The late Biddle Ridley, an accomplished short track driver who went on to be a championship-winning crew chief for his brother Jody, heads the Class of 2019 for the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
Joining Ridley are short-track driver Randy Holt, motorcycle racing champion and NASCAR driver Tammy Jo Kirk, the late car builder Bob Wright and NASCAR team owner Billy Ballew.
Ridley led the final round voting with 18 votes from a panel of 21 voters. Holt, Kirk and Wright tied for second place with 10 votes each while Ballew was one vote back in fifth place.
Finishing one vote out of the running were dirt racer Bob Morris and motorcycle champion Scott Russell.
Ridley, from Chatsworth, joins his brother Jody and former teammates Bill Elliott and Charlie Hughes and former car owners Ernie Elliott and George Elliott in the Dawsonville-based Hall of Fame.
Holt, from Peachtree City, raced Ford products throughout his career and won 150 races at tracks across Georgia on both dirt and asphalt.
Kirk was a champion motorcycle racer who became the first woman in history to reach a Grand National Championship final when she earned a spot in the 1983 Knoxville Half Mile event. In 1986, she made history by winning a Class C flat track race in Knoxville, Tenn. She moved on to asphalt Late Models and won the NASCAR All-Pro Series’ most prestigious race, the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., in 1994.
She was the first female racer in the NASCAR series now known as Gander Outdoors Truck Series, and raced in 15 Xfinity Series races late in her career.
Wright was a long-time car builder who built cars for some of the legendary racers of the Southeast including Bob Burcham, Joe Lee Johnson, Friday Hassler and Donnie Allison.
Ballew, from Blairsville, is best known for fielding trucks in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch, who scored 16 victories in Ballew’s trucks including his first in the truck series. Ballew also had truck wins with Aric Almirola, Shane Hmiel and Michael Waltrip. He entered 365 trucks over 17 years.
Rick Minter, chairman of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame’s Nominating Committee, said the 2019 class shows the strength and diversity of Georgia’s racing heritage.
“Biddle Ridley was a legend in his day, although many people today don’t realize how good he was as a driver,” Minter said. “He gave up his driving to work with his brother Jody, and they represented Georgia well, especially back in the All-Pro days where they won six championships.
“Tammy Jo Kirk was a true pioneering female racer who has come so close to being inducted in the past few years, and Randy Holt gave Ford fans much to cheer for while driving his No. 21 Fords.
“Bob Wright’s record speaks for itself, and Billy Ballew saw something in Kyle Busch back in the day that all of us see today.”
The Induction Ceremony is set for June 29 at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Dawsonville.
For more information and to purchase tickets visit georgiaracinghof.com or call 706-216-7223
Below are bios on the five inductees.
Biddle Ridley – Chatsworth, GA – Biddle Ridley
In the 1960s and 1970s, James Nathan “Biddle” Ridley was best known as a stock car driver. In later years people knew him as the crew chief for his brother Jody Ridley.
In both aspects of his racing career, Biddle Ridley excelled.
The Chatsworth native started driving in 1966, running his brother’s two-year-old Ford at dirt tracks including Cleveland Speedway, Boyd’s Speedway, Sugar Creek Raceway and Canton Speedway.
Soon, he went in with fellow racer Charles Hughes, and the two purchased a new race car, intending to share the driving duties.
But both drivers wanted to race more often so Ridley bought out Hughes and began racing full-time, venturing out to tracks including Dixie Speedway, Rome Speedway, West Atlanta Raceway, Tri-County Speedway, Atomic Raceway and Newnan Speedway.
He was a regular winner in both A and B class cars. Soon he teamed up with car owner and engine builder Ernie Elliott and began to dominate the B Class races. At one point officials at Rome Speedway put a bounty on him after six consecutive feature wins.
But after approximately 100 feature wins as a driver, Ridley put his driving behind and began working as his brother’s crew chief, as the Ridleys found that fielding two cars stretched the team’s resources and budget too thin.
The Ridley brothers and their No. 98 Fords were a force in asphalt Late Model racing, and won many a dirt race as well. Before they were done, they amassed approximately 500 race victories and six NASCAR All-Pro championships. Biddle Ridley won a seventh as a crew chief for Steve Grissom in 1985. Biddle also assisted his brother during his career in the NASCAR series now known as Monster Energy Cup.
Among the drivers influenced by Ridley was Bill Elliott, who was a crew member when Ridley was racing the No. 9 Fords on the short tracks of the Southeast and went on to find success for himself in the No. 9 Fords.
“Biddle took me in when I first started going to the races,” Elliott said. “I traveled a lot with him and had a great time.”
Elliott said those who didn’t know Biddle Ridley often underestimated his talent.
