By: Cody Dinsmore
Born a simple farmer on June 5th, 1914 in rural Dawson County, Georgia was Raymond Parks. He was the first of his familys 16 children. His father Alfred and mother Leila were both hard working farmers just doing what they could to survive. Growing up, Raymonds responsibilities included milking and feeding the goats, cows, husking corn and many other hard and laborious tasks. But it wasnt until a mid-summers morning in the year 1928, that the young Parks knew where he was going.
While just 14 years old, his father wanted him to go fetch some liquor from some friends. So Parks hopped in his familys Model T Ford and started driving. Coming home, a police officer stopped him, saw that he had liquor in the car, and arrested him. If Raymond had told him he was just 14, things would have been different, but he thought he was mature (and was) so he told the officer he was 16. He got locked up for three months. But during those three months, he met someone very influential to his career, a man named Walter Day. Day was a bootlegger and had many stills around the North Ga Mountains. Since Day was just a few weeks from his release date, he told the young Raymond to give him a call when he too got out.
So on an early morning in the summer of 1928, Parks told his father he was going to tend to his daily farm chores and by the time he was on the other side of their corn patch, he had met up with Walter Day and his men. Parks got in his car and never came back to Dawsonville (to live anyway). Day took him back to Winder, GA to show him some of his prized moonshine stills. Raymonds job was to tend to the still. He would sometimes make it, and deliver it. And at this time (1928-1930) was just when the Prohibition era came about, so even just a hand in making the product was good money. But this was also right at the beginning of the Great Depression, so money was hard to come by. However, Raymond had that taken care of. In just a small amount of time, he earned enough money to purchase a 1926 Ford Model T and a 1929 Chevrolet. Parks would continue to work for Mr. Day until 1930.
When Maude and Miller Parks had heard that their nephew was running and making moonshine, they first located him, and then went to talk to him and finally was able to convince Raymond to come and work for them at his uncles service station located on Hemphill Avenue. The station known as Hemphill Service Station was a popular place among Atlanta residents. So Raymond decided to invest some of his money into half of the business, after all, he had plenty of money to spend for a 16 year old. Parks quickly learned how to do quick grease jobs as well as routine tune-ups on cars and pump gas. He became one of Millers best employees since he was fast at what he done, but still got the job done right. Maude Parks also owned a small restaurant nearby that had a bar in it. Unsuspectingly, the couple would also hire the 16 year old to deliver moonshine to their restaurant. This involved going back to Dawsonville after a hard days work at the Sinclair Station, picking up the moonshine, and driving all night back to the restaurant. He barley had enough time to sleep when he done this, but luckily, they didnt need a delivery every single night. But he was also smart about it, when traveling back to Atlanta with 60 gallons in his Model T, he would stop at a creek along the way and wash the mud off of his tires and fenders from the red clay roads of Dawsonville so he wouldnt attract attention in the city. He also wore nice clothes everywhere he went so it looked like he was just out for a drive.
Earning around 30 cents per gallon, by 1932, the now 18 year old Parks bought out the other share of his uncles service station and got all of the profits from the booming station. Later that year, he bought a large farm about 150 miles south of Atlanta and moved his family there. He also built several stills on the property and hired new runners to deliver the liquor. Just two years into his running business, he retired. However, Raymond didnt require the stills after two years since Prohibition ended and taxed alcohol became legal again. Since he had so much money invested into it, he decided that he would just buy him a liquor store on Northside Drive (which he owned until just a few years ago). At one point in his career, he owned over 20 stores at one time. Legally you were only supposed to have three, but he put them under friends names as the owner. Until the early 40s, Parks was still in the illegal moonshine business, he figured he could make money with both.
In 1935, he got sent to prison again for moonshine, but this time was sent to the Ohio Federal Prison (where Junior Johnson was sent to 21 years later). When he got out in 1936, he got into another businessthis time it was the machine business Pinball, Pool Tables, Slot Machines, Jukeboxes, and Cigarette Machines. And he had them placed at literally every busy location all around Atlanta and North GA. It was a very meticulous business, one that kept making money for him for years into his later years. Also around this time, he got into the illegal number business, which was like a lottery before it was legal in the state of Georgia. At one time he had over 200 men employed that went around all over the metro area to pick up nickel bets on a certain number. At the end of the day when all the money was counted, Raymond would pick a number based on the days second highest livestock amount from the Wall Street Journal. Who ever would win would get a percentage of all of that days bets.
When 1938 came along, Parks cousins and moonshine haulers, Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall, convinced him to give them each a race car to race at the up-coming race for local moonshiners and hot-rodders at the Lakewood Park and Fairgrounds. Cars had raced there before, but they were only the big Indy-type roadsters that were only for the rich from the north. So, Raymond talked to his good friend, Red Vogt, who had a speed shop near one of Parks businesses about building a few cars worthy of running this race. Lloyd Seay won the race driving a 1934 Ford Roadster for Parks. He was quite impressed with both Seay and Hall, who finished 3rd that day, and decided to keep going with this new stock car trend. Just a few years into racing, Parks was knee-deep in it, but certainly didnt want to get out of it. He hired Vogt and his assistant Buckshot Morris full time to keep his racecars in top shape every week. They were also responsible for transporting the cars on a special-made flatbed truck.
Before the next season started, Parks went to Beaudry Ford and purchased two new 39 Ford Standard Coupes for $535 each. One was for Seay, and one was for Roy Hall. He had Vogt modify them for racing competition, and those two cars alone, won a good amount of races. The stock car trend which had started in Daytona, then it Georgia, was literally going all over the south. Tracks were popping up in Virginia, the Carolinas, Alabama.and more and more were showing up in Ga and Florida. Some just ran a few races and some ran for a good while, but wherever they were, most of the time, the Parks team won at them. Raymond was also one of the (if not the first) to put his companys name on the side. He started by putting Hemphill Service Station on his early cars and after the war he put Parks Novelty Machine Company on the side.
At the start of the 1941 season, the team was off to a good start at Daytona where Roy Hall won followed by 3 straight wins by Bill France, Buck Mathis, and Lloyd Seay, all driving for Parks. They were entered for the AAA stock car championship and between Lloyd and Roy, they won more races combined than any other driver that year. However, this year would be both a good and bad one. After winning two straight races, Lloyd Seay traveled to his home track at Lakewood to hopefully get a third straight race and a championship. Since he was returning from High-Point NC from a race hed won the day before, Seay was late getting to Lakewood, so he had to start in the rear. By lap 35, he had passed Roy Hall and was working on Bob Flock when he took the lead and kept it until he won the race. It was the biggest win of Lloyds career, but itd also be his last. For Lloyd would be shot by his own cousin the next day over a moonshine argument. Woodrow Anderson claimed that Seay had charged a $5 bag of sugar to Woodrows credit account and hadnt paid him back, when Seay said he was going to soon, Anderson didnt believe him, and shot him in the heart which killed him instantly. The next race at Lakewood was named in honor of Seay and was called the Lloyd Seay Memorial 100
Both Raymond and Roy took it real hard. This was when Hall got on the bad side of things. He stole things including money and some of Raymonds cars. Hall became a real criminal and thats when he kind of faded away from racing until after the war. Speaking of the war, Raymond Parks was called to serve overseas. When the Pearl Harbor bombing occurred, Parks was set in both racing and his many businesses. Honestly, he didnt want to go to fight and possibly get killed, but he reluctantly went and spent literally over three months in the same foxhole, just doing what he was told to do. Parks was in the 99th Infantry as a T-Sergeant. Life in the war was way different from the comforts he had at homebut he did manage to bring his 1941 Cadillac with him to cruise when he wasnt in battle. He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge which was the bloodiest battle of the war, half of his company was either captured or killed. He was going and forth shooting the Germans for seven days straight while barely covering himself in a makeshift hole.
He was happy to come back home in 1945, and he soon got back into what he loved doing best making money. He picked up where he had left off in his many businesses, even though he did hire some relatives and friends to watch over his businesses. And when the ban on all forms of auto racing was lifted in the later part of 1945, Raymond put his team back together. Roy Hall won the first race back as a team at Lakewood on Labor Day of 45. Since Lakewood was a city-owned facility, the Atlanta government made a law that stated no liquor haulers were allowed to racewhich took out over half of the regular field that entered the races. So more times than none, drivers would go under a different name to race. Roy Hall for instance often used one of Raymonds family members names, Ralph Shirley. Ralph Shirley, also known as Bad Eye since he poked out one of his eyes when he was three, was Parks business partner and brother-in-law. He too drove for Raymond sometimes when Parks had a car with no driver.
When 1946 rolled around and racing was opening back up all across the south, Parks had put a new team together since Lloyd Seay was gone and no one knew Roy Halls schedule since he was usually in jail, Parks first hired Bob Flock to drive his famous #14. He knew Bob and his younger brother, Fonty from racing together, and he knew Bobs future wife Ruby from putting some of his machines in her two restaurants in Atlanta. Then to fill his second car, he hired war veteran, Red Byron from Alabama. Raymond met Byron in the war, and even though he couldnt do much with his damaged leg from a war wound, he liked Reds charisma and decided to let him drive the #22. Parks made the right decision because in Daytona for the first race of the season, Byron won the first race back at Daytona. New tracks were popping up everywhere, since air force veterans especially had such a thrill during the war, and once released, wanted to find speed they once experienced and turned to racing and modifying cars.
The next Daytona race in July was won by Roy Hall giving Parks his 6th straight Daytona victory with even more to come. It would be Halls last big win for he was unpredictable about his schedule, but was more predictable about being in jail.
