Interveiw with JIMMY MOSTELLER - by Harold Reeves

Sunday, June 8, 2003

JM: There's so much that we could talk about in racing, but I'm gonna have to tell you.....this River Bend Museum that JB Day and Willovene have - and so much help they've had to really fix up this place is absolutely unreal. I've been in a lot of museums over the country but the pictures he's got on every wall here, I think, is something that every racing person-male, female, whatever it might be-it's worth their time to come here to see it. I believe you'd agree with me.

HR:
I would. I certainly would. I was commenting earlier to another fellow, I've never been anywhere in my life that had more photos and memories of the past in any one location than right here.

JM:
It's right here, and look at all these restored racecars that they've got. I don't know anywhere that you can go to at this time and come to a museum that's got... what are we looking at? Maybe 15 cars out there.

HR: At least. And JB's wife told me this morning that he assigned one man to do a car, and it would take between 9 and 13 months.

JM: Well, there's one, I understood, that took-Dilbert Gober (Sosebez) car-took about 14, 15 months and they worked on it five, six days a week, but we've got to give a lot of compliments, lot of credit to Mr. Day and his crew that he's got up here. Years ago, he used to ride a bicycle from Easley, South Carolina, all the way to Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta to see the races there and then he'd get a ride back with Cotton Owens or somebody like that.

HR: Is that the bicycle that's inside, that's been restored?

JM: From what I have heard, that is the bicycle that he rode from up here all the way to Lakewood to see the drivers run there. So it's wonderful that we have people that are so interested in racing that they will do what he's done and made the investment he's made, but what I like most about right here is not the past 40 years in racing, but we go back into the late '30s, the '40s.... pictures on the wall showing how racing really started. And that's what we.... the Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame Association as well as LLOAR is most interested in. We're trying to bring back the past and put it in print, put it on tape, that the race fans of today can look at those things and see where racing started.... really, on the short tracks, the dirt tracks in this country.

HR: Jimmy, let me ask you something, 'cause I was 11 years old when my father took me to Macon, Georgia, to the Central Georgia Fairground and the racetrack there by the ball stadium. The year was 1951 and you were calling the races, I remember.

JM:
Central City Park in Macon, and you mentioned the fairgrounds. See, that's where we used to run.... was the fairgrounds over the country. Same thing in the Carolinas, same thing in Alabama. In fact, they still have an asphalt track now at the fairground in Birmingham. But there's one thing for certain. We love to go back where it started and where it's come to today.

I was telling somebody at breakfast this morning that, when they first built Jeffco Speedway at Jefferson, Georgia, just out of Jefferson, we ran a Grand National, which is called Winston, of course, now run a Grand National race there. The purse was about $5,000. Cale Yarborough won it. Well, he was another generation of drivers coming along at that time, but in the top eight or ten drivers, I'd say, it started at maybe a hundred dollars and went up to a thousand dollars. Cale won a thousand dollars. But the men from there back that was in the race....they didn't get a whole lot, maybe enough to get home and maybe not enough. Some of them had tore up their racecars.

The sad part about it is, in the early days there was no money. I remember at Lakewood Speedway when you used to pay two dollars to get into the fairgrounds at Lakewood. Then if you sat in the cement grandstand they had, you'd pay an extra dollar and a half. Three dollars and a half to get in the grandstand at Lakewood. That's the reason all the hills were filled up with race fans from over the country. They could afford the two dollars but they couldn't afford the buck and a half.

Georgia, had three racetracks. Dalton had two. Boyd Speedway at Chattanooga, and one at Chickamauga. Then you drop down South coming back toward Atlanta. This is just an example of the racetracks. I used to work three to five races a week in the State of Georgia. We'd run Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, and Sunday night. I'd do a Sunday afternoon show and then I'd come to the Peach Bowl on Sunday night. This is the way over a period of, say, 50 years in racing that we just sort of "guestimated" or estimated that I had done from 2,500 to 3,000 races in my lifetime.

And I'm honored and pleased to be inducted into the National Dirt Track Late Model Racing Hall of Fame in Kentucky. I was honored to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at Dawsonville. That is the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, Thunder Road USA. I'm elated over the fact that you have invited me to join the Living Legends, of Racing out of Daytona Beach, Florida. Ray Fox headed this thing up, you see, so I'm thrilled to the fact that I have been a part in my lifetime of the greatest sport in the world, automobile racing.

