“Before the Birth of NASCAR”The Early Years - Part 2
By Rick Kavanagh
Let’s pick up from the last chapter, so here we are back on December 14, 1947 where Bill France Sr. has called all car owners, mechanics and drivers involved in stock car racing to a meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. The purpose of this meeting was to try and form an organization where rules, purses and order would lead to crowning a national stock car champion. Many competitors from all over the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida would attend, but a very quiet and reserved Raymond Parks would attend with Red Vogt, Red Byron, Roy Hall and the Flock Brothers from Atlanta, Georgia.
Raymond Parks with his 1938 Ford
Bill France knew that if he was going to persuade his fellow competitors to see his way with establishing an organization, he hired local female models to socialize with the attendees, where much alcohol flowed. So after an evening of softening the egos of the attendees, the real business started the next morning.
Bill France Sr. had invited promoters from Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania as well as his southern contingent, with the aim of formulating a uniform set of rules and regulations to bring legitimacy to a National Stock Car Racing Plan. After two days of discussions, the racing format was agreed to. On the third day, the organization was formed, but a set of officers needed to be installed and a name given. Red Byron offered the name “National Stock Car Racing Association”, but after a break for lunch Red Vogt suggested “National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.” The two names were voted on and while Byron’s name won the vote, there already existed an organization using NSCRA, so Vogt’s NASCAR acronym was adopted. Would this experiment in Stock Car racing survive? The final act was to create a Board of Governors including a president, secretary, promoters, drivers and car owners. The group nominated Red Byron and Buddy Shuman as driver representatives with Red Vogt and Marshall Teague as mechanic representatives, while Raymond Parks was nominated as an owner representative the group elected two other owners.
E. G. “Cannonball” Baker, a well respected racer from Indianapolis was chosen as NASCAR’s “high commissioner”, William Tuthill a motorcycle racer, was installed as secretary treasurer. An ally of France’s but unknown to the attendees, William Tuthill and Bill France were hoping to take the top positions in the organization.
The final piece of the puzzle came when Red Byron nominated Bill France Sr. as the chief administrator of the organization. Many of the attendees of the meetings in the Ebony room later realized they had given control of NASCAR to Bill France. Many years later, according to Raymond Parks, the next thing we knew, Bill France owned NASCAR. Many felt this was France’s plan all along.
The year of NASCAR’s birth was 1948 and the first NASCAR sanctioned race would be held at a new beach circuit at Daytona Beach. Raymond Parks would tow immaculately prepared 1939 Fords, built by Red Vogt. Drivers Red Byron #22 and Bob Flock #14 and newcomer J. F. Fricks #22A. NASCAR inaugural race would be held on February 15, 1948 and would consist of 68 laps or 150 miles on a 2.2 mile oval on Daytona Beach, sand and pavement oval. The event was hotly contested between Bob Flock #14, Red Byron #22 and Fonty Flock and Marshall Teague. At times, these modified coupes would reach speeds of over 120 miles per hour. With less than twenty laps to go, Bob Flock broke a wheel, and J. F. Frick handed over his car to him to finish, but Red Byron was tailing Marshall Teague finally passing him for the win. The first NASCAR race was indeed won by Robert “Red” Byron giving car owner Raymond Parks ,alias J.F. Frick ,his seventh win at Daytona Beach.
NASCAR's first Champion ,Red Byron #22 ,Car owner Raymond Parks
A little known detail is that during NASCAR’s beginnings and pre-incorporation that 100 shares of stock were created with France’s lawyer getting 10 shares in exchange for legal services, Bill Tuthill received 40 shares, with France giving himself 50 shares, thus half ownership of the sport. It was also found that Red Vogt and Raymond Parks, South Carolina promoter Joe Littlejohn were supposed to be included in the incorporation documents as officers. When the documents were printed, their names were missing.
In time Bill France would end up buying all shares and thus took complete ownership and control over NASCAR. Bill France continued to separate himself from the “moonshine competitors” and take full control of the sport. By 1949 the old 1939 Fords looked worn and weary, so France unveiled plans for showroom stockcars to compete for a championship. The now dated flat head Ford would give way to the new overhead valved V-eight powered cars.
While 1948 would crown Red Byron as the first stock car champion over Fonty Flock in NASCAR, 1949 would offer a new challenge. When the season again started on Daytona Beach’s sand in 1949, this time the car of choice would be new showroom stock Nashes ,Hudsons, Oldsmobiles, Fords and all the new 1949 models that Detroit had to offer. Competitors such as champion “Red” Byron, Fonty and Tim Flock, Buddy Shuman, Lee Petty, Gober Sosebee and Curtis Turner would contest for the win, but in the end Red Byron driving a new #22 Oldsmobile, owned by Raymond Parks and Built by Red Vogt, would win again at Daytona Beach.
In fact, after contesting the new Grand National division for “stock automobiles” during 1949, at tracks such as Occoneechee Speedway at Hillsboro, North Carolina, Langhorne, Pensylvania, Buffalo, New York and Martinsville Virginia, Red Byron would beat Lee Petty for the First Grand National Division Championship. By 1950, Bill France’s wealth was growing since he was promoting anywhere from 5 – 10 NASCAR races per week in the United States.
