Raymond Parks: NASCAR's Double Inaugural Championship Car Owner
"I don't remember anybody back then racing cars like he did. He did everything first class. The cars had showroom finishes every race. There was never a fender bent that wasn't replaced." (Cotton Owens)
Raymond Parks holds a unique place in NASCAR history as the only car owner to win the inaugural championship in two different series.
Parks won the first-ever championship in NASCAR history by taking the Modified Series championship with cars prepared by Red Vogt and driven by Red Byron in 1948.
In 1949, Parks once again was the championship car owner of NASCAR’s top series: the newly formed Strictly Stock (now Cup) Series, once again with Vogt and Byron.
Raymond Parks was born in Dawsonville, Ga., in 1914. Parks’ first brush with the law was when he was 14 years old and was caught by the local sheriff transporting corn liquor in the family 1926 Ford Model T. This incident resulted in Parks spending three months in jail.
After his time in jail, Parks returned to the Dawson County liquor business, saving money for the future. Two years later, Parks’ future began when he went to Atlanta to help work at an uncle’s service station.
After a few more years of work at the station which also included a part-time liquor business, and saving his money, Raymond bought the Hemphill Service Station from his uncle. Parks’ business skills were beginning to appear.
Parks’ business skill in areas on both sides of the law continued as Parks expanded his interests. Parks' businesses eventually included real estate investments, a number of liquor stores, and an amusement machine company.
Parks continued involvement in the liquor business, numbers, and other extra-legal activities that the amusement machine business provided such as slot machines.
Parks was never caught in any acts of moonshining or racketeering, but the Atlanta police arrested several of his carriers and runners. Parks, along with one of his workers, pleaded guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Parks spent a year in federal penitentiary in Chillicothe, Ohio (the same penitentiary where Junior Johnson would serve his time). Parks and his worker were released in 1937.
In 1938, Raymond Parks’ two cousins Lloyd Seay (pronounced “See”) and Roy Hall had talked Parks into using his Hemphill Service Station to sponsor their race cars.
Seay and Hall, like most drivers of the era, were moonshine drivers. Parks got his first win as an owner on Nov. 11, 1938, at the first race held at the Lakewood (Atlanta) racetrack, with a 1934 Ford driven by Lloyd Seay, which was prepared by Red Vogt.
Parks wanted the best possible cars for his cousins to race, and had Red Vogt, (who had his own “24 hour” service station, the “Red” Vogt Garage on the corner of Spring Street and Linden Avenue) as crew chief and car builder.
Roy Hall, who inspired the Jim Croce song "Rapid Roy, That Stock Car Boy," is shown in front of a Raymond Parks-owned 1938 Ford Modified at Daytona.
Although Parks was involved in what many would consider a "dirty" business, he continues to this day to be neatly dressed and orderly. Vogt’s reputation for a spotless station, rivaling anything seen today, must have appealed to Parks.
Parks’ team of Hall and Seay were the dominant force in racing in the Southeast. The success of Parks’ cars in the months before the United States’ entry into World War II is a good example.
In the pre-WWII days, there were several races per year at Daytona. In March 1940, Hall won the race at Daytona in a Parks car with a record speed of 76.53 mph. Part of the winning effort was Hall’s 40-second pit stop after the leader had a two-minute pit stop. This allowed Hall to take the lead, which he held to the end.
At Daytona in March 1941, Hall won with Seay finishing seventh in the first race. In the second race that month, Hall finished second. On July 27, Seay was fourth and Hall eighth.
Lloyd Seay bicycles through the North Turn on the Daytona beach-road course on July 27, 1941, after already flipping the car twice. Seay finished the race in fourth. This photo was used in his obituary.
In the Aug. 24, 1941, Daytona Beach race, Seay started 15th but led every lap and won. Seay then won the Aug. 31 race in High Point, N.C. and then left for the Sept. 1 (Labor Day) race at the Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta GA.
Seay arrived too late at Lakewood to qualify, and started the race in last place. By lap 35, Seay was in the lead and battled with Bob Flock, who also drove for Parks from time to time, before winning the race. Seay won these three races in nine days, but he would never win again.
After winning the Lakewood race, Seay went to his brother Jim’s house to spend the night. The morning of Sept. 2, 1941, Lloyd’s cousin Woodrow Anderson came to the house with a question about Lloyd’s handling of a sugar purchase that was charged to Anderson. An argument ensued, with Jim Seay shot in the neck and Lloyd Seay shot through the heart.
Woodrow Anderson, who already had a police record for making moonshine, was tried in late October and sentenced to life in prison, but was released after 10 years. Moonshine making and hauling was a family business, but it could bring tragedy to a family as well as money.
