The votes are in, and the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame class of 2008 has been chosen, and this year’s inductees amount to one of the best groups yet. The Georgia Racing Hall of Fame voted this past Saturday on the eight inductees at the Hall of Fame in Dawsonville.
The 2008 class features racing pioneers, as well as those who helped elevate the sport to where it is today.
First on the list, which is in no particular order, is Bill Gazaway, of Newnan, who joined NASCAR in 1960 as a team owner, with his cars making seven starts. But Gazaway is best remembered for being NASCAR’s vice president of competition, a position he would hold from 1984 to his retirement in 1987. Gazaway started as a tech inspector for NASCAR in 1963, and was known throughout the racing world for his commitment to the sport.
He passed away on June 29, 2006.
Next is Atlanta native Jack Jackson, who started racing in the early 50s in the jalopy division at the legendary Peach Bowl Speedway in Atlanta, moving quickly up to the sportsman division, where he became a multi-year champion at the speedway.
Jackson is the founder of the annual Peach Bowl Speedway reunion. Jackson and fellow Hall of Famer Jimmy Mosteller were the founders of the Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame Association.
Next on the list is Columbus native Sam McQuagg. McQuagg was a constant winner at Valdosta, and at Auburn-Opelika, in Alabama. In 1965, McQuagg made 14 starts in NASCAR’s Grand National (now Sprint Cup) division, recording two top fives and five top tens en route to being named the rookie of the year.
McQuagg won his only Cup event the following year in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona Beach, Fla., piloting a Ray Nichels owned Dodge that was equipped with the first spoiler in NASCAR history.
Charlie Padgett, of Jasper, started his career at a track in Dalton. He was the Southern Racing Enterprises Modified Champion in 1956, racing at Canton, Dallas, the Peach Bowl, Banks County Speedway, Gainesville Speedway and Toccoa Speedway. Padgett came into his own at the legendary Athens Speedway in Athens, Ga., where he won the July 4 Mid-Season Championship event in 1964 and 1966, and the Labor Day Championship event in 1964 and 1965.
Randy Payne, of Rome Ga., picked up the nickname “Mr. Big Stuff” after piloting his famed Ford Torino Cobra to several victories in the late 60s, including Canada’s first sanctioned drag race. He was nominated driver of the year by Car Craft magazine four years in a row, and is a member of East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame.
Some credit Payne, along with fellow Hall of Famer Hubert Platt and Atlanta’s “Dyno Don” Nicholson for inventing match drag racing in the south in the mid-60s. Payne and Platt were teammates, taking on all comers in their hot rod Fords.
Up next is Wilbur Rakestraw, from Dallas, who raced across the south with the Southern Racing Enterprises. Rakestraw competed in 30 NASCAR Cup events between 1956 and 1961, picking up one top five finish at Columbia, S.C., and recording six top ten finishes. Rakestraw also competed in the first three Daytona 500s.
Next is car owner Walter Dewey “Dub” Smith. With Atlanta mechanic Harvey Jones turning the wrenches, Smith’s cars won many races at the Peach Bowl in the early 1960s with John Sudderth behind the wheel.
In the late 1960s, Smith was part of the efforts to revive Lakewood Speedway, along with Ernie Moore and former Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield.
Smith passed away in the late 1980s.
Finally, we reach race promoter Mike Swims of Woodstock.
Swims may have been one of the most important promoters in dirt track racing. Swims served as Vice President and General Manager of both Dixie Speedway and Rome Speedway, and was one of the founders of the Hav-A-Tampa dirt late model series in 1990. Under his guidance, the tracks flourished, drawing competitors from all over the country for their annual “Shootout” dirt late model events.
Swims died in September of 2007 following a seven-year long battle with cancer.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony and banquet will be held on October 24 at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Dawsonville.