Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Friday, August 19, 2016

WHEN MIDGETS RACED


Hot Fun In The Summertime


It was in the long hot summer of 1941, when midgets  raced along the sandy soil ridges surrounding Session’s Lake north of Dublin.  No, I am not talking about little people driving cars or
staging a foot race.  These midget car  races, sponsored by the Dublin Lions Club, were held in August of 1941 before large crowds. Then came the great war and the world changed forever.  After the war, the race course disappeared and the grounds were transformed into the Dublin Country Club.

Sessions Lake, first opened by Dublin mayor Dee Sessions, was operated by Linton Malone and his family. The lake lies along the southern end of today’s Dublin Country Club, which then was
located along the current Hillcrest Parkway between Claxton Dairy and Brookhaven Drive.  Session’s Lake featured top notch swimming facilities, including diving boards, floats and canoes.  A dance hall and skating rink were the favorite spot for those who were young at heart and in forever in love.




It all began with the community’s annual 4th of July celebration.  Observers stated that it was the largest Independence Day crowd ever to assemble in the county.   Twenty young ladies entered the beauty contest. Only 15 competed as a torrential thunderstorm delayed their arrival, not to mention a snarled traffic jam along the then dirt Blackshear’s Ferry Road.  Bobbie Cullens won the contest. Ruth Hattaway, of Sandersville, and Wylene Holmes finished as runners up.

In those days, fast cars were all the rage.  So, Malone, a successful entrepreneur, staged a  car race across a simple open field. Grady Sumner, of Wrightsville,  drove his 1927 model car to
the finish line first to capture the sole car race of the day over a field of five contestants.

Water sports contests were held as well.  Jack Flanders of Dublin won the diving contest and Fred Middlebrooks won the under-17 swimming race.




Just after the 4th of July holiday, Linton Malone staged motorcycle trial races  among 42 riders on a Sunday, July 7, 1941.   Malone, buoyed by the enthusiasm following the trials before a crowd of 1500 people,  began to formulate plans for a permanent track on his amusement area.

J.C. Beasley and Joe Stapleton, both of Macon, won the slow division crown and the three-lap race respectively.

Malone, who was also President of the Dublin Lions Club, convinced his fellow members  to sponsor races as a money making opportunity for the club’s charitable projects.  And, he was right. Thousands of people came and plunked down their silver coins for admission for days of fun in the sun.

As a preview to the midget car races, the Lions Club sponsored motorcycle races between the best Harley and Indian bike racers in Middle Georgia.  More than 100 cyclists entered the races, which were held on July 26 along a one-mile oval track.

As the crowds began to swell with each passing event, Malone built a grandstand and other improvements to make the race more exciting for the swelling throng of fans.

Tragedy struck Malone and his family. When a cataclysmic fire destroyed the Malone’s modest home,  Mrs. Malone and her young son, Mike, suffered slight burns.  The Malones lost everything they owned except  the clothes on their backs. Linton Malone, who  was attending a State Defense Corps meeting  and was still in uniform, returned to see his home lying in smoldering ashes.  A visitor, who was  taking a bath at the time of the fire, chose life over modesty and escaped only a towel.

For the first time ever in Laurens County, midget race car drivers competed against each other. Fifteen racers came from all parts of Georgia and Florida and as far away as St. Louis and Chicago. Art Chandler promoted the six-event race which started at 3:00 in the afternoon on  Sunday, August 17.

Larry Varrier, a veteran midget racer from  Miami, Florida, topped Wayne Winn, of Tampa, Florida. Varrier (left)  and Winn were the only two racers to  finish the feature race.  All of the other drivers were forced out with mechanical  roblems.  Varrier finished the three-mile race in 5 minutes and 17.8 seconds.  A crowd favorite was Bud Porter of Detroit, Michigan, who drove a V8 - 60-horsepower
car.

Winn and Walt Raines finished with the fastest times in the time trials with a 21.6 second time over the 0.3 mile track. Bill Blalock, of Atlanta, and Winn won the two heat races.  In the match
race, Varrier came in first, followed by Winn and Blalock.

Other racers that day included: Raines, Ben Harleman, Cly Schneider, Joe Gluck, Vern McFarren, Herman Bachman and  Clarence LeRue.

The first day of racing caused severe damage to the sandy track.  Malone added more clay and improved the drainage, especially in the dangerous sand-banked curves.  The new track guaranteed faster times and more excitement for the fans.

The second races were held the following Sunday on August 24.  Varrier, (LEFT) once again, was the top man on the track.  He won the three-mile feature race with a time of 6 minutes and 13 seconds, bested Blalock in the first match race, posted the fastest time trial and captured the first heat race.

Bill Blalock finished 2nd in the feature race followed by Wilcoxson.  Bud Porter finished with the fastest heat time with a 2-minute, 12 second mark. Webb Shultz defeated Wilcoxson in the second match race.  In the third heat race, the order of finish was:  Blalock, Wilcoxson, and J. C. Crumley, who also beat Joe Gluck in the Australian pursuit race.

Just when the excitement of the races and the cooling fun of that summer reached a peak on Labor Day weekend, people began to think of school and the war which they knew would come all too soon.  And, the days of midget racing were gone forever.

No comments: