top of page


An abandoned half-mile racetrack that boasts an eclectic – and distinctly Southern – history including NASCAR, truck commercials, moonshine, and Jimi Hendrix.

Middle Georgia Raceway

The Middle Georgia Motor Speedway name still on the wall of the track | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

The Middle Georgia Raceway was once a full-blown NASCAR Grand National track located in Byron, Georgia. Built in 1966 at a cost of $500,000, this half-mile track hosted nine NASCAR Grand National races between 1966 and 1971. During the inaugural race, the Speedy Morelock 200, Richard Petty broke the speed record for half-mile NASCAR tracks, hitting a top speed of 82.023 miles per hour in his 1966 Plymouth.

Of the nine NASCAR races held at the track, Richard Petty won four, Bobby Allison won three, and David Pearson and Bobby Isaac each earned one victory at the Middle Georgia Raceway.

Have you ever wondered why NASCAR races run counterclockwise around the track, essentially taking left turn after left turn? Well, I did. It's actually a combination of several reasons. Some historians claim that the reason American horse racing tracks – which would later expand to automobile racing tracks as well - run counterclockwise is because the British racing tracks ran clockwise. Americans built their tracks to run in the opposite direction of their British counterparts, as an act of defiance after the American Revolution, and the tradition stuck.

(I love that one of the reasons is literally just 'fuck the British')

Middle Georgia Raceway

Part of the track with weeds growing up through the cracks in the pavement | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

NASCAR isn't the only sport that goes counterclockwise; horse racing, track, speed skating, cycling, and even baseball all follow a counterclockwise path. This is partly because it's more aesthetically pleasing for spectators. The western world reads from left to right, which means that in a race where the participants are passing the fans on a counterclockwise track, they will pass by like words on a page, which is more engaging and feels more natural to the way we consume media, even if we don't consciously realize it.

It's widely believed that track races are run in a counterclockwise direction because it's easier for right-handed people to run in that direction. Studies have shown that human bodies are more comfortable moving in a counterclockwise direction. Biomechanically, it is easier for a right-handed person to produce force when turning left – leading with their right foot and using their left arm as a counter-balancing weight. In a world where it’s estimated that about 88-90% of people are right-handed, it seems understandable that tracks would be built accordingly.

An interesting point that's been made regarding track runners is that the gravitational pull of the Earth gives counterclockwise runners a slight advantage in the Northern Hemisphere, whereas the opposite holds true in the Southern Hemisphere. This applies to car races as well seeing as they are also on Earth and subject to gravity.

Racing in a counterclockwise direction relates directly to how one's heart pumps blood as well. The centrifugal force while running in a counterclockwise direction aids in the natural cardiac suction. Because the heart is on the left side of the body, moving counterclockwise around an oval track causes the centrifugal force in the body to act from left to right, facilitating blood flow and cardiac suction, whereas running clockwise actually impedes suction.

Finally, and probably most importantly, left hand turns that make up a counterclockwise track are safer. In American cars, the driver's seat and steering wheel are on the left side of the car. This placement makes it easier for drivers to cut tight left turns and gives them a better view of the track. There is also more track standing between the driver and the wall on turns. If a driver were to crash into the retaining wall on the perimeter of the track, which is not uncommon in NASCAR races, almost the entire vehicle would absorb the impact before the driver.

The stands at the old Middle Georgia Raceway with "MIDDLE GA RACEWAY" and the name of the town "BYRON, GA" still barely visible painted on the side | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

If you thought it couldn't get more traditionally Georgia than NASCAR, think again. On September 23, 1967, a moonshine distillery was discovered by federal agents in an underground bunker next to the track at turn three. A trap door inside of a ticket booth led 17 feet underground to a cave where the distillery was set up. The distillery was described as "elaborate" and "sophisticated" by a local newspaper and was reported to have two fermenting tanks totaling 3,700 gallons, an electric exhaust system, electric lighting, and electric insect repelling devices. The distillery operation at the Raceway was capable of producing 80 gallons of moonshine per day.