“He was kind of underrated as a driver,” he said. “But when he drove for Ernie he did a great job and they won a ton of races.”
Biddle Ridley died on July 31, 2012.
Randy Holt – Peachtree City, GA – Randy Holt was born in a mill village in South Carolina, raised by a single mother. But he had big racing dreams and went on to become an accomplished short-track racer.
His first racer was a wooden Derby car, which he built at age eight. He later drag raced, with cars belonging to his mother and his preacher at times.
In the 1960s he moved to Peachtree City, Ga., and became an electrical contractor, with clients including Atlanta Motor Speedway. In 1977, he purchased his first race car, a 1970 Ford Mustang once raced by Tiny Lund.
Like most of race cars since then, he painted it like the Wood Brothers cars driven by his idol David Pearson, and of course numbered them 21.
His first feature victory came three years later on the dirt at West Atlanta Raceway. He won eight straight Limited Sportsman features in 1984, and his first Late Model win came at Senoia Raceway with Hall of Famer Ricky Williams on his bumper at the checkered flag. He raced in the final race at Lakewood Speedway.
In 1986, he switched to asphalt racing and enjoyed his greatest successes.
In 1992, he won 19 of 25 races and won the track championship at Senoia Raceway.
All told, Holt amassed approximately 150 feature wins racing at tracks including Senoia, West Atlanta, Lanier Raceway, Peach State Speedway, Rome Speedway, DeSoto Speedway, Huntsville Speedway, Talladega Short Track, South Alabama Speedway, Volusia Speedway and Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Three of his wins were in Southern Allstars races at Senoia.
In his final race, a NASCAR Legends race at Spartanburg, S.C., he finished second to his hero and mentor David Pearson.
Tammy Jo Kirk- Dalton GA- Began career racing motorcycles. Raced in the AMA Grand National Championship, becoming the first woman to reach a final in 1983 at the Knoxville Half Mile. Won a class C flat track race at Knoxville, TN. Moved to late Model racing at the behest of GRHOF member Jody Ridley. Competed in the NASCAR Slim Jim All Pro division, winning the series Most Popular Driver award in 1994. Became the second woman to win a NASCAR Touring series event in 1994 by winning the Snowball Derby (then an All Pro Series event) and was the first woman to win the Snowball Derby. Moved to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 1997 with Geoff Bodine Racing. Ran 11th at Heartland Park Topeka. Qualified third at Portland.
She continues to work with young female drivers through a program backed by country music legend Loretta Lynn.
Bob Wright – Tunnel Hill, GA – As a teenager Wright worked for and was mentored by some of the top engine builders of his youth. Like many a young mechanic of his era, he sometimes worked on engines used by moonshine haulers.
When he returned home from military service in 1957, he got into stock car racing, soon expanding his shop and fielding two cars.
He was soon winning races as a car owner with drivers including “Wildman” Jerry Smith. In 1961 he won two features at Lakewood Speedway with Joe Lee Johnson as his driver. He also won with Friday Hassler aboard that year. In 1962 he teamed up with Bob Burcham and won 56 of the 60 races they entered. The next year the duo won 54 races and lost the national NASCAR Modified title to Bobby Allison by just four points.
In 1964, Wright teamed with Donnie Allison and the two continued winning Wright’s winning ways, including eight wins in a row at Montgomery, Ala.
Freddy Fryar also raced Wright’s cars, winning numerous races including a 100-lapper at Baton Rouge on dirt and a 300-lapper at Nashville, Tenn., on asphalt.
In 1966, Wright moved his shop to Tunnel Hill, Ga., and began working with his brother Dave Wright Sr.
Joe Lee Johnson drove Wright’s cars to victories on both dirt and asphalt tracks.
In 1968, Wright fielded cars for drivers including Jody Ridley, Harold Fryar, Bob Burcham and Algie Robinson.
Other drivers who raced and won in Wright’s cars included Hugh Hall, Joe Richie, Bobby Richie, Garner Snowden, Leon Brindle, Red Farmer and Buck Simmons.
Wright died on Nov. 12, 2014.
Billy Ballew – A native of Blue Ridge, Ballew grew up idolizing Georgia racing legends like Bill Elliott, Fonty Flock and Red Byron. He went on to become a successful team owner in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series. He fielded trucks in 365 races over 17 years, winning 20 races and scoring 68 top-five and 122 top-10 finishes along with six poles. His driver line-up included some of the sport’s top drivers including Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Geoffrey Bodine, Michael Waltrip and Aric Almirola, along with Georgia drivers like Mark Gibson, Shane Sieg, Bobby Gill and Bill Lester. Kyle Busch leads all of Ballew’s drivers with 16 wins in his trucks.
Ballew also fielded cars in 13 ARCA races with three top-five and five top-10 finishes.