Born 1955, Dawsonville
My younger brother and I shared a bedroom in a one-story brick house five miles outside of Dawsonville in the middle of nowhere. Atlanta was an hour away, but it seemed much farther. In the 1960s, Dawsonville had a main street with a local grocer next to City Hall, a pharmacy, a hardware store, Gordon Pirkle’s poolroom, and not a single traffic light. Everything else we needed, we grew or made on several hundred hilly acres. There were always plenty of chores for my brothers and me. We raised dairy cows and chickens, and Mom had a huge garden. I don’t care what kind of fancy restaurant you take me to, nothing—and I mean nothing—tastes better than the lunch my mom made me fresh out of that garden when I came home from work at the family race shop.
Photograph courtesy of Bill Elliott
When I was younger, my daddy owned a building supply company, and I would ride along to pick up lumber in South Georgia and metal from around Tuscaloosa, sometimes driving the truck myself, long before I was old enough to have a license. When I got older, I worked on cars at my older brother’s speed shop and, later on, at my daddy’s tiny new Ford dealership. Daddy was always crazy about cars and crazy about racing. When the work was done on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, we’d always be under the lights at a local track, dirt or pavement, in Canton, Cumming, Woodstock, Douglasville, or Athens. A lot of those tracks aren’t there anymore, haven’t been for some time. Daddy owned several race cars, even though we never had a lot of money. We’d go to the junkyard, find a junker, and throw some roll bars on it and build an engine. I didn’t get behind the racing wheel until I was seventeen, but I had always had the bug. Back then racing didn’t seem like a career possibility. I always figured I’d end up in the family business: building supplies, or car sales.
Racing in NASCAR was a long way out of Dawsonville. But I never really left. In fact, today my family and I live just fifteen miles away, in neighboring Cherokee County, and we’re only that far away because we wanted to be closer to Alpharetta, where our son goes to school. There’s still a connection; Dawsonville is still very personal to me. It helps me keep things in perspective so I don’t lose sight of the things that really matter. My family is still there. The east side of town has grown and is all hustle and bustle. But Main Street still has that small-town feel. They’re building a new courthouse and the local grocer went out of business, replaced by a chain, but the poolroom is still there, and so is Gordon Pirkle. And there still isn’t a traffic light to be found.
—As told to Tony Rehagen
“Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” Elliott became a national stock car–racing legend; his wins include the 1988 Winston Cup and two Daytona 500s. NASCAR named him one of its fifty greatest all-time drivers.