The underground setup was discovered after a hunter in the area smelled fumes coming from the distillery and tipped off the authorities. Lamar Brown Jr., the owner of the Middle Georgia Raceway, was arrested after the discovery. At the trial, the prosecutor produced an invoice for 24 pounds of yeast that had been purchased by Brown 10 days before the still was discovered, an amount that would "make enough bread to feed Atlanta for a week." Brown testified in his own defense, adamantly denying knowing anything about the still and claiming that the large amounts of yeast were to make food for the concession stand at the racetrack. It took less than two hours of deliberation for the jury to come back with a not guilty verdict.

Typically, the distillery would have been blown up with dynamite, but agents instead used acetylene torches to destroy it to prevent any damage to the track above. A race was held at the track the following day.

Waiting for the gates to open on the first day of the Atlanta Pop Festival, July 3, 1970 | Photo © Earl McGehee

On the weekend of July 4, 1970, the second annual Atlanta International Pop Festival was held in a soybean field adjacent to the Middle Georgia Raceway. The festival was described as the "Woodstock of the South," drawing an influx of concertgoers to the small town and backing up the interstate in Atlanta-esque fashion for miles in both directions. A crowd of 75,000 had been expected, but over 300,000 people showed up that weekend. Some estimates put that number as high as 600,000. Local law enforcement was quickly overwhelmed and unable to respond to the widespread drug use and nudity and could do little more than look the other way.

Ticket prices for the weekend-long festival were a low $14.00 to see 30 bands but thousands were still outside the gates of the festival demanding it be free, like Woodstock. An hour into the opening act, promoters and security gave up and just opened the gates.

A ticket for the second annual Atlanta International Pop Festival at the Middle Georgia Raceway | Photo from the 'Atlanta Pop Festival 1970' group on Facebook

The stage was set up next to the racetrack and a large area of neighboring fields were fenced off for the crowds. The rural, forested areas around the festival were transformed into campgrounds. Throughout the weekend, those who had made their way to rural central Georgia would camp out in cars and vans, tents, or makeshift shelters scattered about the nearby woods and the field.

Friday, July 3, 1970, was the hottest day on record for the entire year of 1970 with a temperature of 104° F recorded in nearby Macon, Georgia. Throughout the weekend, temperatures in the area continued to hover near 100° with dew points above 70 to make the heat feel extra oppressive. Crudely constructed water stations were erected with wood beams and pipes to supply concertgoers with something to drink in the oppressive heat. With nothing much more than a line of trees at the edge of the field as shade from the beating sun, many people got creative, and erected makeshift shelters from sheets draped over wooden sticks stuck into the ground.

A river near the site of the concert became a frequented spot that weekend, as those attending the event sought out a way to cool off. Law enforcement initially attempted to thwart those who were jumping off the bridge over the river and roaming around the area completely nude, but their efforts were mostly in vain. On Sunday the local fire department came to the concert site and used the firetruck's hose to shower concertgoers with a bit of cool relief from the beating sun.

A photo of the crowds at the festival with the Middle Georgia Raceway stands visible in the background | Photo © Earl McGehee

The Allman Brothers Band opened and closed the show and Jimi Hendrix headlined the three-day concert. The event provided The Allman Brothers Band, a Southern rock band from Macon, with its first major concert platform. Bands played through the night during the weekend-long festival, including Grand Funk Railroad, B.B. King, Johnny Winter, Ten Years After, Richie Havens, Mountain, Procol Harum, and Goose Creek Symphony. At midnight on the Fourth of July, Jimi Hendrix played a unique rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, accompanied by a fireworks display. Rare Earth took the stage at sunset on Saturday night, the second night of the festival, and Bob Seger System performed for the gathered crowds on Sunday afternoon. Over 300,000 people attended the event in Byron, a town boasting a population of less than 2,000 at the time.

The Middle Georgia Raceway property functioned a secure area for the bands before and after their performances, and many of the musicians that played at the concert arrived via helicopter to avoid the jam-packed roads. Many arrived later than scheduled, though the concert went on and it seems everyone just went with the flow.

All manner of drugs were openly sold at the weekend-long event, from psychedelic pharmaceuticals and marijuana to birth control pills. Between sets announcers would warn the gathered crowds not to take bad drugs – “don't take the blue pills, they are not LSD” – as well as announcing weddings that were taking place at the event and even births.

