1960, hoping to bank off of the new craze around southern short tracks, Shoemaker welcomed Super Modified Cars to his track. These cars, also known as ‘Skeeters’, were nearly an open class. In this era, a super modified usually was built from an early 30’s sedan. The cars were shortened, narrowed, received a large engine with the top performance modifications of the day and sometimes had a wing on top. Over the next five years, the cars got faster, lower and eventually less and less body and more specially grafted sheet metal. This move provided the Peach Bowl with weekly crowds not seen in years. They ran the late model cars on Friday nights and Super Modifeds on Sunday night. The Skeeter era in Georgia was a short, but memorable one. The cars were so fast for their time and of course, dangerous. This era at the Peach Bowl presented names like Bud Lunsford, Cabbage Pendley, Bill Hemby, Katron Sosebee, Freddy Fryar, Charlie Mincey, and even the Alabama Gang of Bobby, and Donnie Allison with Red Farmer. 

In 1965, track owner Roy Shoemaker made the decision to integrate his grandstands. During the tense Civil Rights era in Atlanta, the Peach Bowl, like so many other businesses and establishments, had segregated stands. Shoemaker took it upon himself to get rid of the black section and welcomed everyone to sit together. He wasn’t forced or pressured to do so, he did it because he wanted to. 

The late 60’s brought the Late Model Sportsman era to the track, cars consisting of modern, modified cars that brought NASCAR sanctioning again. These LMS cars were widely popular across the south and at many new tracks popping up that would eventually lend a hand to the Peach Bowl’s demise. 

In an effort to rekindle the crowds of the tracks’ infancy, Shoemaker paved two crossed paths in the infield and hosted ‘figure 8’ races. Like many other new ideas he had, the “Crazy 8 Races” were very popular with the crowd.

In 1970, Shoemaker cut back to one show per week as many other short tracks were hosting races on other nights and luring away racers and fans alike. Shoemaker sold the track at the end of the season. Longtime Peach Bowl racer, TC Hunt along with an attorney partner promoted races at the track the following season in 71’, but was ultimately sold again at the end of the season, this time to the city of Atlanta. The property was bought for the new MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) program for a bus repair facility that is still used today. 

In less than a year after it’s final checkered flag, the small but impactful track had been leveled.  Times changed. In the 22 years the track was in operation, think about the difference in technology, cars, fashion, music, etc. The Atlanta Falcons started in 1965 with the Braves the following year. While the sport of auto racing was not dying, dozens of new tracks were opened in the state in North Georgia, Metro Atlanta and below Atlanta. Tracks like Rome Speedway, Dixie, Middle Georgia, and Jefco among others were attractive to both fans and drivers. Even back then, Atlanta traffic was something else; hence the appeal of tracks in more rural areas. 

As mentioned at the top of the article, the annual Peach Bowl Speedway is held annually the last Sunday in January. In 1990, former track champion Jack Jackson, organized a get together of old friends to swap stories and memories. At the time, the beloved track had only been closed for 18 years. Coincidentally enough, the reunion has been going on longer than the track was in existence for. Still hosting the reunion at 95 years old, Jack Jackson has been keeping the memory of the old Peach Bowl alive. 

It was a special place for all who were associated with the track. It was the place where you could enter a jalopy race fresh off the street and later compete against stars of the top divisions. I have heard countless stories of fans telling of their favorite drivers and even from folks that weren’t necessarily racing fans, but yet have memories of going to watch, maybe on a date. I’ve even heard stories of racecars being driven over to the Varsity Drive-In after a race. 

Having a small little auto racing track in a Metropolitan area is a rarity. And no matter your opinion on the Clash at the Coliseum, even though it’s a different era and a different time, I look at it as a nod to a past era. No matter where you’re from or where you grew up, chances are, you had a grass roots ‘Peach Bowl’ of your own.