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Georgia’s Fame Hall Is Packed With Legends

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 24 2011

Bill Elliott may have become the best known member of the Elliott family, but he is not the only member to have an impact on the sport. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

The Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Dawsonville is no match for the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, but for racing folks in the Peach State, it’s still a big deal.

And this year’s class of inductees show just how big a role Georgians have played in NASCAR – and in auto racing in general – over the years.

Heading the class of five is the late George Elliott, the patriarch of the racing Elliott family that includes brothers Bill, Ernie and Dan, and two of George’s grandchildren, Bill’s son Chase and Ernie’s late son Casey.

Long before the second generation ever participated in auto racing, George was a fixture on the Southeastern racing scene. He was well known for his love of Fords – and his hatred of any other brand. And he was just as well known for his thrifty ways and for occasionally going barefoot in the pit areas of the local dirt tracks.

But despite the initial impression he might have made on some, he was a smart, educated businessman and a knowledgable race car owner.

In his early days, he fielded cars in NASCAR’s old Sportsman division for drivers like Dan Lingerfelt and Aaron Gailey. Lingerfelt scored one of Elliott’s biggest triumphs as an owner back in the 1960s when he outran some of the nation’s best Sportsman racers on the one-mile Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta.

Elliott’s first foray into the series now known as Sprint Cup came in 1966, with Don Tilley

Fans line up en masse to get the autograph of young driver Chase Elliott, who appears to have bright future in racing. (Photo courtesy of Cindy Elliott)

driving. Others who drove Elliott’s Fords included Harry Gailey, A.J. Reno, Charles Barrett, Al Holbert and David Hobbs.

When his sons were old enough to go racing, Elliott bought a Ford once driven by Donnie Allison, but Bill Elliott never was able to qualify the car. Next he bought a well-used Torino that had been driven by Richie Panch. This time Bill did get in the starting field, at Rockingham in 1976. He ran only 32 laps before the engine blew. As Bill Elliott continued to improve as a driver and Ernie and Dan got better at preparing cars, George Elliott realized he’d carried his sons as far as he could so he sold the family’s race team to Harry Melling. The rest, as they say, is history. George Elliott ended his Cup car owner career without a win, but he did compete in 68 races with one pole, two top-five and 23 top-10 finishes.

Also being inducted is Harold Kite, who raced primarily on the short tracks of the Southeast but also made an occasional start in NASCAR’s elite division.

In his first start in the series now known as Sprint Cup, he started on the pole for the 1950 race on the beach at Daytona and led 38 of 48 laps to get the win.

In 1965, at age 43 and nine years since his previous start in Cup, he qualified for the National 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway but was killed in a Lap One crash.

Inductee Swayne Pritchett was on his way to becoming one of NASCAR’s first stars when he was killed in a crash at a north Georgia race track.

Pritchett latched on early to promoter Bill France and ran in a race promoted by France on the Daytona Beach road-beach course in 1947. He continued with France’s pre-NASCAR circuit that year, finishing 17th in points.

In 1948, Pritchett became the 23rd driver to obtain a license for France’s new racing

David Ragan's father, Ken, is a Georgia racing hall of famer. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

organization – NASCAR. He finished fifth at Daytona, third at Augusta and fourth at North Wilkesboro and was sixth place in the NASCAR point standings when he was killed in a non-NASCAR race at Jackson County Speedway near Jefferson, Ga.

Pritchett had won the feature race but collided with a lapped car after taking the checkered flag. He was thrown from his car and died from his injuries. He was just 26 years old.

Also being inducted is Ken Ragan, the father of Cup driver David Ragan. Ken Ragan had a driving career of his own. He won a World Karting Association championship in 1978, then moved on to Sportsman racing. He won the final race held at Middle Georgia Raceway in Byron and also raced in ARCA and Sprint Cup.

He made 50 starts in Cup, including four in the Daytona 500, where he had a best finish of 14th, in 1984. His Cup career best finish of 11th came at Talladega, also in 1984.

The fifth inductee is Mike Head, from Ellenwood, Ga., a man who is familiar to anyone who follows dirt Late Model racing.

Head has been winning races and track championships across the South for decades. He was inducted into the National Dirt Racing Hall of Fame last year and continues to compete. He won the 2011 season opener at New Senoia Raceway in Senoia, Ga.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 24 2011
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