Raymond D. Parks: In Memory

Brandon Reed

Brandon Reed

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 6/21/10

Of the late Glenn “Fireball” Roberts passing, sports writer Max Muhleman once wrote that it was like waking up to find that a mountain that had always been there was suddenly gone.

That’s how members of the Georgia racing community felt Sunday after learning of the passing of Mr. Raymond Parks.

Mr. Parks passed away in his sleep early Sunday morning at his home in Atlanta.  He had celebrated his 96th birthday just two weeks prior.

Mr. Parks was respected by so many people, not just around the state of Georgia, but also throughout the racing world.  Richard Petty, Junior Johnson and the late Dale Earnhardt were among the luminaries who spoke of his great contributions.  Earlier this month, David Pearson took the stand that he won’t go into NASCAR’s new hall of fame until Mr. Parks is honored.  That from one of the all time greats in auto racing.

Raymond D. Parks - June 5, 1914 - June 20, 2010. Photo by Brandon Reed

Born in Dawsonville, Georgia, in poor surroundings, Mr. Parks left home to make his way in the world.  He hauled moonshine out of the hills and into Atlanta.  From that, he would build a series of businesses that would eventually lead him into the world of auto racing.

Mr. Parks was a quiet person, but his presence spoke volumes.  He was also a modest person who didn’t tout his accomplishments.  But oh, what accomplishments!

Think about these milestones in history that Mr. Parks was a part of for a moment.  When the first major event for the types of automobiles that would evolve into modern day stock cars were held at the famed Lakewood Speedway in 1938, not only was Mr. Parks there, but his car won.  It was piloted by his cousin, famed moonrunner Lloyd Seay.

Mr. Parks and his cars dominated Daytona Beach in a way nobody ever will again.  Between 1940 and 1950, nobody won on the beach more, with drivers such as Seay, Roy Hall, Bob Flock and Red Byron recording the wins at Lakewood Speedway, Langhorne in Pennsylvania, and countless other tracks all over the east coast.

During the war, Mr. Parks served with the 99th Infantry at the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war, Mr. Parks again went racing.  Fonty Flock would pilot Mr. Parks’ car, meticulously wrenched by famed Atlanta mechanic Red Vogt, to the 1947 NSCC modified championship, a Bill France run pre-curser to NASCAR.

When NASCAR itself began, Mr. Parks was one of its big supporters along with being one of its main competitors.  His cars would win the first NASCAR event, held at Daytona Beach in 1948, along with the first two titles, for modifieds in 1948 and in the strictly stock division, which is now called Sprint Cup, in 1949.

Mr. Parks was there when the first race was run at Darlington, South Carolina.  Photos show him changing tires on Red Byron’s car in an effort to help his team win.  The teams went through so many tires that they began “appropriating” them from passenger vehicles parked in the infield.

But more important than his accomplishments was the support he gave to the sport.  Although Mr. Parks didn’t go out of his way to talk about it, it’s common knowledge that when Big Bill France ran out of money to cover the purses or other expenses in NASCAR, Mr. Parks would make sure things were covered.  He’d even go so far as to provide pace cars for NASCAR events.

In addition, he set an example for those that came after him.  His perfectly presented cars, his poise and his professionalism set standards that we see even today.  So many people tell me today how his influence molded what they did and what they do, ranging from fellow Georgia Racing Hall of Fame members Jimmy Mosteller and Tommie Irvin to drivers who met him years later.

For me, one of my proudest moments came almost one year ago at the second annual Lakewood Speedway reunion at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Dawsonville, Georgia.  The day was also proclaimed “Raymond Parks Day” in his native Dawson County and in the city of Dawsonville.

I was asked to emcee the event honoring Mr. Parks.  I welcomed everyone, introduced local dignitaries and spoke a little about Mr. Parks history and his importance to us there at the Hall of Fame.

Afterwards, Mr. Parks’ wife, Violet reached me before anybody else.  She told me that she and Mr. Parks had enjoyed that ceremony even more than his recent induction in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega, and thanked me for the job I had done as emcee.

Before she returned to Mr. Parks side, she took my hand and placed in it one of Mr. Parks business cards.  He had signed it on the back.

To me, that stands as the highest praise I have ever received, and is one of the greatest honors I could ever have been bestowed.

The words that I said to close that event were unrehearsed and from the heart.

Many have called Raymond Parks the Godfather of NASCAR.  But I’ll take that one step farther.  Mr. Parks is the Godfather of Georgia automobile racing.

Mr. Parks, from the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of every member of the Georgia racing family and from racing enthusiasts everywhere, thank you for all you’ve done for racing, and thank you for being a part of our lives.

Godspeed, Mr. Parks.

Brandon Reed is the editor and webmaster of Georgia Racing History.com.

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