George Elliott stopped in for a bite at the Dawsonville Pool Room in the mid-1970s, and told Gordon Pirkle, the joint’s owner, that the Elliott family was going to take a run at NASCAR.
At that moment, Pirkle was fully on board.
In the beginning, Pirkle was head cheerleader, rallying together everyone to root for hometown folks. Bill Elliott, the youngest son, had proven his driving skills at Dixie Speedway near Atlanta. And, the other Elliotts — George, Ernie and Dan — were hard-working, mountain smart and book smart, all having graduated from college. More than that, they had wily minds that could conceive and produce engineering feats that baffled Detroit’s finest.
“I knowed that George and them boys would go places,” Pirkle said. “I knowed George all his life, and he didn’t back off. Moonshine was Dawson’s first industry. Then came racing. We had Raymond Parks, Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall, Gober Sosebee. There’s no county that has produced more Daytona winners than Dawson. It’s in our blood.”
The mountain curves are treacherous. In the early days, the hometown moonshine runners knew those menacing mountain turns so well that they killed their head lights, revved their juiced-up engines, then left the sheriff behind.
Parks had been so deeply involved in NASCAR’s early organization (he was there during the official formation at the Streamline Motel in Daytona) that Pirkle and David, Sosebee’s son, began a diligent campaign, using every contact they had to get him into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It took years of doggedness, but in 2017, Pirkle and the Dawson County constituency attended to watch Parks’ induction.
This Hall of Fame accomplishment is such that it will probably never be equaled for a variety of reasons, including the fact that racing pioneers of the 1940s and ‘50s are increasingly overlooked. Bill Elliott is there too. Other than the Pettys from Level Cross, no town is represented as grandly as Dawsonville. Seay should be there too. Chase Elliott will surely make it one day.
The Elliotts, as storied as they became, struggled for years, trying to make it on George Elliott’s money and bits of sponsorship. In 1983’s last race in Riverside, California, the red-head who commanded the mountain curves of his upbringing, won his first NASCAR race on a road course.
Pirkle and several friends were listening to the radio when it looked like Bill Elliott was going to win his first race. Then, an idea hit Pirkle. Years earlier, he had donated a siren to a volunteer fire department. They had recently bought a new one, so Pirkle’s brother-in-law returned the siren. It was sitting in the junk room next to the Dawsonville Pool Room.
Pirkle lugged the siren out and hooked it up. When Bill Elliott won, the screeching, honking siren blasted. It sounded for hours. People stopped to ask, “What’s going on?”
“Bill Elliott won his first race and we’re celebratin’” Pirkle announced happily.
Every race fan today knows about the Dawsonville Pool Room and its siren that screams when a Dawsonville driver wins a race. In 1984, the Elliotts nudged up into the group of top teams. In 1985, they became the top team, leaving all others in their dust.
Pirkle, historian extraordinaire, became the goodwill ambassador and spent endless hours feeding the pool room’s Bully Burgers to the press, reciting the county’s deep history and even taking some to see Seay’s grave with the large monument that Parks bought for him.
When Pirkle decided to reopen the Dawsonville Pool Room after the pandemic, he invited me and Gov. Brian Kemp to help cut the ribbon. Afterward, a small group gathered for a lunch of chili dogs and burgers. I began telling astonishing stories of the race drivers whose photos hang on the wall.
Kemp’s eyes widened. Pirkle smiled and nodded.
“That’s right,” Pirkle said. “Every word she’s tellin’ is the gospel.”
Gordon Pirkle taught me well. I love that man deeply.
This is the final installment in a three-part series about Gordon Pirkle, an Appalachian legend. Sign up for Ronda Rich’s free weekly newsletter at rondarich.com.