HR:
Jimmy, would you take a moment to pick one or two of the highlights of your lifetime career in calling races and something that was very exciting that happened to you along the way. Could you describe something for us like that?

JM: Well, there's been so many things. I've always been one that says.....well, back years ago, we didn't have a lot of racecars, as you know, but it was up to the announcer to make a show out of it. I've said all my life that racing is show business along with racing.

And I don't have to say to the world or to anybody.... the hardest sport in the world is driving a racecar, because those drivers not only have to drive them, but back years ago, they had to build their engines; they had to build their transmission; then they'd go to a racetrack and, if something happened, if somebody got them in the wall, and there's a lot of that going on, or they were going over an embankment somewhere, like you were talking about the fairgrounds in Macon, Georgia, Central City Park there.... they'd go over an embankment out into the fields.

Go back to another track that was right downtown Atlanta, Brady Avenue, Peach Bowl Speedway. Now you talk about beating and banging. That's what you had at the Peach Bowl, but the drivers that run there, they were the future in automobile racing. We've got some of those drivers here with us. In fact, I'm looking right now at Jack Jackson and Charlie Mincey and so many drivers out of the Georgia area. That was tough down there. Jack Smith was tough. Roscoe Thompson, so many great drivers that raced on the short tracks, and then all of a sudden, back in late '49 and into the '50s, tracks started springing up at every crossroad, I believe, or every little town in the Rome Georgia.

We had one track at Gainesville, Georgia. Now, there's a town that had three racetracks.... Looper Speedway, and then they had the Gainesville Speedway, Lanier Raceway, and so many tracks around, and then you had them at Cornelia, had them at Toccoa, but for the excitement of racing, when Ed Samples, Gober Sosebee, you see it one time.

Jerry Wimbish, that's a driver we don't want to leave out, out of the Georgia area. I'm more familiar with drivers in Georgia and the Carolina drivers that used to come down, the Virginia drivers, the Florida drivers, you name it, Alabama drivers. I remember when one time there was a driver out of Hialeah, Florida, a guy named Bobby Allison, and Red Farmer, those guys came out of Florida, and they finally made their home in Hueytown, Alabama.

I'm not really answering the question you asked me as to the excitement. I'll just have to put it this way. It was up to the announcer to make some excitement out of every race that I've ever been to. That's one thing that I've tried to do. One of the writers in Atlanta wrote an article in the ATLANTA JOURNAL so stating that you don't know the drivers without Mosteller. That was a compliment, and I still appreciate it. I have a copy of it. And now they're wanting to write a book on my life and Jones and Eddie Samples. A lot of these people are asking me. And I'm gonna give the time to do that. And as for the excitement of racing, I've seen some bad things happen, and I don't like to kind of go over the bad things in life. There's been so much good to overshadow it with.

And the driver from Jacksonville.... I'm trying to think of his name. Lost his life at Lakewood. There was a number of drivers that lost their life at Lakewood because the track was a horse track, to start out with. It was another fairground, but I saw two drivers, two great drivers, a fellow by the name of Bob Flock that you would know well.

HR: Yes.

JM: Bob one of the Flock Brothers, was following Wilbur Rakestraw going up the back straightaway at Lakewood and, bang, it was so dusty, he was following Wilbur, and they went off the track and Bob though, I guess, he was still on the track, but both of them went into a cess pond or, actually.... well, they've got another name for it, but I won't use it.... where their sewage would go to. That was Lakewood Speedway, the Indianapolis, we used to bill it, of the South. That was when Langhorn Speedway and Lakewood were 2 of the largest tracks in the country.

I'll never forget when they first opened Darlington. They were blowing tires up there. It sounded like the Fourth of July, because drivers going that quick on an asphalt track, they were blowing tires.

A fellow by the name of Red Byron, was driving a Cadillac for Raymond Parks. He has done so much for this sport that why we are here to honor him today. He would drive right up against the retaining wall at Darlington. There was a reason, he told us, for that. He said, "Well, if you pull a right front tire, then you're not down in the center of the track and go up and hit the retaining wall head on," and those kind of barriers. And today, some of the drivers are still doing that, but Goodyear, Firestone, and other people that's built racecars for a lot of years, they're building a better tire. They're building a racing tire that can stand up to a lot, but still they have a lot of trouble with tires. But they change them so often, so frequently in their pit stops, today, they've got that down pat. Anytime you go into the pits, they can change four tires in 14 to 17 seconds, not actually change the tire, but put another wheel on those cars. Hey, that is really getting it to perfection. I give the Wood Brothers credit for inventing that when they made their first trip to Indianapolis.

