Pit stop for legends
In terms of legacies that have turned wheels on the track, the names go on and on.
From current NASCAR drivers to multi-time champions, a number of drivers have passed through the speedway.
Bill Elliot, the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup champion, leads the list. Ronnie Johnson and Dale McDowell, who both won multiple Southern All Star Series championships, follow. Current NASCAR driver Kenny Schrader even made a few appearances.
Ridley is another. A lifelong Chatsworth resident, he made his break onto the national racing scene in 1972 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But Ridley ran his first race in 1965 when North Georgia Speedway first opened.
“It wasn’t really a series at that time,” he said, noting points standings were not kept from week to week. “Over the years they kept adding to it and adding to it. Now it’s probably one of the nicest dirt tracks around.”
Ridley’s last race he ran at the track was in the early 1970s; he later became the 1980 NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year. He had two top-five finishes, 18 top 10s and was seventh in the final standings that year.
“A lot of racers who got their start at the North Georgia Speedway have gone on to bigger series races and such,” driver Gary McPherson said. “We would have 24 Super Late Model cars of well-known drivers — Ronnie Johnson, Rex Richie, Don Jones, Dale McDowell. And (North Georgia) was their rooting ground.”
McPherson is another well-known name around the track. He started racing at the speedway in 1988 and won the track’s season championship 15 times.
“When we first came there, I think the first trips I made, Robert Kinsey was the promoter then,” McPherson said. “We were racing at Cleveland (Tenn.) Speedway on Saturday nights, and then we started racing at the North Georgia Speedway when Kinsey took it over.”
McPherson said his generation’s theme was “run fast with what you’ve got.
“We built engines to run,” he said. “When we were racing, we wanted bigger motors and faster cars.”
When it came to the usual names that showed up each week at the speedway, it was always about competitive fun.
“Everybody just goes to have fun,” Brindle said. “I’ve been racing for over 40 years and I always have fun. You have a few people (who get) upset down there, but the next week it would be OK.”
“It’s a little bit different than it is now,” Ridley said. “There wasn’t a lot of money involved. You congregated a whole lot more. Now people just kind of stay to themselves. I was making a living, but most people were doing it for fun.”
And the brotherhood that existed among the drivers might have started at the speedway but grew outside of it.
“Sometimes it would get rained out and we’d take off and go somewhere else,” Ridley said, “and everyone would follow one another.”