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Georgia’s Pollards Were Into Racing, Not Beans

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 28 2012

Hence Pollard and his family made racing better for competitors and fans alike.

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

ATLANTA, Ga. – Sometimes, while cruising the backroads around my home on the south side of Atlanta, I’ll come across an intersection where in years past there would be a poster nailed to a tree or a power pole. The posters were for races at Senoia Raceway, and they were nailed up by the late Hence Pollard

and his son, Sonny.

Their 3/8-mile dirt track just outside the town of Senoia was a happening place in the early 1970s, with many of the South’s top racers running there on a regular basis.

Hence Pollard was a natural promoter. He carried in his wallet a stack of season passes for his race track. He always made sure I had one before the season opener. That’s probably one of the main reasons I’ve had a career, such as it is, in motorsports.

I often wonder what auto racing, particularly short track racing, would be today if there were more promoters like Hence Pollard. Pollard died more than 30 years ago at just 53 years of age, but he’s still remembered as one of the best in the business.

Veteran racer Mike Head, a member of the several racing halls of fame, said that in all his years of racing, two promoters stood above the rest. One was Southern All-Stars head man B.J. Parker, and the other was Hence Pollard.

“They were the cream of the crop,” Head said. “They were race fans, not bean counters. And when they

Hence Pollard's word was as good as his race track.

gave their word on something, they meant it.

“With them there wasn’t any cutting the purse if the crowd was down. If they had to they’d make up the difference out of their pockets.

“Hence Pollard was a great guy.”

Pollard, whose grandson Bubba Pollard has become one of the top short-track asphalt race drivers in America, was a racer himself in the beginning. Sonny Pollard, who won about 50 races at Senoia himself before turning his attention to his son’s racing, said his father won many a trophy drag racing at tracks in the south Atlanta area.

Hence Pollard also liked to take his family to the dirt track races at the old Newnan Speedway. It was after one of those trips to Newnan that Pollard decided to build a track in the cow pasture adjacent to his home in Senoia.

Pollard, a logger by profession, partnered with local grading contractor David Bishop to build the 3/8-mile oval, which opened on March 16, 1969, with Kenneth Mills winning in Amateur, Bob Moore in Hobby and Leon Sells in Sportsman.

The early stars of the speedway were local dirt trackers like Roscoe Smith, Leon Archer, Fletcher Cavender, Bob Morris, James Green, Randy and Bobby Renfroe, Jack Evans, Gerald Brooks, Bobby Pryor, Kenneth Collins, Curley Allison, Eddie Wells and Billy Clanton. And it wasn’t uncommon for drivers like Buck Simmons, Bud Lunsford, Charlie Mincey, Doug Kenimer, Sells and others to show up on a regular basis. The on-track – and sometimes off-track – battles were the stuff of legend.

For Hence Pollard, that was exactly what he had in mind when he built the track.

“My Daddy wasn’t in it for the money,” Sonny Pollard said. “He was in it because he was a race fan.”

And he didn’t mind spending a little extra money to get the show he wanted.

One night back in the day, Mike Head, always a crowd favorite because of his hard-charging style, showed up at the track without his car. Pollard asked why, and Head told him that he couldn’t afford to get his motor out of the shop.

Pollard told him to come by his house and they’d work something out. When Head arrived, he and Pollard chatted for a bit on the back porch and then Pollard told his wife Reba to give Head the money to pay for his engine.

“I’ll never forget it,” Head said. “She came out with the money in a brown paper bag.

“Hence said he didn’t want me to miss another race, and as long as he ran that race track I never missed another one.”

It wasn’t just the front-runners that Pollard helped.

One night, a struggling Sportsman racer wrecked his car while running at the back of the pack. After the race, the veteran racer told Pollard that he could no longer afford to fix his car.

Pollard asked him what it would take to make the repairs.

“About $75,” the driver answered. Pollard reached into his pocket and counted out the $75.

Another time two drivers in one of the lower divisions crossed the finish line in a near dead heat for second place. The scorers made a ruling, but the third-place finisher politely disputed it to Pollard after his trip to the pay window. Pollard congratulated him on putting on a good show and paid him the difference in third- and second-place pay.

For the Pollards, racing was and is a family affair.

Reba Pollard ran the concession stand and fixed food just as tasty as what she put on the table at home for Sunday dinner.

Daughter Becky, whose son Phillip Bell now works for Ken Schrader Racing, was a scorer. Reba’s brother Billy Whitlock was a track official and assistant flagman, and Sonny Pollard was responsible for watering the track, a chore he did every week for years, missing the duty only once and that was the week of Aug. 31, 1980, when he and his wife Vickie were married.

Family friends like James Millians and Paul Quick graded the track. Local reporter Johnny Brown handled announcing and public relations, and the Masseys from Douglasville, Mayes Sr., and Jr., and Ed, helped with pit rules and enforcement. Brothers Marvin and Arthur Pritchett were long-time track officials, and there were many others too.

But the track’s golden era ended much too soon.

Hence Pollard died of a heart attack in July, 1981, and his family sold the track at the end of that season, a decision they’ve had second thoughts about over the years.

But the patriarch had told his family before he died that they should sell the track if something happened to him.

“We never talked about it much, but we’ve always regretted it,” Sonny Pollard said. “It was a family deal.”

With the track in other hands, Sonny Pollard began racing himself, and in 1997 he won 18 of 20 Sportsman races including 16 in a row. And his mother was there to enthusiastically cheer him on.

“My Mama didn’t ever want me to race, but when I did she liked it,” Sonny said.

After her husband died, Reba Pollard went to work as a mail carrier and was killed when a truck slammed into her postal vehicle.

Today, it’s Hence’s grandson Bubba, at age 25, who is carrying on the family legacy. Last year he won 26 features, pushing his career total past 75. This year, he won the prestigious Rattler at South Alabama Speedway, and raced in the ARCA event at Mobile International Speedway.

His grandparents, no doubt, would be very proud.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 28 2012
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