Wally Parks, Drag Racing, Class of 1993
Wally Parks is the father of drag racing. Those eight words fall far short of describing the contributions this incredibly active octogenarian has made to American motorsports. His foresight and determination have helped make what was once considered racing's outcast into one of its most successful forms of entertainment. Arguably the largest participant form of motorsports in the country, Parks had the guts to fight local opposition to a standstill during the sport's formative years, and has since overseen the introduction of everything from television to prominent series sponsorships as what was once little more than a backwater activity blossomed into a very professional undertaking.
A born hot rodder, Parks returned home after serving in the Pacific campaign in World War II to be elected president of the Southern California Timing Association, the organization that sanctioned racing on California's dry lake beds. Shortly thereafter he went to work with another lakes racer, Robert E. Petersen, on a new publication entitled Hot Rod Magazine. While Petersen managed the growing company's business affairs, Parks used his journalistic skills to help make the fledgling publication grow into a substantial venture. At the same time he watched with growing concern as hot rodders began to race on the streets of Southern California, knowing it was only a matter of time before everything he and other serious rodders were working toward would be buried beneath an avalanche of public displeasure. The result was the formation of the National Hot Rod Association, which today, with almost 80,000 members, is the largest motorsports association in the world.
In this very limited space it's impossible to list the contribution Parks has made to motorsports. After leaving Petersen Publishing in 1963 to take over the NHRA operation full time, Parks was soon named a director of ACCUS-FIA, of which he's still a vice-chairman. Parks was the first Ollie Award winner on the Car Craft Magazine All-Star Drag Racing Team, which recognizes an individual's career-long contributions to drag racing. The SEMA Man of the Year in 1973, Parks was also enshrined in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega in 1992.
Unlike many others in important positions, Parks has never shied away from admitting his mistakes, but in his case those mistakes have been few and far between. His ability to see coming trends in motorsports almost before they've broached the horizon line has helped keep the NHRA a viable and constantly growing organization. During his tenure the NHRA has become the owner of three of the nation's most influential race tracks, while "National Dragster" has become the most polished and widely circulated house organ publication in motorsports. Parks was, of course, its first editor.
Under Park's leadership NHRA drag racing has become an activity professional enough to attract the nation's most forward-thinking marketing executives, while at the same time remaining "down home" enough to encourage literally thousands of participants to race at their local tracks week after week. From a few temporary drag strips located on abandoned airports the sport has grown to include almost 200 tracks from coast to coast, many of them multi-million dollar facilities purpose-built to efficiently handle the almost 1,000 entries and as many as 100,00-plus spectators who assemble for one of today's 19 NHRA National events.