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CUP: NASCAR Pioneer Parks Dead At 96

Raymond Parks, who wasn’t a member of the founding France family but was one of the fathers of NASCAR, died Sunday on Father’s Day.

The Atlanta resident was 96.

Parks was at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla., in December 1947 when a meeting of racers called by Daytona Beach resident Bill France Sr. resulted in the formation of NASCAR.

Parks owned the first successful racing team in NASCAR circles and was the championship car owner in 1949 in the first season of what would become Sprint Cup racing.

“The NASCAR community is saddened by the passing of Raymond Parks,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said. “Raymond was instrumental in the creation of NASCAR as a participant in the historic meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach. … Raymond is a giant in the history of NASCAR and will always be remembered for his dedication to NASCAR.”

Parks hired driver Red Byron and ace Atlanta mechanic Red Vogt to drive and build his race cars, and they formed a formidable team in the 1940s and ’50s. Parks made a fortune in the illegal whiskey business (he served time in federal prison) and later became a success in legitimate business circles in Atlanta.

He used some of that money to build and bring top-flight race cars to NASCAR tracks, and he also was instrumental in providing financing to France in NASCAR’s early years.

“I don’t remember anybody back then racing cars like he did,” former driver and team owner Cotton Owens said of Parks. “The cars had showroom finishes every race. There was never a fender bent that wasn’t replaced.

“He was a quiet man who never said anything to anybody. He was mild-mannered and easygoing. But he wanted first-class equipment. And if you ever saw him, he dressed accordingly. Suits and ties.”

Byron, NASCAR’s first Strictly Stock (Sprint Cup) driving champion, drove a Parks-owned Oldsmobile in the first official series race in June 1949 in Charlotte, N.C. He finished third.

Parks left the sport in the mid-1950s after determining that he was putting too much money into fielding a successful team.

“It was fun, but I went into the hole every time,” Parks remembered in an interview several years ago. “I was splitting the purses with the drivers, and I was paying all of the expenses for everybody and paying the mechanics to keep up the cars. There wasn’t any money in it then. I had to stop messing with cars and make a living.”

A quiet, generally shy man, Parks remained away from NASCAR for many years, although he kept the trophies his team won on display in his small office in downtown Atlanta. He recently donated some of those trophies to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.

Parks was among the candidates for the hall’s first class this year and probably will be voted into the hall soon.

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEEDtv.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.

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