What little remains of the old Athens Speedway lies tucked away in what’s now a stretch of woods along Jimmy Daniel Road.
But organizers of an annual event in Jackson County continue to make sure memories of the once-thriving quarter-mile track don’t die. The Athens Speedway Reunion, which now enters its fifth year, is set for this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the new South Jackson Elementary School.
The reunion is a nod to both the Athens Speedway, which closed in 1992, and the dirt track drivers of that era — some of which hailed from Jackson County.
“That’s the reason we keep doing this,” said Jackson County resident Don Brooks, who raced at Athens for many years and now helps coordinate the reunion. “We’re losing a lot of them. There ain’t a lot of us old fellas left. So that’s the reason we just get together.”
The event actually started in Bogart in 2010 but moved to Jackson County in 2011, where it’s remained ever since.
“It’s good,” said Freddie Massey, who helped build Athens Speedway back in 1958 and still has boxes full of the track’s memorabilia. “They love it. We’ll have a nice crowd.”
The dirt track operated for 33 years and gained notoriety in the racing community. Scenes from the 1977 movie Greased Lightning were filmed there. Books called it the favorite track on which he raced.
“They kept that track up well, and it just was a track that my car especially and a lot of other people’s cars handled really good on,” Brooks said. “If you had a car and had the power, you could really turn it on down there.”
But Athens Speedway offered more than just a fast track.
“It was something that people on Saturday night, they could go out there and sort of forget about all their troubles ... It was just a good time,” Brooks said.
But the track couldn’t survive the changing landscape of western Athens in the early 1990s. And when nearby neighborhoods complained of the noise, the track was bought and closed.
“(The track closing) was a big disappointment … They didn’t like the noise,” Brooks said. “ And then they haven’t done anything with it since. It’s just sitting there.”
But the memories of three decades worth of racing still persist, as evident by this reunion. This year’s event could draw at least 400 people and will showcase lots of memorabilia from the old Speedway as well as vintage cars from that era. The day will also include food, country music and gospel singing.
One of the more anticipated vintage car attractions is a replica of the old no. 34 Skeeter owned by Massey and driven by one of the track’s more decorated drivers, Charlie Padgett, who passed away last year. Padgett, who won multiple championships at Athens, is a member of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
Brooks said the hall of fame “will be well represented” at Saturday’s event.
But mostly, Saturday will be a time for the old drivers to see each other and trade memories of races at the popular track.
When asked about what those stories might be, Books laughed.
“We talk about how we used to race, and things like that … We just talk about the old days and chew the fat,” said Brooks, who himself came out of racing retirement after three decades and won three races last year.
Massey notes a certain camaraderie that exists in the racing community.
“It’s like a large family,” he said. “Everybody will help everybody. That’s the way it’s always been.”