Before NASCAR, there was Raymond Parks

March, 7, 2009
HAMPTON, Ga. -- I have seen the Holy Grail of stock-car racing. It was given to the new NASCAR Hall of Fame here this morning.

It is a tarnished, simple, silver loving cup, less than a foot tall, with the race winner's name misspelled: "Loyd [sic] Seay."

But it is the trophy that assured there would be a NASCAR.

The date is inscribed as "11/11/38" -- Nov. 11, 1938.

It was awarded to Lloyd Seay, who NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. told me and others was the greatest stock-car driver he ever saw, for winning a 150-mile race on old Lakewood Speedway, a 1-mile dirt track on the south side of Atlanta.

This was nearly a decade before there was a NASCAR.

After that victory for Seay and his team, the car owner, Raymond Parks, told me 15 years ago, "We sho' 'nuf got the fever" to race full time.

And they did -- owner Parks, chief mechanic Red Vogt, Seay and second driver Roy Hall -- until Seay, at age 21, was killed in a bootleggers' quarrel in 1941 after he'd won three straight national-level stock car races in an eight-day span.

Not until 1947 would organizational meetings produce such a thing as NASCAR -- and it was Vogt who came up with the name and acronym. Not until 1948 would there be a NASCAR race, and a Parks car won it, with Red Byron driving. Not until '49 would there be a "Strictly Stock" division that would evolve into the Sprint Cup Series -- and that first season, Byron won the championship, driving for Parks.

Parks, now 94 and too hard of hearing to be interviewed, is the sole survivor of his team, which sometimes included a pickup driver -- Big Bill France himself.

Parks was "the No. 1 guy to get it started," Richard Petty said of stock-car racing at this morning's trophy-presentation ceremony. "I guess Mr. France did the organizational stuff, but Mr. Parks was racin' before he ever knowed Bill France."

Parks will donate his entire trophy collection to the Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. But he wanted the initial presentation of five trophies, including the one for the first NASCAR championship, to be here, because Atlanta is his hometown and was the home of his racing team.

Of the five trophies, the one Seay won at Lakewood in 1938 is by far the smallest and least impressive.

Unless you understand that it is the most important trophy in the history of stock-car racing -- the one that "sho' 'nuf" got Raymond Parks excited enough to become a living cornerstone of the sport.

"I think I was 11 years old at the first Cup race [in '49]," Petty said. "Mr. Parks had already been there for years before that. … He set the standard. Racing started pretty rough -- rough characters, rough cars, rough situations.

"Mr. Parks brought class. I think a lot of people said, 'OK, if he can do it, we can do it. We can clean the sport up; we can clean ourselves up.'"



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