Bill France was still promoting races against the Sam Nunis run AAA and also with Nunis’ ally 22 year old car dealer, Brunton Smith, from North Carolina. In fact, the idea of running a rival new car division under NSCRA sanction with Brunton Smith as president would evolve into a life long rivalry between France Sr. and Smith.
In 1950 a South Carolina resident Harold Brasington smitten with the spectacle of the Indianapolis 500, decided to invest his wealth into building a new 1.25 mile paved oval. Brasington was hoping to host a 500 mile race under DSRA, but when that failed, he called Bill France.
This would be the biggest NASCAR race in history, starting 75 cars, competing for a $25,000.00 purse. On September 4, 1950, the first Southern 500 was born with over 30, 000 people attending. Many of the regular NASCAR competitors didn’t know what to expect, as all races were less than half the distance and on dirt.
Raymond Parks with Dale Earnhardt sr. 1990's. When the race started the heavy powerful V8 cars sped off, but every 10-20 laps they had to pit for tires, they couldn’t hold the strain of high speed banked turns. However, one competitor Johnny Mantz in a six cylinder 1950 Plymouth coupe #98 kept pace around the oval at a steady pace, only pitting for tires three times.
In fact, Mantz’s Plymouth was mounted with thick ply truck tires that withheld the strain of the race pace. The little Plymouth circled at an average of 75 miles per hour. At the end of 500 miles Johnny Mantz’ Plymouth was declared the winner with Red Byron finishing second and Fireball Roberts finishing third. Under a scoring error, the 2nd and 3rd places were reversed and under protest by Red Vogt – Byron’s mechanic, “there was no way that a Plymouth could beat a Cadillac.” When a tear down of the “stock” Plymouth was asked for, Bill Tuthill of NASCAR turned it down. After all, the car was co-owned by Hubert Westmoreland and NASCAR president Bill France, taking the winner’s share of over $10,000.00.
Even the first Southern 500 ended in controversy. As the 1950’s era opened Bill France took control of NASCAR and continued to distance himself from it’s “moon-shining past”. NASCAR was moving further afield and by 1952, even ventured into Canada. When the first NASCAR race was held at Stamford race track in Niagara Falls on July 1, 1952, one of the quiet people responsible for NASCAR’s early survival, Raymond Parks had sold off his race cars and team a year earlier and returned to managing his business in Atlanta, Georgia. After enduring a car killer of a race, Buddy Shuman from Charlotte North Carolina would survive the grueling conditions driving a Hudson Hornet, to win the first Grand National race in Canada.
By the way, the very day that race was held at Stamford Park Horse Track, July 1, 1952, Merrittville Speedway opened to it’s first racing program on its ¼ mile oval of clay. It was interesting to note, that “Big Bill France” feeling compelled to get Ontario tracks to sign a contract for a NASCAR sanction, proclaimed to my father, Ken Kavanagh, who in 1956 owned Merrittville Speedway with my godfather Bill Russell. “You boys won’t survive a year without joining NASCAR”. By 1955 Sam Nunis and AAA were no longer sanctioning races and AAA went back to aiding motorists while Bill France and NASCAR were gaining momentum in motorsports.
Well here we are 55 years later, and Merrittville Speedway is still running successful Saturday night shows, while NASCAR doesn’t even recognize dirt track racing, in fact the last dirt track Grand National race was held at Raleigh North Carolina on September 30, 1970 and won by Richard Petty. Many of NASCAR’s early stars, Tim and Fonty Flock, Junior Johnson, Roy Hall, Curtis Turner, Lee Petty, Buck Baker, Buddy Shuman, Fireball Roberts, continued to race into the 50’s and 1960’s, but by 1958, the next generation of racers started to enter the sport, the first “non-moonshiners” Richard Petty, then David Pearson, Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough paid their dues against the veterans.. In fact, Richard Petty driving a #43 Petty Oldsmobile would start his first Grand National race at CNE in Toronto, Ontario on July 18, 1958 with his father Lee, taking the win.
Through the decades, even though Bill France Sr. distanced NASCAR from “moonshine”, it cannot be denied that Raymond Parks, now in his mid 90’s still lives in Atlanta Georgia, deserves to be inducted into the new NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte North Carolina. As Richard Petty, my hero, has stated,” there are people that need to be inducted that laid the foundation of the sport.” I truly hope that the voting committee can honour Mr. Raymond Parks and his team of Red Vogt and first ,1948 and 1949, NASCAR Champion Robert “Red” Byron. They supported Bill France Sr. when stock car racing needed help and it’s time for NASCAR to show them the same respect.
Sincerely, Rick Kavanagh , Chairman, Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee.
As a postscript, I would like to give credit to Neal Thompson and his book “Driving with the Devil” for providing me with reference material for this article.
If you are a race fan and want to read more about the early days of stock car racing, its culture and NASCAR’s birth, I suggest that you read that book.
I’d like to thank my good friend Ted Renshaw for putting me on to this book, while we were visiting at his camper prior to the race at Martinsville, Virginia last fall.