Story by Patrick Reynolds. Photo by ISC archives.
Charlotte, NC- As the NASCAR Hall of Fame was being constructed here in the Queen City, fans, competitors, media, and stock car enthusiasts debated as to who should be inducted into the first class. An abundance of names of those who drove and contributed to building the sport were tossed around.
Names were shouted and discussions were held.
My feelings leaned towards that the Hall’s beginning should reflect NASCAR’s beginning.
Red Byron was the first ever NASCAR Champion, winning the Modified division title in 1948, driving for team owner Raymond Parks. The pair also claimed the Strictly Stock Championship together in 1949, in what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. I was an advocate for these two men being inducted into the Hall’s first class.
That group inducted in 2010 consisted of Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Dale Earnhardt, and Richard Petty- all extremely worthy recipients and excellent representatives of NASCAR.
No disrespect to the five men that were honored, but I was eager to recognize more of NASCAR’s origins.
Seven classes and 35 inductees later, NASCAR’s first ever championship car owner Parks was inducted as a Hall of Fame member in 2017.
Parks’ car that Byron drove to NASCAR’s first championship was on the original collection of iconic machinery that lined Glory Road when the Hall opened in May of 2010. Parks was able to see the car staged and honored prior to his passing the next month at age 96.
Parks was an Atlanta businessman who was remembered for his style, sophistication, and class among stock car racing’s early rough and tumble years. He was also a World War II Veteran and fielded stock car entries before and after the war.
Prior to his passing, Parks spoke of his race car-owning career in a Hall video interview.
“My first race was in Lakewood (Georgia) in November, 1938. Lloyd Seay drove it and he won the race and that’s what got me the fever,” Parks said.
His team won all five races on Daytona’s beach-road course track in 1945 and 1946. Parks also was part of the group that sat with France Sr. at the Streamline Hotel in 1947 as NASCAR was formed.
Parks’ granddaughter Patricia DePottey said, “Bill France created… started it, brought everybody into the Streamline Hotel but I think my granddad loved the sport and what he was doing, and the cars, and the racing that he… to contribute financially was to build that part of the dream and I honestly do not believe he ever imagined it (NASCAR) would get to where it is today. “
Kyle Petty said, “Bill France’s and Raymond Parks’ friendship was a huge moment in this sport. And what Raymond did (in) those first few years put the sport on solid ground so that Bill France Sr. could build from there.
“Without Raymond Parks, there is no Richard Petty. There is nothing to build on. That’s a cornerstone,” said Petty.
Ned Jarrett said, “If it had not been for people like Raymond Parks and others who helped France, I’m not sure we’d be where we are today.”
Parks described his racing as a “lot of fun and a lot of other people had fun. I hope I was a good car owner and I had good drivers and tried to win a lot. (it has) been so long I thought everybody done forgot about me.”
“If you went into his office, in the store, he had everything he loved right there,” said DePottey. “He had his trophies, he had his pictures, he had his family surrounding him in stores, and he had his business.”
“He wanted everyone to be honest with him but he was also very much a gentleman and very humble. He was very hard working, had a very strong work ethic. He was a very honest man,” said DePottey.
Four other new members that excelled in NASCAR’s Cup Series were also inducted into the Hall. Five-time series championship team owner Richard Childress, 11-time series championship team owner Rick Hendrick, 40-time race winner Mark Martin, and 21-time winner -and then respected broadcaster- Benny Parsons.
H. Clay Earles, builder and operator of Martinsville Speedway, was honored with the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR. Benny Phillips, longtime racing and sports reporter, was named the winner of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR media excellence.
The Hall is constructed to highlight displays that educate fans about current stock car technology and the sport’s history. With Parks now inducted into the Hall- alongside Petty, Earnhardt, France and others-half of NASCAR’s original championship team is now honored for today’s fans to see.
Now I look forward to Byron getting his deserved honor in the near future.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Speedway Report Mondays 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT on http://speedwayreport.wpengine.com/ . Follow on Twitter @SpeedwayPat.