Five legendary racers are set to be inducted as members of the 2018 Class of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Hall of Fame in Dawsonville on Aug. 11.
The five are Charlie Hughes, Dan Elliott, Dick Anderson, the late Rance Phillips and the late Russell Nelson.
From his first race at North Georgia Speedway in 1966 to his final, also at North Georgia in 1997 when he won the track championship in his final year, Hughes built a reputation as one of the nation’s top dirt Late Model drivers.
He was born in 1941 in Cleveland, Tenn., but moved to Dalton at the age of four. He was part of a group of Georgia racers, many of whom are already Hall of Fame members, who dominated dirt Late Model racing in the 1970s.
In 1976, Hughes had one of the best seasons ever in dirt Late Model racing.
Driving his familiar gold, blue and white No. 39, Hughes won 42 races that year including three of America’s most prestigious races.
That fall, he won the U.S. Dirt Track Championship at Champaign, Ill., the sixth annual World 100 at Eldora Speedway and the second annual National 100 at East Alabama Motor Speedway in Phenix City.
His wins were noteworthy for several reasons, among them the fact that a racer from the South handily defeated many of the nation’s top dirt drivers.
Other major races Hughes won in 1976 included the Labor Day 100 and the Wynn’s Friction Proofing 300 at Atomic Speedway in Tennessee, the Mod LM 76 at Cleveland Tenn., the Memorial Day Jaycees Classic at Phenix City, the Boyd’s Spirit of 76 Classic at Cleveland, and four other races at East Alabama – the Firecracker 76, Bicentennial 76, Labor Day 76 and Danny Burdette Memorial 60.
Hughes spent much of his career campaigning Fords. His first race car was a Ford that he built in conjunction with fellow Dalton resident Biddle Ridley. The two shared that ride for a time before Hughes bought a car from Leon Brindle and set out on his own.
In addition to the races he won in the Midwest, Hughes won at tracks in nearly every state in the Southeast.
He has a documented 37 wins at Dixie Speedway and 14 more at Rome Speedway, many of them in major events.
Other major triumphs include a 100-lapper at Senoia Raceway in 1975, The Hall of Fame 150 at Atomic in 1977, the Southeastern Dirt Classic at Dixie Speedway in 1978, The Labor Day 100 and the Fall 100 at Dixie in 1979, a 75-lapper at Rome in 1980, the Miller Road to Charlotte 40 at Dixie in 1985, the Rome Boss 100 at Rome Speedway in 1985 and the Coca-Cola 100 at Dixie that same year.
He won the Budweiser Late Model 50 at North Georgia in 1990, the RC Cola 60 at Tazewell, Tenn., in 1993 and a Super Late Model special at North Georgia in 1996.
Hughes, whose sons DeWayne and Terry followed him into the sport, was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2005.
The brothers grew up around the short tracks – and NASCAR speedways – of the South following their dad George, who owned Ford race cars and sold racing parts at the local tracks.
In the mid-1970s, the Elliott family began competing on the circuit now known as Monster Energy Cup with Bill, the youngest, doing the driving, while Dan and Ernie helped prepare the cars and worked on pit road, with Dan working on engines as well as handling transmissions and rear ends, plus changing tires during races.
In the beginning, the raced out of an old schoolhouse between Dawsonville and Dahlonega and began their career with a well-worn Ford Thunderbird. Later, the Elliotts purchased a Mercury and assorted parts from Roger Penske and their performance dramatically improved.
By the 1980s, they were the dominant team on the superspeedways and won the first Winston Million, the 1988 championship and set numerous speed records along the way.
Bill Elliott once said his family’s race team’s rise to the top of the sport was nothing short of a miracle.
“It was like Wilbur and Orville Wright taking what they had and flying to the moon,” he said.
Dan Elliott, who gave up his own driving ambitions – he did win a consolation race at Dixie Speedway before he stopped – suffered two serious injuries on pit road as a result of being struck by other drivers and retired from over-the-wall work in 1991.
In 2008, he was named general manager of Gresham Motorsports Park, a track in which his father was once part of the ownership team, and held that position until 2013.
He was a dominating force everywhere he went. In 1964, after his second time behind the wheel, he came away with a win that ignited a spark in his blood for the sport.
Thanks to a boss who didn’t mind his regular absences from work as long as his assignments were completed, Phillips raced many weeks from Wednesday or Thursday to Sunday, sometimes racing a different track each night. He collected many wins in his time and broke track records with gusto.
With more than 700 feature wins throughout his 40-year career and 19 track championships in multiple tracks, Phillips was the man to beat. When Julian Klein with Jacksonville Speedway issued a $100 weekly bounty to the driver who could beat Phillips, national attention was drawn to the driver. Racing the rest of the season, still undefeated, Phillips cashed in on his own bounty, $1,000, and even had other tracks issue bounties on him that year as well. The headliner had incredible credentials and the fan-backing to bring spectators to the tracks.
Phillips raced many races sanctioned by Permatex-NASCAR, winning the hearts of many, and was voted Most Popular Driver in 1973 at Golden Isle Speedway in Brunswick, GA.
He regularly raced and won against drivers who would race their way into NASCAR such as Tiny Lund, Donnie Allison, and Red Farmer.
Phillips was inducted into the Jacksonville Racing Hall of Fame in 2009 and the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in Florence, KY in 2011. He also served as the Grand Marshal for “The Battle of the Swamp” at Waycross Motor Speedway in 2010. Phillips passed away at his home December 4th, 2012.
Among his innovations were coil-over shocks, shock dynamometers and several other shocks especially built for drag racing.
Anderson led the way in the mass production of racing shocks.
He also was the first to mass produce sprint cars. That came at a time when competitors’ only other choice was to build their own from scratch.
Anderson pioneered roll-couple theory and calculation, and even offered a dedicated “Electronic Calculator” that was programmed to allow racers to find what they needed from a handling standpoint and to understand why.
Among his more recent inventions is a computer-controlled shock that uses an electromagnet that offers nearly infinite & instant damping adjustability. It is largely used in military applications.
Anderson was a pioneer in racing trade shows, promoting the first Oval Track Trade Show in Daytona Beach in 1978 and founded the trade magazine “Oval Track Dealer News” for the oval-track-racing industry in 1979.
He also tried his hand at driving and won first place in his class and second overall in the 1990 Mexican Road Race.
Nelson, of Buford, started racing in 1960 at the Peach Bowl Speedway in Atlanta and is credited with 364 feature wins at tracks including the Peach Bowl, Lanier National Speedway in Braselton, the track now known as Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson and nearly every other short track in North Georgia.
Nelson also found success on the various touring series around the South.
He won the prestigious Rattler at South Alabama Speedway in 1977, and won feature events at other regional tracks including Birmingham International Raceway and Montgomery Motor Speedway.
He was a regular competitor on the old All-Pro Series and throughout his career raced and won against many of the nation’s top asphalt short track drivers.
For more information on the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame and the Induction Ceremony visit www.georgiaracinghof.com or call 706.216-7223.