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November 10, 2013

Thunderbowl memories: Reunion recalls racetrack

HAHIRA — The Eighth Annual Thunderbowl Auto Racing Hall of Fame Reunion was at the Hahira Historical Society Saturday. The event was filled with former racers from around Georgia; they all reminisced about their former racing years.

Some of the big names there were Eddie MacDonald, Sputter Ragans, Louie Radney Jr., Wayne Davis, George Martin, Ronnie Lieupo, Charlie Hatch, Hazel Jones to remember her husband, Harvey Jones, and Jimmy Murphy, among others.

Radney, former racer and owner of Thunderbowl Speedway from 1975–1999, said, “Racing back then was dog-eat-dog. I had an older guy tell me, ‘We’d go to a fight, and a race would break out.’”

MacDonald was the oldest, and most respected, racer there. MacDonald began racing in 1947; he drove the “Golden No. 90.”

Then, the entire sport was trial and error. If a racer lost, then he would send someone to the winner’s circle to take notes on the winner’s car.

“Racing is hard work. We didn’t know anything about it back then, and we had to do everything by hand. We learned by trail and error; we’d constantly be changing the parts around,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald enjoyed the racing because he enjoyed the competition. He estimates that he won around 1,150 to 1,200 races.

Davis had his first race at Thunderbowl in 1972 and raced there until 1986. Davis then advanced to sprint car racing in Indiana.

“It’s been in my blood all of my life, and racing taught me respect,” Davis said.

Davis recalled speeding down the track reaching speeds from 65 to 110 miles per hour, turning to your right, but going left.

“Slipping and sliding is the good thing about dirty racing. Now, kids are into drifting. We’ve been drifting for 40 years, on dirt,” Davis said.

Hatch started racing on dirt tracks in 1963, and he stopped when it stopped being fun, in 1990. Hatch enjoyed meeting other drivers and going to different tracks, especially Thunderbowl.

“We didn’t get in it for the money, we got in it for the fun,” Hatch said.

Murphy raced for 35 years, beginning in 1972. Murphy recalled being asked to race in Lake City, Fla., but he won 52 out of 56 races, then they told him not to come back again because he won too much.

Harvey Jones drove the blue No. 6, and he won the first Thunderbowl Speedway race in 1949; he raced until 2002. Harvey passed away three years ago, but his wife, Hazel Jones, was there in remembrance of Harvey. Hazel has never driven an automobile, but she was married to one of the most respected racers in Georgia.

“Harvey raced clean. People wanted to beat him because beating Harvey meant beating somebody,” Hazel said. “Racers respected him. He was protested many times, but never found illegal, and he was proud of that record.”

Marvin Mills, race car owner said, “A lot of drivers got a bad rap, but most of them are pretty good folks. They would knock your tail off on the track, but if you had a child that needed some help, they’d be the first one to come to your door.”

The one thing all of these racers had in common was they all enjoyed the atmosphere and the community that racing provided. This was also an atmosphere where respect was won, not given.

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