Close-up of Lloyd Seay’s headstone showing a photo of Lloyd ‘sitting’ behind the wheel of his 1938 Ford Modified carved into the stone. The headstone was paid for by Raymond Parks.
After Dec. 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II, and racing ended for the duration. From 1942 to 1945, Raymond Parks served with the 99th Division of First Army.
After the war, Raymond Parks returned to his businesses and racing but Lloyd Seay was dead and Roy Hall was older; so Parks turned to another war veteran, a driver by the name of Red Byron, and one of his former drivers, Bob Flock, among others.
In 1947, Parks and his driver, Fonty Flock, won the Modified Championship under a sanctioning body known as the National Championship Stock Car Circuit (NCSCC), which was run by Bill France.
In December 1947, Bill France called a meeting of prominent owners, car builders and promoters at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach.
France proposed a national group that would sanction all stock car racing. Parks and Vogt were among those shown in the group photo taken after the meeting.
The Contest Board of AAA considered any racers who competed outside their sanction "outlaws," and southern stock car racing was not worth the effort to sanction; after all, AAA had the Indianapolis 500. France decided that these ‘outlaws’ should make their own rules.
Stock car racing at that time was suffering from unscrupulous promoters who, at best, did not award the money announced, and at worst, skipped out with the money before the races were over.
Although Vogt had a charter in Georgia for a new sanctioning body he called the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, he suggested that France adopt that name for his proposed new sanctioning body with Vogt giving up his Georgia charter.
Parks entered his car in this new sanctioning body, NASCAR. The car was sponsored by his Parks Novelty Machine Company, driven by the war veteran, Red Byron.
The success of Parks’ company, which included slot machines, jukeboxes, pool tables, and cigarette vending machines, allowed a level of funding that could not be matched by his fellow competitors.
Robert 'Red' Byron was severely injured in World War II and spent 27 months in military hospitals, with the doctors fearing that he would never walk again.
The famous photo of Red Byron after winning the first race held at the then-dirt Martinsville (VA) track on Sept. 7, 1947. Note the war surplus canteen in Byron's hand, still sitting in the Raymond Parks-owned, Red Vogt-built Modified Ford.
Byron had returned to racing in 1946 driving a car owned by Parks. Byron won his first race back; the field included drivers such as Roy Hall and Bill France. Byron then won the second stock car race he entered, at Daytona Beach, and again Roy Hall was one of those he beat.
Because of his badly injured left leg, Byron wore a special brace that sat in a steel stirrup that was attached to the clutch pedal. The bad leg did not slow down Byron in his Parks-owned car, as he won 11 of the 52 races run in 1948, becoming NASCAR’s Modified Champion, the first Championship in NASCAR history.
In 1949, NASCAR added a new series, called Strictly Stock (now known as the Cup series). Byron drove a Parks Novelty Machine Company sponsored 1949 Oldsmobile 88 in six of the eight races run. Byron won two races and one pole that season on his way to his second NASCAR championship.
Parks entered his car in the two races Byron did not drive, but he took no wins. Bob Flock and Roy Hall split those two races as drivers.
In 1950, Byron raced in four of the newly re-named Grand National series races in Parks’ cars with one pole position, but no wins.
In those early days of NASCAR, Bill France often called Parks for advice and even to borrow money.
We may never know how important Raymond Parks really was in the earliest day of NASCAR. Big Bill cultivated the myth that he was the main force behind NASCAR, with men like Parks handing over all influence to him.
In recent years, Raymond Parks has given a few interviews about his participation in the early days of NASCAR. Parks has said that after the 1951 season, he sold his cars and quit racing. Curiously, the records show Parks’ cars racing in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Series in 1949-50 and 1954-55.
The records show Fonty Flock drove in two GN races in a Parks car in 1954, and four races driven by Curtis Turner in 1955. Perhaps these races in 1954 and 1955 were just one old-time whiskey man helping out two former whiskey haulers.
In an interview in 2006, Parks said, “It was money; that’s what it was. I loved racing, but I had to make a living. My business was doing well, but I was splitting the purses with the drivers and paying all the expenses, including parts, and my money was coming up shorter each week.”
Raymond Parks, a teetotaler, was a convicted felon for his whiskey activity. But it must be remembered that a man being sent to jail for being in the whiskey business did not have the stigma in those days that might be attached to someone today. Going to jail was just one of the costs of doing business.
Raymond Parks was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame at Darlington in 1995.
In 2002, Parks was one of eight individuals inducted in the first class of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, along with Red Byron, and his cousin Lloyd Seay.
Raymond Parks certainly deserves to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame as NASCAR’s first double Championship car owner, and hopefully that will be announced before Mr. Parks passes on.
Photo at top: The racing cousins, [L to R] Lloyd Seay, Raymond Parks, Roy Hall.
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