Glen Wood, founder of the Wood Brothers racing team, has seen a lot of race team owners come and go in his years in NASCAR, but few impressed him as much as Raymond Parks of Atlanta, the first car owner to win a championship in the division now known as Sprint Cup.
Parks, who died on Sunday in his hometown of Atlanta, was a major force in the early days of auto racing, even before the formation of NASCAR. “I remember him very well, from back in the ‘40s to today,” Wood said, adding that Parks was known for having the best cars and the best drivers. “Fonty Flock drove for him, and Red Byron,” Wood recalled. “Red Byron was like the Dale Earnhardt of his day.”
It was Byron who in 1949 drove Parks’ Oldsmobile to the championship in the Strictly Stock division that is now the Cup series. And Parks was the premier car owner of his time, fielding multiple entries in numerous races in both the Strictly Stock and Modified divisions. “He always kept his cars neat, like they do today,” he said. “The rest of us just kind of beat them out if they got banged up.” Mr. Parks also presented himself in a neat manner throughout his life. “You never saw him when he wasn’t wearing a suit and a Fedora hat,” Wood said. Wood said he was especially grateful that his old friend was able to attend some of the opening ceremonies for the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte last month.
Mr. Parks, despite his success in the sport, walked away from racing in the early 1950s. He explained many times over the years that it simply was costing him too much money in a time when there was little sponsorship or manufacturer support. Wood said that story might have been entirely different had Parks stayed on a few more years. “He would have still been around today if he had kept on until the factories got into it,” he said. But his legacy lives on, Wood said. “He opened a lot of doors and windows to how to do things and taught a lot of racers how to do it better,” he said. “I hope that some day he’ll be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.” Funeral arrangements for Mr. Parks are pending.