Raymond Parks, the pioneering car owner who was at the meeting where NASCAR was formed and won the sport’s first two championships, died Sunday, the sanctioning body confirmed. He was 96.
“The NASCAR community is saddened by the passing of Raymond Parks,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said in a statement. “Raymond was instrumental in the creation of NASCAR as a participant in the historic meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach. He was also our first championship owner. Raymond is a giant in the history of NASCAR and will always be remembered for his dedication to NASCAR.”
The godfather of a Prohibition-era moonshine empire who later went legitimate and became a successful businessman, Parks had a short tenure in NASCAR, but made an indelible mark. He ran what was very much the sport’s first professional organization, and teamed with driver Red Byron to win the inaugural modified championship in 1948 followed by the first “strictly stock” — the forerunner to today’s Cup Series — a year later.
“That really was the Hendrick [Motorsports] of its day,” NASCAR historian Buz McKim said last year of Parks’ team. “He always had the best of equipment, the best drivers, the best mechanics. He always made sure the cars were totally spotless when they came to the track. That’s just the way he did things.”
Parks was the last living member of the group that gathered at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach., Fla., to form NASCAR in 1947. A quiet, mild-mannered Atlanta resident who was always impeccably dressed in a Fedora and wool suit, Parks ran both a north Georgia moonshine network and an illegal lottery locals called “the bug.” He served nine months in federal prison on conspiracy charges, and like many other wealthy men of his time, took a liking to fast cars.
Parks, who fought in World War II at the Battle of the Bulge, eventually went legitimate and built a wholly legal financial kingdom based on real estate and vending machines. If there was a cigarette or pinball machine in Atlanta, Parks likely owned it. He owned gas stations and convenience stores, and ultimately sold some of his properties to Georgia Tech.
Parks began to field cars on a ragtag Southern racing circuit for two of his cousins, Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall, but they were also moonshiners, and they often tested Parks’ patience. Seay was ultimately shot to death, and Hall was in and out of jail. So when Parks was introduced to the cerebral, meticulous Byron, like Parks a war veteran who took pains — literally, given a leg left withered by Japanese shrapnel — to present himself a certain way in public, it was a perfect match.
Together with ace mechanic Red Vogt, they formed the first great team in NASCAR history. Parks and Byron would also form a company together called Overseas Motorsports that imported cars from England. Parks occasionally butted heads with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., and eventually scaled back his involvement. He fielded cars for Fonty Flock and Curtis Turner for a handful of starts in the mid-1950s, but soon disappeared from the sport.
Parks, who in his later years was deaf and had difficulty speaking, in 2007 donated a number of his trophies to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and many see him as a strong candidate for enshrinement to the hall’s second class next year.
It is really too bad that NASCAR did not elect Parks in the first class of inductees to the NASCAR Hall of Fame last month. It is the view of WOMR that the initial class of inductees should have been extraordinarily large to accommodate the pioneers and founding fathers of NASCAR, Now the last one of the founding fathers has passed away without seeing the “fruits of his labor”!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!