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Sunday July 3rd, 2022 11:39PM

Gresham track sold, will not continue as racing facility

By Brandon Reed Reporter
  Contact Editor

The property where Gresham Motorsports Park sits has been sold, but the speedway will not be used as a facing facility, according to a post by the track’s owner on Facebook.

Jim Gresham, owner of the Jefferson, Georgia facility since 2009, made the announcement on his Facebook page last week, stating that the track has been sold, with the closing to occur in mid-March.

“I’m not at liberty to say who the buyer is or what they’re going to do with the track but I’m sad to advise the facility will not be used in the future for the purpose it was designed for,” Gresham posted.

Gresham pointed to a couple of factors for the downfall of the 54-year-old raceway.

“Our timing for trying to make the old Peach State Speedway one of the classic half mile tracks in the country could not have been worse,” Gresham posted. “The economic crash from 2007 through 2011 combined with NASCAR banning testing was more than our track could overcome.”

The track was shuttered after the 2014 racing season, and has languished since.

“We tried very hard for 5 years to find a buyer with the desire and resources to continue GMP as a race track, but we were unable to accomplish that,” Gresham posted.

The half-mile, high banked short track opened on 1967 after five years of planning by local owners Hansel Wilson and Quentin Freeman. With the ownership being based in the Jackson County community, the group named the track Jefco Speedway after a combination of the county’s two largest cities – Jefferson and Commerce.

The facilty opened with NASCAR sanctioning and the inaugural race was held on Sunday, July 30, 1967. The first event, a 200-lap race named the “Tiger 200” after the local championship winning Commerce High School football team, was won by Chicago native “Tiger Tom” Pistone.

Jefco Speedway would play host to a pair of NASCAR Cup Series races over the next two years, with Hall of Fame drivers Cale Yarborough winning in 1968 and the late Bobby Isaac in 1969. Legendary racer Tiny Lund was also victorious at the track with a pair of wins in NASCAR Grand Touring competition.

At one point, the track was the site of speed record runs, and was the fastest half-mile asphalt layout in the world, with Bobby Allison setting a world record run in a Super Modified in 1968.

NASCAR left the track after the 1969 season, and it stayed largely dormant for much of the 70s, with the exception of testing.

The track returned to prominence under new management in the late 70s, and became one of the most popular Asphalt Late Model venues in the southeast, hosting events for the NASCAR All Pro Series, the American Speed Association, and the All Pro Pickup Truck Series, along with hosting local racing divisions.

Drivers who would go on to make a name for themselves in NASCAR were also regulars in Late Model competition at the track, including Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Davey Allison, Neil Bonnett, Alan Kulwicki, Bill Elliott, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, Tim Richmond, Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace.

The track went under new ownership in 1983, and gained a new name – Georgia International Speedway.

That same year, the track’s signature event was created. In a partnership between the track and All Pro promoter Bob Harmon, the first World Crown 300 – dubbed the “King of the Short Tracks” event – was held on November 27. Legendary racer Dick Trickle won the race, wore the crown in victory lane, and was awarded the rich $50,000 winner’s paycheck.

Over the years, the drivers to win the World Crown read like a who’s who of short track stock car racing, including Gary Balough, Rich Bickle, Darrell Waltrip, Jimmy Garmon, Micky Cain, Ronnie Sanders and Russell Fleeman. Pendergrass, Georgia’s Paul Kelley is the only driver to win the World Crown four times, earning him the title “King of the World Crown.”

The track also saw a return of a NASCAR national touring series, as the NASCAR Xfinity Series held an event in 1986 and two in 1987. NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip was the winner in 1986, while Larry Pearson swept both 1987 races.

In 1994, the speedway again went under new ownership, which led to yet another name change, this time becoming Peach State Speedway.

The speedway continued to host short track touring series, including the USAR Hooters Pro Cup, the Southern All Star Asphalt Series, the ASA AC Delco Series, and the Allison Legacy Series.

In 1998, the track played host to a unique and special moment in American sports history, when Adam Petty made his first professional start in the American Speed Association’s season opener. With that April 11, 1998 start, Petty – the son of NASCAR driver Kyle Petty and grandson of NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty – became the first fourth generation professional athlete in United States sports history.

The speedway changed hands a few more times over the next 10 years, with the final purchase coming at the end of 2008, when Gresham purchased the facility.

The track saw the first major overhaul in its history in the early part of 2009, with the front and back stretches being flipped, an infield tech facility being constructed, new grandstands and new buildings being added.

Under its final new name – Gresham Motorsports Park – the facility opened on November 15, 2009 with the running of the World Crown 300. Paul Kelley won the event after the first and second place cars both failed post-race tech inspection.

NASCAR would return to the speedway the next year, as the track hosted the NASCAR K&N Pro East Series for the first of three visits. Ty Dillon, grandson of NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Childress, won the first race in 2010, while Max Gresham – grandson of track owner Jim Gresham – won in 2011.

Kyle Larson, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, won the event in 2012, marking his first career NASCAR victory.

GMP was also a major testing facility for NASCAR teams, with drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Danica Patrick, Jimmie Johnson and others taking laps to get their cars in shape for upcoming races.  That ended when NASCAR banned testing in 2015, cutting off a major revenue supply for the speedway.

The final major event held at Gresham Motorsports Park was on August 9, 2014, as Lawrenceville, Georgia’s Casey Roderick edged out Kyle Grissom on the last lap to win what would prove the be the final running of the World Crown 300.

The announcement was made over the winter months of that year that the track would not be holding a season in 2015, and that the facility was up for sale. While rumors persisted in the Jackson County community about the future of the track, no new ownership materialized.

A glimmer of hope surfaced in 2019, when plans were announced for the Southern Super Series to hold an event at the raceway. But the onset of COVID killed those plans, leading to the eventual announcement from Gresham last week on the fate of the speedway.

  • Associated Categories: Sports, NASCAR News, Other Motorsports
  • Associated Tags: nascar, motorsports, Auto Racing, Stock Car, Short Track, Asphalt, Late Model, #GAdrivers, Gresham, Gresham Motorsports Park, World Crown 300
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