HR: Now, let's go back to Lakewood a moment. Coming out of two, wasn't there a soft spot over there caused by that lake and the drainage and everything? And the drivers had a tendency to pull in, drop down coming out of two or a shortcut around that curve, and they got their left front wheel into that soft spot.

Listen, Ernie Moore and Alf Knight two more people that did a lot for the sport of automobile racing. Ernie Moore was with NASCAR, and then I joined NASCAR, but I couldn't travel all over the country, since I worked for a company for.... well, I spent my life with them. That was the Hav-A-Tampa Cigar Company out of Tampa, Florida. I worked for them..... well, I'm still working for them even though there's no more Hav-A-Tampa. But Ernie Moore and myself, we'd go to Boyd Speedway, like on Friday night. We'd be at the Peach Bowl on Wednesday night. We'd be somewhere else maybe on Thursday night. We were trying to get the tracks organized enough that everybody wasn't running the same night, because that splits up not only your spectators; it splits up your racecars.

JM: Well, the thing is this. The reason they were doing that....if you remember at Lakewood. I remember it well, that, running over a hundred miles an hour on a track, that was not only rough but also very dusty. They tried everything from calcium, you name it, on Lakewood, but after a few laps you had the same condition. But they would set their cars as they'd come by the grandstand to go in the number one turn. As they started off in number two, they would call what "they'd pinch a corner." They would pinch that corner, knowing they were gonna drift out a little bit, but if they got down in the loose stuff close to the lake there, then they'd lose the car. That's one reason Lakewood was so dangerous. Then you go up the back straightaway, you get the number three and four turn. They had holes in those turns that honest to goodness Les Snow with the old Midwest Association of Racecars hit that cement retaining wall right up there where all those people sit, and that was the worst accident I believe that Les ever had.

But Lakewood was a show track and it was up to the announcer, as I alluded earlier, to make a show out of it, whether it was Lakewood, whether it was the Peach Bowl, whether it was one of the short tracks of the country. The announcer had to make a show out of it. One announcer wrote once, how many times at the Peach Bowl I might make this statement. He liked to lost it"; "He almost got in that number four turn." Things like that.

And then as he'd come off the number four and I'd make this statement: "Man, he really knew what he was doing"; "He corrected it beautiful and didn't get in the retaining wall." The announcer wrote that for a reason. He says, "Mosteller is gonna keep your attention," and that's what I wanted to do.

HR: That you certainly did. You really did. I've got one other individual I want to ask you about, and I'm sure you remember him and worked with him. Ernie Moore, the starter and flag man.

That's the reason, Bill France, when he was in Atlanta and Ernie Moore were a great part of it; Alf Knight was the general manager for a long time of the Atlanta International Raceway. That's before it became Atlanta Motor Speedway. But Ernie Moore was my close friend. He and his wife and a fellow by the name of George DeLong..... I don't know whether you know him or not.... one of the best starters in the business. Worked with NASCAR for years. He, Ernie, and myself.... we traveled all over the country.

And then a few years down the road, we had a number of racing associations in the Atlanta area, but a gentlemen by the name of John Cabaness started SRE, or the Southern Racing Enterprise, and we were racing throughout the Southeast.

But there comes old Rex White. I wish people that'll be listening to this would realize the number of race drivers that come right here to this River Bend Racing Museum. In fact, we'll have about fifty of them lined up here after a while. This is history. And I don't mean to be repeating myself, but I'm proud to be a part of the history of this sport, and I'm of the opinion. But I was talking a few minutes ago about when Bill France come into the Peach Bowl Speedway in Atlanta, I think he was going under Bill France Enterprise at that time. In fact, that's when they started organizing a sanction body. Back in those days, it was strictly stock.

HR: Now, are you going back to '46 or '47?

JM: Forty-seven. When Bill France was there. I don't know what we're doing here, but I can't help but mention some drivers. Now, yonder's one of the best drag racing men in the country, right yonder. Hubert Platt, what he did for the sport of drag racing, and he's a member of our association. In fact, on the board. We're doing everything night and day that we can, just as you are, Harold, to let people know what's going on in automobile racing, for a lot of years.

