Motorsports legends recall peach of a track

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By RICK MINTER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 01/30/06 For longtime members of Atlanta's racing community, the Peach Bowl has nothing to do with football.
For them, it's a speedway that once stood on Brady Avenue, north of the heart of Atlanta.
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</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE><!--startclickprintinclude--><!--begintext-->It was a unique track, a quarter-mile circle that operated from 1949 to 1971, running two and sometimes three nights a week with its bump-and-run racing filling the grandstands to capacity.
To its alumni, who gathered again on Sunday at Benefield's in Riverdale for the 17th annual reunion, it had no equal.
The Peach Bowl's driving roster was as impressive as any in motorsports. Many, including Rex White, Sam McQuagg, the late Jack Smith, Gober Sosebee and the legendary Flock brothers, raced at the Peach Bowl and went on to become pillars of the NASCAR division now known as Nextel Cup. Many of the nation's top Midget drivers also raced there, including Red Byron, who switched to stock cars and won the inaugural Cup championship.
On Sunday, drivers, mechanics and others associated with the track met again for a reunion that has become so popular that an invitation is cherished by those lucky enough to be on the list.
Jack Jackson, 77, spent a career as a civil engineer for the city of Atlanta, but in his spare time, he won three championships (1952-54) at the Peach Bowl. He organized the first reunion in 1990 and has managed the gathering since. Attendance Sunday easily topped 200, nearly the seating capacity of Benefield's.
Jackson said the Peach Bowl provided him with the perfect hobby.
"It was safe, cheap, close to home, and if you ran competitively, you could win some money," Jackson said, adding that in 1953 he won $8,000 with a car that cost $500 to build.
"Today on short tracks they have $35,000 cars and race for $1,000 to win," he said. " ... If
you go back over the history of the Peach Bowl, there were probably 2,000 people who raced there just one or two times. It was the greatest training ground for people like me."
Much of the Peach Bowl's success and popularity was due to the innovative approach and fairness shown by the track's longtime promoter, the late Roy Shoemaker.
In addition to mixing figure-8 and Midget racing with the stock car program, Shoemaker also brought in some of the racing's most popular, successful and colorful drivers.
Most agree that the track's first stock car race in 1951 was won by Bob Flock, who with brothers Fonty and Tim went on to become pioneers of NASCAR's elite division.
Charlie Bagwell, 79, who raced regularly on local short tracks until two years ago (and still won't say he's retired), recalled that first race during Sunday's reunion.
"Bob Flock won it in my car," Bagwell said. "I'd already hit everybody out there in the heat race, and Bob ran the feature in my car and won."
Harvey Jones, who is credited with being the sport's premier engine builder in the days when flathead Ford V-8 engines provided the power, said his driver, the late Buddy Shuman, should have been the winner.
"Buddy ran off and left them in the heat race, then they inverted the starting order, and he had to start dead last," Jones said. "He finished third, but if we'd known they were going to invert, I would have had him take it easy in the heat race, and he'd have won."
Jones, 81, rattled off a list of drivers who once drove his powerful cars at the Peach Bowl ? Jack Smith, Russell Nelson, Billy Carden and Johnny Sudderth.
Bagwell, a longtime racer but infrequent winner, pointed out that he also drove Jones-prepared cars on occasion.
"You never had anybody who enjoyed it any more than I do," Bagwell said.
McQuagg, who lives in Columbus, is best remembered for being Cup rookie of the year in 1965 and winning the Firecracker 400 at Daytona the next season. He said that early in his career he regularly made the trek to the Peach Bowl, where he found winning much tougher than on the dirt tracks around Columbus.
"It was very demanding," McQuagg said. "Most of the racers around Columbus didn't want to race at the Peach Bowl. You had to have it all together to win up there."
White, who won 28 Cup races and the 1960 championship, said a burned-out wheel bearing robbed him of a victory in a 500-lap NASCAR-sanctioned race at the Peach Bowl in 1958.
"I led up until the 416th lap," he said.
One of the track's most beloved participants, announcer Jimmy Mosteller, was at Sunday's reunion wearing the same red jacket he wore as announcer at the Peach Bowl.
Known to many as racing's "Little Bitty Buddy," Mosteller emceed the reunion, roaming the restaurant with a microphone, coaxing drivers into recalling their days of glory.
In doing so, Mosteller, 79, got to relive his days operating the long-silenced public address system at the little track at 1040 Brady Ave.
"This brings back my life," he said. "I get to see people I've loved and respected all my life."
 
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