Dawsonville/Dawson County: Still Racing After All These Years
To Ernie Elliott, when ThunderRoad USA closed in 2004, it was like winning the pole position but not finishing the race. “Mistakes were made, there were high hopes but not high support,” he says. “But there’s no point in calling names. We can’t go back and fix it, so we might as well move on down the road.”
That forward motion mentality has always driven the racing Elliotts. Brothers Ernie, Dan and Bill were encouraged by their father to do their speeding on a track, and they became renowned, putting Dawsonville on the racing map. Bill made history on the track, winning races and fans as one of the racing series’ most popular drivers. Ernie built engines and was the crew chief. Now he builds engines for multiple teams, and last year he signed a multiyear extension to build engines for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Ernie Elliott, Inc., has 55 employees, most of them based in Dawsonville, some in Charlotte, and many of them have been with the engine builder since the 1985 season, when Bill won the first Winston Million and finished second in series points.
Back then, the team’s racing budget was about $450,000. Today, with Elliott building for a number of drivers, including those under the Ganassi umbrella, it’s about $3.5 millionIt used to be, engine teams had to devise and build all their own parts. “You made your own advantages, they were not available for purchase. Today, aerospace companies are suppliers for the auto racing industry. Technology has really changed the business.”
Still, Elliott says it’s been his staff, most of whom have been with him since that storied 1985 season, that have had the biggest impact on the business. “Our people are our greatest assets. Machines don’t operate themselves. Engines don’t tune themselves.”
After 30 years of competition at the highest level, Elliott takes stock in the impact he and his family have had on the sport. “We helped take the sport to a new level, brought a lot of awareness to a sport that was very good, but didn’t have the recognition,” Elliott says. “Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments. But overall, you have to take pride in the fact that you helped build something this big.”