Bloodrock performing on stage at the Atlanta Pop Festival | Photo © Earl McGehee

Peace symbols were a common sight at the festival. The country was mired in the Vietnam War at the time and many of the young men attending the festival were draft age. This could very well be the last photos of some of these men, many of whom were drafted and sent overseas to fight in the protracted conflict. The ubiquitous peace signs adorning flags, banners, advertisements, and being flashed in gestures by attendees signaled a hope for an end to the war, to bring our boys home. The symbol was picked up by the hippies and became famous because of its use in protests in opposition to the Vietnam War.

Lester Maddox, the Governor of Georgia at the time of the festival, had tried repeatedly to prevent the festival from happening and with the help of the state legislature, restrictions were put into place that would make it extremely difficult to organize another festival of this size. The Georgia Historical Society claims this was the largest American crowd Jimi Hendrix ever played in front of, and one of his last performances before his untimely death two months later in September 1970.

Middle Georgia Raceway

Part of the track and the stands at the Middle Georgia Raceway | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

NASCAR began its 1968 and 1969 seasons at the Middle Georgia Raceway and the 1970 Georgia 500 was also held at the track and Richard Petty would go on to win the 274-mile race. The final NASCAR race at the Middle Georgia Raceway was held on November 7, 1971, which Bobby Allison would win. Though the track was no longer used by NASCAR after 1971, many amateur races were held at the track through the 1970s and early 1980s.

In 1977, the racetrack was the location for the filming of race scenes in the Richard Pryor film Greased Lightning about Wendell Scott. The track would continue to be used for special events, concerts, a seasonal Halloween attraction, and a filming location for TV commercials and movies.

The largest event held at the track was a reunion of the “Dukes of Hazzard” cast, which drew tens of thousands from around the country.

The stands overgrown with trees and weeds at the Middle Georgia Raceway | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

In 2011, the Middle Georgia Raceway was leased to Dodge, who wanted to use it to film a commercial for the Dodge Durango SUV. The commercial was filmed over an eleven-day period before airing. Although the owner of the racetrack had applied a fresh coat of paint to the walls, Dodge artificially "aged" the walls and even bought a local car for $2,000 and crashed it to add realism to the scenes. In the commercial, a sign stated that it was the Brixton Motor Speedway.

The old racetrack appeared in a television documentary series called "Lost Speedways" that aired on Peacock in 2020 and was hosted by Dale Earnhardt Jr. In each episode, Earnhardt travels to abandoned racetracks around the United States. The second episode of the first season spotlighted the Middle Georgia Raceway and was titled "In the Still of the Night."

The Middle Georgia Raceway still sits just off of US-41, overgrown with grass sprouting through the seams of the paved half-mile track and a thick row of mimosa trees growing at the base of the stands. The current owner of the track and surrounding property, developer Tim Thornton, says the property is for sale but he's being selective about potential buyers.

"Middle Georgia Motor Speedway" still visible on the wall separating the track from the stands | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

In June 2022 there was chatter about famous rapper and car enthusiast Rick Ross possibly purchasing the property after he was photographed posing at the defunct racetrack. In addition to his career as a hip-hop mogul, Rick Ross is also known for his passion for cars, trucks, and bikes. He even hosted a car show at his private mansion in Georgia in May 2022, but nothing has been confirmed about his potential purchase of the Middle Georgia Raceway.

Though the 61-acre property which includes the defunct racetrack is zoned general commercial and could be an industrial park or even a housing development, Thornton claims that what he really wants is to sell it to someone who will keep the racetrack there and make it an event location, or even bring back racing. “I want to see it preserved,” he said. “It’s got a lot of history out there. It would be a shame for it to be torn down.”

I, personally – though I know I am far from alone in this – would love to see more people out there with this same mindset; preserving history rather than paving over it or building yet another Dollar General or Walmart…or God forbid a subdivision full of ugly cookie-cutter houses and condos with absolutely nothing beautiful or interesting about them. Three cheers to you, Tim Thornton, three cheers!

The track and the stands...and the the old Middle Georgia Raceway | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

Special thanks to my mom for being my guide to 1970s music!
And shout out to our family friend Melissa, who was named after The Allman Brothers song “Melissa.”

bottom of page