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Sunday, March 31, 2013
NASCAR has plenty left for Hall

By Ed Hinton
ESPN.com

Raymond Parks
The late Raymond Parks stands on Daytona Beach next to a replica of one of the NASCAR modified stock cars that Red Byron drove for him in the late 1940s.

A couple of weeks ago, after naming my five picks for NASCAR's next Hall of Fame induction, I got feedback from readers suggesting other names from NASCAR's rich past.

Nobody disagreed with my "Famous Five" -- Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly, Curtis Turner, Fred Lorenzen and Bobby Isaac -- but readers brought up some other significant contributors to NASCAR lore.

"Can u believe they still haven't put in Raymond Parks?!!" Doug Gandy emailed. "It's a cryin damn shame."

No, I can't, I replied. But they don't let me vote. The omission of Parks is precisely what Gandy called it: A cryin' damn shame.

But I have beaten my head against that brick wall so often, for so long, that I decided to take a breather this time from campaigning for the man who was just as vital to NASCAR's early success as founder Bill France Sr. himself. Parks died in 2010, still languishing on the list of nominees, even though his passing was recognized in a lengthy obituary in The New York Times, not exactly known as a bible of NASCAR history.

More about Parks in a minute. But now that he is gone, and NASCAR's voters have missed their chance to let him know, alive, just how revered he was, let's consider some others who are likely to be ignored for some years to come -- but who warrant discussion for what they did and who they were.

The Flying Flocks -- four siblings, three men and a woman, all drivers -- were arguably the most colorful family in NASCAR's formative years.

The late Tim Flock is, as Brady Smith pointed out in an email, the "highest man left on the all-time win list." Flock won 39 races and two championships (1952, '55) before being banned for life from NASCAR for joining Turner in trying to unionize drivers in 1961. Flock and Turner were reinstated in 1966. Turner returned briefly. Flock never did.

Tim was the youngest of three Flock brothers, all of whom were NASCAR pioneers, winners and showmen, as Dave Green suggests. I would even go further, to include sister Ethel, NASCAR's second female driver, who beat two of her brothers in the only NASCAR race to include four siblings, on the beach at Daytona in 1949.

Maybe the Flying Flocks should be packaged in what horse racing calls an entry, as a group in the Hall of Fame. Born in Alabama, the Flock kids were all moved to Atlanta by their uncle, and immersed in the bootlegging business.

Bob, the eldest, was the savviest moonshine runner of the family, and became a star in modified cars -- essentially converted "liquor cars" -- winning more than 200 features in that division.

For one incident alone, at the storied one-mile dirt oval in south Atlanta, Lakewood Speedway, Bob is worth talking about.

After World War II, preachers in Atlanta railed at their congregations to stay away from that sin pit Lakewood, where bootleggers raced on Sunday afternoons. Under the pressure, promoters banned drivers with arrest records from racing.

Bob showed up to race anyway, wearing a bandana around his face, as was common with dirt-trackers of the time, to keep their noses and mouths clear of dust and debris. Promoters recognized him and told him he couldn't race.

He sat there on the front stretch, revving his engine in anger. When the police came, he moved to the backstretch, still revving. Finally, lore has it, motorcycle cops took off in one direction around the track, and police cars in the other, trying to box Bob in. So he drove right through the backstretch fence and took off on city streets, then highways, back toward the Flock bootlegging base of Dahlonega, Ga.

Fontello Flock, "Fonty," the second brother, felt more comfortable driving in Bermuda shorts, and won the NASCAR modified championship of 1949 before his biggest Cup race win, the Southern 500 of 1952.

With his roots in both Alabama and Georgia, Fonty in the 1960s conceived a notion for a major track to be built between Atlanta and Birmingham, to draw from both markets. Big Bill France beat him to the punch, enlisting the aid of Alabama Gov. George Wallace and opening what is now Talladega Superspeedway in 1969.

Fonty sued France but lost, and died heartbroken of cancer in 1972 at age 52.

