Mickey Swims, who has owned the track with his wife, Martha, since 1976, has been working for two months to prepare Dixie’s racing surface. Swims said the mud, which is called brick clay, is unlike any dirt he has ever seen, which makes the preparation something of an art or a science.
“There isn’t really a time clock for it,” Swims said. “You kind of work on it from daybreak until night. We just work all the time. It gets easier after the opener, but we plow the race track and work it all during the winter.”
Swims, who also owns Rome Speedway, said the land around Dixie’s sister track has been his source of dirt for nearly 40 years. When the track at Dixie needs more dirt, he hauls it in from the hillside adjacent to the track in Rome.
“It takes about 275 tandem loads,” Swims said. “It’s a special red clay. We’ve got about 150 acres over there. We did it right out of the mountain for the track over at Rome and (Dixie). I’ve been working as a grading contractor since the 1950s and I’ve never seen any dirt like it. I’m sure there is some somewhere else, but I’ve never seen it.”
When Swims bought Dixie, the surface was asphalt, but he quickly converted it to dirt for a simple reason.
“We couldn’t make any money,” he said. “You’ve got more action on dirt. These late-model cars come through running two-, three-, sometimes four-deep at 120 mph, with fire coming off of them. Sometimes, they flip. That is what the fans want to see. They don’t want to see anyone get hurt, but they want to see a fender bent. It’s a great show.
“When we took the asphalt up, our crowds tripled. They come for the action.”
Fans who come out to the track tonight — or any Saturday night from May through September — won’t find Swims sitting in a box or shaking hands with the winners in victory lane.
He will be doing what he said he does best.
“It’s a challenge to do this, and I’m sure someone could probably do a better job, but I don’t think they can,” Swims said. “I still run the grader and the water trucks. That’s where I want to be. I don’t want to be up there in the office.”
Starting early each Saturday, Swims waters the track with 300,000 gallons of water. That recreates a soft, slick surface before Swims — with the help of the race cars — iron it out leading up to the first race each night. It isn’t until midway through the action that Swims said he takes time to sit down and enjoy the excitement.
Swims never raced on a dirt track himself, but he said racing is what has always united his family. When he was younger, he raced a drag car and even owned a track in Cumming in 1960, where his son, Mike, and daughter, Mia, got their introductions to racing.
“We raised them in it,” Mickey Swims said. “They went where we went every weekend. We spent time together.”
While Mike Swims lost his seven-year battle with cancer in 2007, his son Chase became part of the family business, where he works alongside his grandfather and aunt.
The 74-year-old Mickey Swims knows he won’t be able to care for the track forever, and he’s happy to have his family involved.
“Somebody has got to take the reins ones of these days and go on with it,” he said. “You never know from one year to the next year, but we have had good crowds always.”
However, the patriarch of the Swims family is quick to say that running a dirt track has been more of a hobby for him than a way to make a living. In addition to the two speedways, Swims owns a landfill and a grading company.
“The bad thing about a racetrack is that you can only run it one night a week, six months out of the year, and then you are going to get rained out some,” Swims said. “It’s got its ups and downs, but we love it. We have been doing it with our family for 45 years. If I could go back over time, I would do it all again.”
Swims knows the cost of operating a race car as increased, so he’s increased the purses this season. While he knows it still doesn’t cover all of the operating costs a driver faces, he wants them to know how important they are to Dixie.
For tonight’s racing, grandstand admission is $15 for adults, $6 for children ages 9-17 and free for 8 and-under. Alcohol is not permitted in the grandstands, but those who tailgate with the purchase of a $23 ticket are welcome to bring their own beverages.
Gates open at 5 p.m., with racing set to begin at 7 p.m.