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Dawsonville gets a front seat on the fast track to fame with Larry the Cable Guy

POSTED: February 8, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Frank Reddy/Times regional staff

Larry the Cable Guy makes a phone call to Hayley Garrett's daughter, Sandy Dempsey, to prove she's not lying about his visit to the Dawsonville Pool Room. The comedian was in Dawsonville to film a segment of "Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy," for History that airs tonight at 9.

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What do Larry the Cable Guy and Dawsonville have in common? Both are experiencing celebrity tonight, though Larry is rather used to it by now.

Dawsonville residents got a brush with fame back in May when Larry the Cable Guy spent a day in the city filming his new series, "Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy," set to premiere tonight at 9 on "History" (The History Channel).

In the series, Larry, whose given name is Daniel Whitney, lets viewers in on the unique history of America, visiting cities across the country and taking a lighthearted look at each town's claim to fame.

And yes, he will even sprinkle in a few "git-r-dones" along the way.

Dawsonville's moonshining, stock car-racing past will be spotlighted in the premiere, which follows the comedian from a bumpy, blindfolded ride through the woods to a moonshine still, to a considerably faster ride with racing legend Bill Elliott.

Georgia Racing Hall of Fame CEO Gordon Pirkle, who also owns the Dawsonville Pool Room, another site featured on the show, helped coordinate the film crew's trek through the city.

"This is probably the fifth or sixth History Channel documentary we did on moonshine — moonshine and the beginning of stock car racing. We did one for CMT one time," said Pirkle, who accompanied the crew for most of the shoot.

"Whenever anybody wanted to do something about moonshine and racing, they always contact me," he said.

Pirkle's pool room, also a diner, was one of the last stops for the film crew, but will be featured first in the premiere.

"This is the first time I've ever met him up close. He's a heck of a guy," he said.

Larry was eager to sign autographs for fans that gathered that day, Pirkle said.

"He did a (pool) shot. He was going to show us a trick shot, and that's after they got through filming," he said.

"He broke the tip off the que stick, so he autographed it and gave it to one of my grandkids."

In fact, Larry was so friendly to fans, Pirkle said the production company requested that he help "keep Larry reigned in."

"He'd go out in the crowd if there's anybody there signing autographs," he said.

"I looked out the window there — we was just finishing up on my scene — and I said, ‘Doggone, he's out there kissing some kid,'" said Pirkle. "(He was) picking him up, and come to find out, it was his kid. His wife and two kids joined him up there. And they went with us up to do the scene that we did up at Bill Elliott's race shop."

The scene at Elliott's shop was a complete surprise to Larry, who is a big fan of "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville."

"We kept that a secret," said Pirkle, adding that it was the production crew's idea.

"They said, ‘Let's keep this a secret from Larry. We want this to be a surprise,'" he said.

"And he sure got surprised, alright. They went up there and toured the shop and everything."

Larry got more than a tour from Elliott, as the two sped down the driver's air strip in a souped-up Mustang.

"Bill's got a driving development program. He's got a few young drivers, and he's got a Mustang that's got a race engine in it, that he takes them out on the air strip there and teaches them how to do burn-outs.

"In the end of the show, he got Larry in that thing. Larry didn't know what he was going to do, and they'd done put cameras all in that thing," Pirkle said.

"I was raised up here in Dawsonville, I've seen more — we call it clowning here, doing burn-outs and stuff — than anybody, but I've never seen one like that, and I know he scared Larry to death."

But Larry regained his composure in time to joke with the crowd, Pirkle said.

"Larry got out, and they had us back out of the way, and he hollered to everybody, he said, ‘Well, crowd, you're fixing to see the murder of Bill Elliott. But no, not right now — I've got to go change my pants,'" he said.

Pirkle, whose family goes back seven generations in Dawson County, said he is excited to see the premiere of the show.

"There ain't nobody no prouder of this town than I am," he said.

"We've got such a unique history here, and that's how come they ended up here, you know. People count it the moonshine capitol of the world, and this is the birthplace of stock car racing — it's where NASCAR all began."

Dawsonville Mayor Joe Lane Cox was unable to attend the shoot, but said he is "glad (Larry) came by, and glad he's going to expose us," adding that he is also excited about watching the show.

City councilman Calvin Byrd met Larry at the Elliott racing shop, and chatted with the comedian about college football.

"We talked in the group there for a little while, and he told some stories, and we was talking about college football. (Football) was fixing to start up, so we talked about that some, and then I talked to him about the Moonshine Festival," said Byrd.

Byrd asked Larry to be the grand marshal of the festival, which was in October, but he couldn't because of a scheduling conflict.

He will try again for this year's festival, Byrd said, since Larry seemed interested in the idea.

"He had a conflict in his schedule this year, but he did tell me to put him on the list, so maybe one of these days we might could get him to be a grand marshal," he said.

Byrd said he had been a fan of Larry before they met, but "I definitely have a lot more respect for him and (am) a bigger fan of Larry the Cable Guy after I met him."

"He just took a lot of time with each person, sat there and interacted with them, and (is) just a very nice man, and it was a treat to get to meet him," he said.

The crew spent about 16 hours filming, but Pirkle said they would have stayed longer.

"They told me after they left that if they knew there was this much history here, (they) would've scheduled a two-day shoot," Pirkle said.

Dawsonville residents Dwight Bearden, whose family history of moonshining is well known, and David Sosebee, son of racing pioneer Gober Sosebee, also were featured in the segment.

Dawsonville will be the first city featured in the premiere, which also follows Larry to Burlington, Vt., and Calaveras County, Calif.

 



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