In 1946, none of Parks cars ran for a championship, just the winning part of it. But as soon as the 1947 season started up, both of the Parks Novelty Specials were entered in the NCSCC series where Bob Flock turned out to win several races and was leading in the points towards mid-season. Unfortunately in October, Flock had a serious accident in Spartanburg, South Carolina. His car flipped violently and Bob was injured badly. They couldnt afford to miss the last few races and a championship, and since Byron would lose all of his second place points if he stepped up to drive the 14, the only solution was to get Bob Flocks younger brother, Fonty to drive the red and white #14 for the rest of the season and try and get as much points as possible. The younger Flock didnt miss a beat and it was as if Bob was still in the car. Fonty won several races before the end of the season to wrap up the season and win Bill Frances pre-Nascar series. Even though Bob Flock did most of the work by winning the points up until the end of the season, Fonty was still declared the winner.
Just a few weeks later in Daytona, a meeting held by Bill France in the Streamline Hotel to create a new series that was formed to run everywhere called Nascar. Red Vogt decided the name and Raymond Parks was the money man of course. In the first season of Nascar, Parks usually provided a pacecar, prize money, and cars for drivers without one. Parks was rarely recognized for his contributions even back then as Bill France took the credit of everything, just as Nascar has it written in history today.
However, Raymond got a big reward in return. It was something he and his team worked hard for, the 1st Nascar Title. With Bob Flock back in the 14 with Fonty going to drive for owner Al Dyke, and with Red Byron in the 22, both had their share of wins, but it was Byron who came out on top including winning Nascars first sanctioned race in Daytona. Just a bit of trivia 39 of 52 races in 1948 were won by GA drivers, almost half of the 39 were won by either Flock or Byron.
In 1949, Bill France came out with a new idea to try and stop the Parks team from winning so much. His idea was a new series within Nascar called the Strictly Stock series and unlike the modified series running late 30s and early 40s coupesthe Strictly Stock was run with newer cars; basically cars from the showroom within two years. But once again, Frances plan failed. Even though Byron or Flock didnt win the first Strictly Stock race (which what Nascar now calls its first ever race in 1949) Bryon pulled away by winning two races in the 9 race season to win the championship over Lee Petty. It gave Raymond his 4th National Racing Championship in less than 8 years in 3 different organizations. Many refer to him as the Rick Hendrick of the 40s.
In 1950, things were going downhill for Raymond and his team. Byron hadnt won any races; although he came close at Daytona, The Mexican Road Race, and at Lakewood, but every time came up short just barley. This would be Byrons last season, and Bob Flock too, would be getting out of racing soon. Roy Hall ended his career when he nearly lost his life at a race in 1949. But there was one driver left for Raymondand that was Fonty Flock. The middle Flock came back to Raymond to run for a couple of seasons before Parks sold the team when he got out of it in 1952. But up till then, Fonty drove hard, and won several races for Raymond including the 1952 Southern 500.
He ran Nascars first season of the short-lived Speedway Division made up of open-wheel cars. Wild Bill Miller was the driver; he won just a few races, but finished 4th in the points. After that, Raymond pulled out of Nascar completely and just ran a few local races at the Peachbowl just for advertisement for his many businesses. By this time, he had expanded his operation to several new Service Stations, A Foreign Car Dealership and 2 Ice Cream Shops. He also had a midget car that at the Peachbowl. The story goes that Parks was about to walk into the owners section of the Peachbowl during a midget race when he was stopped by an official saying he didnt own a midget carRaymond agreed and bought one over the fence, then walked in.
The main reason he pulled the plug was that racing cost so much. He often said that even when he won a race, he lost money. He had a deal worked out with his drivers where he kept the trophy and they kept the money.which was kind of a good deal since his family still has all of his trophys. In a 1947 interview with his drivers, they all agreed that he had spent well over 20K by mid-season, and that was in 1947! $20,000 in 1947 equals a little over $200,000 in todays money. He was once quoted as saying The Key to make a small fortune is to take a big fortune and go racing
In 1955, records show that Raymond was the owner of Curtis Turners Oldsmobile, but Parks just let Turner borrow a flatbed truck.
Since Parks quit racing, he became more focused on his many businesses. Things got better for him and he got involved with other businesses. In the late 70s, he met one of Benny Parsons cousins, Violet, and married her. Raymonds name, never got mentioned in Nascar until the 90s when Dale Earnhardt learned about Parks record at Daytona and sought to meet the other man of Daytona. Thats really where the name The Godfather of Racing came about, from Earnhardt. Starting in the mid 90s, he got into a string of inductions into several hall of fames around the country. He still showed up to his office in the back of his first liquor store until 2004 when he sold the business. Just in the last 3 years, he has gotten more recognition than he has in a while.
He passed away on Fathers Day 2010, which was fitting since he was the Godfather of Stock Car Racing. He was looked up to by many. People who werent even racing fans thought of him as there hero. He was a great man, and will always be remembered as a true leader and innovator.
Thank you Cody