And getting back to Bill France....see I'm jumping. Please forgive me. But when Bill France first organized at that point in time in a 25- or 30-mile radius of Atlanta, there were, I'll say, 20 to 30 of the top race drivers in the country. I'm talking about the three Flock brothers, a fellow by the name of Jeff Brogdan, Eddie Samples or Ed Samples. Then you had Red Byron; you had Lloyd See, Roy Hall, and so many great drivers. And that's the reason sometimes I hate to mention any driver because I would love to tell the world about every driver that every drove a racecar, because they were part of the show.

HR: Now, let me ask you....you mentioned earlier about a book. When can we expect to see this book sitting on the stand at Barnes & Noble or someplace like that?

JM:
Well, I don't know. At the present time, Ann Jones is writing a book on Rex White and as soon as she gets through with that, I'll either go with Ann or go with someone that I can sit down with, like you and I are doing right now. Talking about the past. Give them my opinion and my history on the sport of automobile racing, and there's so many good announcers. They are part of the show so they, too, need to be mentioned in these books, or even a book on themselves. See, I've been, in my 50-plus years, this is my 55th year in it. I've been a promoter, co-promoter, co-owner of racecars. I sort of stood at the hind side or the back side of being a car owner because it was bad for an announcer to own a racecar that was competing against the other drivers, so I sort of stayed on the back side of it.

But to help us get more cars.... and to give an example.... I remember one time when we went to a track here in South Carolina, and it rained all the way from Atlanta up here and when we got there, we only had seven racecars. Seven racecars. So we would have a couple or three more cars. A racecar driver by the name of Neil Roberts, who was a flagman, he said.... he was driving, I think, about a '54 Chrysler.... he said, "I'll put a number on my car." In fact, you can remember.... or I can remember the days, and possibly you can.... that the numbers you see on race cars today. They used to carry a bottle....even I did....carry a bottle of white paint and black paint. If the car was black, dark in color, we'd go out there a put a number on it. So we would add our own personal cars in the field so that we'd have a few more cars.

But we would let the race fans know, "Our field, due to the excessive rain, we'd been out of Atlanta, is not as large as we had expected, but we're going to put you on a show." So what we would do, we would make a show out of it. We would run, say, all seven cars, or nine cars at that particular race, and when that heat was over, then we'd invert them. Whoever won it would start in the back. As I stated a moment ago, we'd make a show out of it. We'd even ask the race fans. If you'd like to go racing, you can do it right now because there's not a whole lot of cars here, and who knows how well you might be." These are the show business things that I'm talking now.

HR: If I remember correctly.... and you brought this to my mind.... that happened to Lee Petty in Charlotte. They had had a cloudburst, and they asked anybody in the audience that had a car that wanted to get out and help dry the track, please get on the track. And he enjoyed that so much, he entered the race. And I think he had a Buick Roadmaster that day and totaled that car out.

JM:
I wasn't gonna tadpole... Neal is dead, but I wasn't gonna say this, but when they brought him out to qualify, he went in the number one turn and he flipped that Chrysler the worst you've ever seen. He made a flip, but it wasn't damaged so badly that he wanted to take.... he wanted to qualify that car.

HR:
This was Neal who?

JM: Neal Roberts. He was a driver, he was a flagman, same way with Jerry Wimbish. Jerry could do anything. From announce, flags, start, you name it. And so Neal got qualified to get in the race with the car and at that time we picked up another flagman. Since he was gonna be the flagman, we picked up somebody out of the stands and taught him how to use the flags. But that's the reason that today I make every race fan, if they want to talk to me on a mike, part of the show. And the little children.... I can go to Dixie Speedway or Rome Speedway and the little children.... "Is Uncle Jimmy gonna be there?" They're gonna line up 'cause they know Uncle Jimmy will talk to them. I used to do that at the Peach Bowl.

HR: Jimmy, it's been a pleasure talking with you this morning at the River Bend Museum owned by J.B. Day and his wife.

We've been interviewing Jimmy Mosteller, definitely a living legend of his time, the Voice of the South. Thank you so much.

This is Harold Reeves, and it's Sunday, June 8, 2003.