Three legendary dirt-track drivers, a nationally known engine builder and a sports car racer who helped develop the HANS Device make up the 2015 Class of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
The selection of dirt racers C.L. Pritchett, the late Billy Clanton and the late Harold Fryar, along with engine builder James Lyle and sports car driver Jim Downing was announced in a ceremony at the Hall of Fame in Dawsonville on Saturday afternoon.
The five were selected after three rounds of voting, in which 60 voters from across the state cast ballots.
Pritchett joins his late father Swayne Pritchett in being elected to the Hall. In his career he won more that 800 races, according to racing historians and is considered one of the best ever at both preparing a car and driving one.
Long-time car owner Gerald Voyles, who won 66 features in a little over two seasons with Pritchett wheeling his cars, said Pritchett was both a talented racer and a true gentleman.
“C.L. Pritchett is the most talented person I’ve ever known,” Voyles said. “And more importantly, he was a first-class person. He always took good care of my girls at the race track. There is no one more deserving of being in the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame than C.L. Pritchett.”
Jim Downing grew up in the Atlanta area surrounded by stock cars, attending races at the Peach Bowl and sneaking under the fence to watch races at Lakewood Speedway. But he made his mark as a sports car racer and continues to race – and win – at age 73. The Georgia Tech graduate is a five-time IMSA champion, but his greatest contribution to motorsports is his work with the head and neck restraint device commonly known as the HANS. Downing, recognizing the problems associated with a restrained torso and an unrestrained head in a crash, worked with his brother-in-law Dr. Robert Hubbard to develop and market a restraint device that has been credited with saving countless lives in racing circuits across the globe.
Being honored at home is very meaningful, Downing said.
“It’s a thrill to be recognized by the people in my home state,” he said.
The late Billy Clanton was both a talented car builder and driver in his day. Like the Wild West outlaw of the same name, Clanton was known to stand his ground if he felt he’d been wronged on the race track. But he also won his share of races, and instilled his work ethic into his three sons, all of whom followed in his tire tracks and became successful race drivers.
His youngest son Shane Clanton is the current points leader of the World of Outlaws Late Model Series. While he’s on the road racing over Labor Day weekend, his thought are back home with his family and the announcement of his father’s selection for the Hall.
“It’s a real honor to have something this prestigious in my dad’s name,” Clanton said. “For him to be recognized for what he’s done in the sport is pretty spectacular.”
For decades, when racers across America wanted reliable and powerful racing engines they made their way to Maysville, Ga., to the shops of James Lyle.
Many a driver already in the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, including Bud Lunsford and Doug Kenimer, got there by winning races in cars powered by Lyle engines. And when Bill Elliott was setting speed records on the NASCAR circuit in the 1980s, it was with engines that Lyle helped prepare.
“If it hadn’t been for those drivers and for the tracks they raced on and the other people who make the sport work, I couldn’t have gotten to this point,” Lyle said. “It’s a long list of people that made it happen, and I appreciate every one of them and all the hard work they’ve done.”
For 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Freddy Fryar, seeing his big brother Harold elected to the Hall is right up there with his own induction. Harold Fryar was one the South’s top dirt track drivers from the time he first took the wheel in 1948 until he was killed in a racing crash at Gadsden, Ala., in 1971.
“He was my hero, my mentor and my protector,” Freddy Fryar said. “He looked out for me when I was growing up. He was as good a driver as there was on dirt, and if his car was anywhere close to being set up right, he didn’t get beat very much.
“I remember well the battles he had with Tootle Estes. They were big friends and went head to head a lot of times on the track.”
The 2015 Class of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame already is being called one of the strongest yet, according to veteran motorsports writer Rick Minter, who chaired the Nominating Committee.
“I’ve spoken with many voters who really had a tough time picking just five from the Fast 15 semi-finalists,” Minter said. “It just goes to show how strong our state is when it comes to motorsports.
“Any one of the Fast 15 is deserving of induction, and I believe it’s more a matter of ‘when’ than ‘if’ the rest of the semi-finalists are voted in.
“And there are plenty more out there who are deserving of the Hall. Working with this process makes me extremely proud of Georgia’s racers, past and present.”
The induction ceremony is set for Nov. 14 at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
For more information on the inductees and the induction ceremony, visit www.georgiaracinghof.com or call 706-216-7223.