• Key player in NASCAR’s birth and growth
• Considered NASCAR’s first team owner
• First owner to win a title (1948 NASCAR Modified)
• First owner to win a NASCAR Cup Series title (1949)
• Member of NASCAR’s founding committee in 1947
• Key financial contributor during NASCAR’s fledgling years
Without Parks, there might not have been a NASCAR. Beyond helping to start and sustain the series, Parks is considered its first team owner, and one of its most successful. In 1948, the former moonshine runner’s car won the first NASCAR championship ever awarded, taking the NASCAR Modified class title with Fonty Flock at the wheel. The following year, Parks’ car captured the inaugural NASCAR Strictly Stock Series (now Cup Series) title with Red Byron at the wheel. In both appearance and performance, the professionalism of Parks’ entries set a new standard for the fledgling sport. Parks was a key member of the group who met with Bill France at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach in 1947 and created NASCAR. He used his wealth to nurture NASCAR during its fledgling years, keeping the organization afloat by lending France money and new Cadillac pace cars. When Parks died in 2010, he was the last surviving member of the sport’s founders. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017.
By Buz McKim
The black car made its way down the dirt road that ran from Dawsonville, Georgia to Atlanta. In the early morning stillness just outside of town, it stopped next to a stream and under a bridge where the driver got out. Pulling a bucket and towels from the car, Raymond Dawson Parks cleaned off any traces of red clay to avoid attention, put on a three-piece suit and, looking more like a doctor than a whiskey hauler, blended in with the traffic making its way to the big city.
Not the traditional way one would picture a hauler plying his trade. But Parks was never caught on the road.
He was born in 1914 in rural Dawson County, set in mountainous North Georgia, where he was the oldest of 16. At 14, he ran away from an abusive father to work in his uncle’s gas station in Atlanta. By 16, he’d set up a lucrative side hustle. After working all day in the garage, he’d take off for Dawsonville where he’d load 60 gallons of moonshine and drive back to Atlanta. He made 30 cents a gallon for his efforts and before long bought half-interest in his uncle’s business.
Soon, he’d made enough to buy out his uncle completely. He bought a farm in South Georgia and moved his family out of the mountains. He also set up “the Bug,” a numbers game that netted him a small fortune.
Parks was making so much money he began looking for another business to get into. Stock car racing was the rage around Atlanta at the time so, in 1938, he bought two new Fords and hired two of his teenage cousins—angelic-looking Lloyd Seay and rough-and-tough Roy Hall. Both were amazing drivers with quite different driving styles. With their talent and Parks’ bankroll, they dominated the early days of stock car racing. The cars were built and maintained by automotive wizard Red Vogt, the fellow who years later would give a new racing organization its name: NASCAR.
Among Parks’ drivers was a tall, good-looking fellow from Daytona Beach. Bill France became part of the team and won his share of races. By 1946, Parks had returned from the war in Europe and France had retired from driving, promoting races full time. France had a vision for the sport that would have credibility with everyone, competing under one set of rules with guaranteed purses. “Big Bill” was able to bring the best of the sport together for a series of meetings in Daytona in December 1947 to explain his plan and NASCAR was born.
The going was rough at first, but if it wasn’t for Parks believing in France’s dream and writing checks when needed, there is doubt the little organization could have made it. Parks also became the sport’s first great team owner, fielding cars prepared by Vogt and driven by inductee Red Byron that captured the first two NASCAR championships and set the standard for everyone who followed.
Raymond Parks, who passed away in June 2010 at 96, had a truly amazing life and there is speculation that NASCAR may not have survived those wild early years if not for Mr. Parks.
Buz McKim is considered NASCAR’s pre-eminent historian, having held that position at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. He’s written several books and today is host of the weekly Legends of Racing Radio Show from Racing’s North Turn Restaurant in Ponce Inlet, FL.
NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton