Early NASCAR team owner Raymond Parks ‘brought the sport class’ with multi-team outfit – Charlotte Observer
Consider NASCAR pioneer Raymond Parks as a man ahead of his time.
“Mr. Parks was Rick Hendrick before NASCAR had Rick Hendrick,” said David Sosebee, whose father Gober Sosebee was a longtime friend of Parks and raced against his multi-car teams during the sport’s early years.
But that nod to team-owner Hendrick – who along with Parks and three others will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday in Charlotte – also fails to fully do justice to Parks and his contributions to the sport.
Parks, a one-time moonshine runner from the north Georgia town that later produced Hall-of-Famer Bill Elliott, stands as one of NASCAR’s more influential figures. It’s just that much of his impact came not from behind the steering wheel, but from behind the scenes.
“He set the standard,” Richard Petty once said. “Mr. Parks brought the sport class. It took people like Mr. Parks to lay the foundation we’re living off of. Without him, we wouldn’t have the history we have and we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Raymond Parks was known for being well dressed, always in a suit and tie and wearing a fedora. He also insisted that his race cars be polished and their dents smoothed out before each race.
Before he died in 2010 at the age of 96, Parks was the last surviving member of a group of 35 people who in December 1947 met at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla., to help Bill France Sr. form NASCAR.
Parks then established his own teams, fielding 14 cars from 1948-55. In 1948, Fonty Flock drove Parks’ car to NASCAR’s Modified Division title. A year later, racing “strictly stock” cars, another Parks team – with Red Byron driving and Red Vogt serving as mechanic – won the first Cup race on Daytona’s beach course in a Rocket 88 Oldsmobile, then went on to claim the first championship of what is now NASCAR’s Cup series.
Parks, who ran away from home when he was 14, would become an early precursor to today’s “super” teams in NASCAR – multi-car outfits such as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing. He also fielded teams with drivers such as Bob Flock, Roy Hall and Curtis Turner. Lloyd Seay, another of Parks’ talented drivers from the pre-NASCAR days, was shot and killed on Labor Day 1941 by his cousin in an argument over moonshine.
If a church was bothering him, a new organ would somehow show up and they wouldn’t bother him again. He would smother them with honey.
Like many of NASCAR’s early figures, Parks found his way into the sport by illegally running liquor. And, like other legends of the sport such as Junior Johnson in North Carolina, Parks got into big trouble for transporting the moonshine from his hometown of Dawsonville, Ga., to Atlanta. After being caught, he served nine months in a federal penitentiary in Ohio in 1936.
“He knew it was an illegal business, but he made it as legal-like as anybody could,” said David Sosebee. “If your stuff was good, you’d be paid for it and he knew that. He was no shotgun establishment. Everybody hushed up about it and took care of him. He was making cash money when there was no money around.”
After he was released from prison – and going on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II – Parks got into racing. He traveled to Daytona Beach to help France cement his vision of what a racing organization – what would soon become NASCAR – should look like.
14 Teams fielded by Raymond Parks from 1948-55.
After establishing himself as a race team owner, Parks made good use of his money elsewhere. He loaned France funds to help get the fledgling NASCAR off the ground and stay afloat (France also drove for Parks on several occasions in the pre-NASCAR days). He was generous around Dawsonville to people and organizations who knew he had the money to help.
“He did lots of things to keep them off his back,” David Sosebee said, laughing. “If a church was bothering him, a new organ would somehow show up and they wouldn’t bother him again. He would smother them with honey.”
Parks was known for being well dressed, always in a suit and tie and wearing a fedora. He also insisted that his race cars be polished and their dents smoothed out before each race.
“I always called him Mr. Raymond, and even my dad called him Mr. Parks,” David Sosebee said. “That’s the kind of respect and admiration we all had for him.”