Since the first race on a Sunday afternoon in 1965, change has been the theme of North Georgia Speedway. Another theme is survival.
And a few people have been along for the whole ride. Leon Brindle, Jody Ridley and Gary McPherson are just a few of those who are able to sit down and recount story after story about the dirt track — from its construction in the 1960s to its prime in the 1980s and all the way to more recent years, when it has struggled to be as popular.
While fan attendance and driver turnout has dropped in recent years at the Murray County track, the history runs deep in the dirt that makes up the one-third mile loop, and staff and drivers alike hope the dirt track returns to its former glory as a Saturday night hot spot in Northwest Georgia.
A preacher’s idea
The track’s first historical name was Earnest Young, a local preacher, who built the track in the 1960s. He was friends with Brindle, who was a prominent driver each week at the track for around 40 years.
“That’s how I got my start down there,” said Brindle, a multi-time track champion and a part-owner of Brindle Auto Parts.
The idea for a Chatsworth speedway came from a desire to create a family-friendly atmosphere and give local kids something to do. Did Young have an affection for racing?
“Not really,” Brindle said. “He just wanted to do something for families and kids to have something fun to do.”
But there were some people who balked at the idea of a race track in Chatsworth.
“There were a lot of people who went against it because he was a preacher and it was a race track,” Brindle said. “It was his land, but some people called it a ‘hell hole’ and all of that. But no one had to go.”
While it started out on Sundays, it quickly shifted to Saturday nights in 1971 after lights were built around the track.
“It switched because more people come out on Saturday night than any other night,” Brindle said. “You can go to the races and stay out late and then sleep in the next morning.”
From there, it became a weekly staple of Saturday nights in Chatsworth and received the general nickname of “the fastest one-third mile in the South.”
“It’s the best track that they’ve got anywhere around,” Brindle said.
The look and racing style of the speedway has changed through the years. Originally surrounding the dirt track was a wooden fence. That changed to a concrete wall. With technology came faster speeds and more equipment in the cars. There was a time when drivers would turn a true stock car into a racer with a few simple tricks.
“You would buy a 1972 Camaro, take the doors off and put roll bars around (the car),” Brindle said.
“I’d have kids helping me with it, and I’d pay for them to get in. It was something like $20 to get in, and everyone wanted to go.”
But one part of the track always stayed the same. The surface has always been dirt, which is economical for drivers.
“I’ve raced on all (surfaces),” Brindle said. “(Asphalt) would be tough on the tires. You’d have to change them out after each race. With dirt, you could run three or four weekends in a row on the same tires.”