Throughout his short career as an auto-racing car owner, Raymond Parks never strayed far from the top of the sport. His car won the first race he entered, in 1938, and his drivers captured the first three national stock-car titles in the years following World War II.
Along the way, Parks was instrumental in helping Bill France form what became NASCAR in the late 1940s, and he was a crucial financial backer during those early days.
“He truly was one of the pioneers of stock car racing,” longtime family friend Grady Rogers said of Parks. “Raymond is the only guy left living who was at the formational meeting that NASCAR had in 1947. He was there at the start.”
In honor of his contributions to stock car racing and the creation of NASCAR, Parks has been named to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame induction class of 2009.
The induction ceremony will be held Thursday April 23 at the SPEED Dome adjacent to Talladega Superspeedway. Joining Parks in this year’s class are J.C. Agajanian, Donnie Allison, Jerry Cook and Bud Moore.
Parks, 94, was born in Dawsonville, Ga., in 1914. He left his hometown while still a teenager to pursue a business career in Atlanta, first at a service station and garage and later as the owner of a novelty business that placed such items as juke boxes, pool tables and cigarette machines throughout the Atlanta area.
By the time he was 24, Parks had become relatively wealthy. That was when he was introduced to the new sport of stock car racing by two of his cousins, Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall, who convinced him to enter a car into a race at nearby Lakewood Fairgrounds.
Parks, who had never even attended a race before, watched Seay drive a 1934 Ford to victory, and suddenly Parks had embarked on a new career.
“If Lloyd had lost that day, I doubt if I would have stayed in (racing),” Parks was later quoted as saying.
For the next three years, Parks’ cars were successful on small tracks throughout the southeast, and he became an increasingly popular presence on the racing circuit. In 1941, his drivers won five of seven races on the beach course at Daytona, including one victory with France as the driver.
“Basically, Raymond was the first guy you would have called a team owner,” Rogers said.
Following World War II, Parks’ team continued to dominate racing, with Red Vogt building the cars and Red Byron, Bob Flock and Fonty Flock driving them. Fonty Flock won the 1947 Modified championship, Red Byron took the 1948 title, and then Byron captured the first official NASCAR Grand National championship in 1949.
Not only did Parks’ financial resources help his drivers succeed, but it helped France keep NASCAR going until the sport’s popularity took off in the early 1950s.
“Bill France is the father of NASCAR, but his right-hand man during the formative years was Raymond Parks,” Rogers said. “Raymond never took any acclaim for having helped start NASCAR. It was kind of an unspoken partnership. But Bill France could count on Raymond to help fund the teams and bring a crowd with him.
“He had a very tight relationship with Bill France. They were good friends and spent a lot of time together. Raymond has always been proud of that friendship.”
Parks retired from racing following the 1951 season to concentrate on his private business. But he maintained close contact with France and others involved in stock car racing for years.
“Because of his background, he wasn’t really accepted into the societies around Atlanta with the judges and those kinds of people,” Rogers said. “So NASCAR was his society.”
About the International Motorsports Hall of Fame & Museum
Opened in April of 1983, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum is dedicated to the preservation of the history of motorsports. Each year, the annual International Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is held on the grounds of the museum to honor those men and women chosen for induction from among the greatest names in all of motorsports.
The 2009 ceremony will be held April 23rd, at the SPEED Channel Dome, adjacent to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Individual tickets for the evening are $125 and a table of eight may be reserved for $1,000. Tickets and tables are available by calling 1-256-362-5002 or logging on to www.racetickets.com.