Flock family
From left, Tim, Ethel and Fonty Flock were NASCAR pioneers.

Ethel was "named for the gasoline," Tim always said, quite seriously, although the grade of gasoline we now call "premium" or "ultimate" was spelled "ethyl" in the 1950s.

Ethel entered more than 100 modified-division races, but competed only twice in Strictly Stock, now Cup. On the beach in '49, she finished 11th, ahead of Bob and Fonty but behind Tim, who wound up second.

"Jocko Flocko," Tim's pet monkey, was the family's adopted star. Jocko rode with Tim in eight races in 1953, decked out in his own little driving uniform. But in the eighth race Jocko panicked upon seeing dirt fly up from the tires through a hole cut in the wheel well so Tim could monitor tire wear. Jocko was so upset that Tim had to pit to release him from the car.

Tim at least has been nominated for the Hall of Fame. The other Flying Flocks, as a package, were stalwarts of NASCAR lore.

Dave Green brought up another name that resonates with me. For my first decade covering NASCAR, the majority of winning drivers and owners would say of the vehicles sitting in victory lanes, "It's a Banjo car."

No builder was more dominant, for longer, than Edwin "Banjo" Matthews, known as "Mr. Modified" during his driving career, but later legendary as a chassis maestro, the supplier to top teams whose cars won more than two-thirds of the Cup races from the mid-70s through the mid-80s.

"I hope they do not forget about Ralph Moody," Ken Fortier wrote. "Mechanical genius and with the first super team of NASCAR."

That would be the storied Holman Moody team, formed with John Holman as Ford's primary factory team on the Cup tour in the 1960s. They launched Lorenzen's career, sent David Pearson to back-to-back championships in 1968 and '69, and in all won 92 Cup races. Holman Moody even built prototype sports cars for Ford Motor Co. in its war with Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the late '60s.

Even after selling his interest in the team in 1971, Moody continued to tinker in a visionary way. Circa 1980 he developed what he billed as a 54-mpg passenger car. Archrival mechanical wizard Smokey Yunick publicly questioned the physics, and Moody's car never went into production. But he was more than 30 years ahead of his time.

In my earlier column I mentioned three wild-card names -- Wendell Scott, Benny Parsons and Alan Kulwicki -- in addition to the Famous Five.

The mention of Parsons likely motivated Larry K. Dunn to bring up a long shot but not at all unreasonable name: "Track owner of NC Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, championship car owner, pioneer of racing, L.G. DeWitt."

The peach farmer and trucking businessman from the Sand Hills region of North Carolina had enough faith in upstart Parsons to run him for a full championship schedule, unsponsored except out of DeWitt's pocket, in 1973. Parsons won the championship, and then won the 1975 Daytona 500 in a DeWitt car.

DeWitt also helped save the two tracks at Rockingham and Atlanta from bankruptcy, entering partnerships to keep them afloat until moguls Roger Penske and Bruton Smith bought them.

Just this one flurry of reader feedback is more indication that, despite fears that NASCAR will run out of names for its Hall of Fame, it won't, anytime soon -- not at the rate of five inductees per year.

All the aforementioned names will be inducted someday. But the burning travesty remains the tragedy of Raymond Parks, the Atlanta team owner who did far more than win the first "Strictly Stock" championship with Red Byron as his driver in 1949. (Byron, by the way, is another name deserving of swift elevation from just a list of nominees.)

Parks, with the ultra-colorful Georgia moonshiners-turned-racers Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall, was winning stock car races long before there was a NASCAR. Their chief mechanic was Red Vogt, who actually came up with the acronym NASCAR in 1947.

Then Parks lent a lot of money and a lot of class to Big Bill France's fledgling organization. It was Parks who introduced the concept of freshly painted, clean race cars instead of mud-covered jalopies. Parks and Byron won NASCAR's first race, in 1948, and then the first championship for what is called the Cup series today.

Junior Johnson once called Raymond Parks "the Rick Hendrick of his time."

But to the knowing, Rick Hendrick is the Raymond Parks of his time.