“Before the Birth of NASCAR”
By Rick Kavanagh I recently finished reading a book titled “Driving with the Devil”, written by Neal Thompson and in my estimation it is probably the most accurate account of the early days of stock car racing, moonshiners and its true roots in the South Eastern United States. While in Canada, many now defunct, racetracks such as Chippawa, Brantford, Ancaster, Stamford, Speedway Park, Pinecrest and CNE were part of our racing history, they really do not illustrate our racing heritage prior to 1950 in fact, Canada’s oldest continuous operating track, Merrittville Speedway in Thorold, Ontario dates back to 1952. The point that I am making is that stock car racing was already a sport of some 17 years in the Deep South. The Irish- Scotch descendants who emigrated to the U.S. south in the 1800’s settled in the foothills of the Appalachians brought many of their customs and tenacity, as well as their cultural recipes of poteen, we now know as moonshine, and this is where our cast of players descend.
Lloyd Seay 1938 We all know that Bill Elliott is the most heralded racer from Dawsonville, Georgia, but back in the 1920’s, and 30’s especially during prohibition and later the Great Depression, Dawsonville, Georgia was better known as the Moonshine Capital of the U.S. During the Depression it was hard to make a living farming, especially in the already depressed South, but farmers learned that they could add value to their corn crops if they used their Irish-Scotch recipes to make “poteen” moonshine and sell it to a public, thirsty for alcoholic beverages, during prohibition, especially if it could be carefully delivered to nearby cities such as Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, to illustrate just how big a deal moonshine had become, there were over 6,155 still seizures in Georgia, compared to 3,287 in North Carolina back in 1923-24.
A young Raymond Parks was one such individual who back in those years, found that by loading his Model T with moonshine in Dawsonville and quietly running with local traffic towards downtown Atlanta, that he could solve part of the distribution problems with moonshine. However, as the market grew, so did the surveillance by A.T.F. agents, (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) tracking and raiding illegal moonshine stills.
By the early 1930’s, Henry Ford helped solve the problem by introducing his flathead V8 powered coupes in 1932. In fact, Ford had a huge assembly plant in Atlanta. While Raymond Parks worked as a 16 year old mechanic at his Uncle Millers’” Hemphill Garage” in Atlanta by day, he would deliver moonshine by night driving the ever treacherous 60 miles from Dawsonville to Atlanta. Lloyd Seay,Raymond Parks&Roy Hall While Raymond Parks was amassing a fortune delivering moonshine by night, he bought his Uncle Millers’ garage and would trade his 4 cylinder Fords for new V8 models. He even hired two of his cousins and employed family members to operate his own stills his cousins, Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall learned quickly how to drive brand new V8 Fords from Dawsonville to Atlanta.
Lloyd Seay,Raymond Parks&Roy Hall
Even with prohibition ending in 1933, many of the southern states and counties, would remain alcohol free and all the while tax revenuers would keep the pressure on trying to stop the tax free trade of alcohol. In order to stay ahead of the U. S. tax agents, Raymond Parks hired a well known mechanic by the name of Red Vogt who helped balance and modify flathead Fords for moonshine delivery. All the while, during this period, most auto racing in the U. S. was conducted in the Midwest and Northern states, under the sanction of the American Automobile Association or A.A.A., headed by promoter Sam Nunis. The Indianapolis 500 was the “crown jewel” while tracks such as Langhorne, PA were staples for open wheel racing. By 1936 the AAA was the main organizer of auto racing in America, stock car racing was highly unorganized, with Bill France Sr. trying to organize racing speed trials with the city of Daytona Beach by 1938.
Business men such as Raymond Parks decided to enter their moonshine cars and drivers in loosely organized events at a track called Lakewood Speedway near Atlanta. From the mid to late 1930’s moonshiners such as Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall became not only entertainment for local southerners but local folk heroes racing their cars on fairground horse-tracks and hastily carved out ovals, with the big races happening at Lakewood Speedway near Atlanta, Georgia, working for cousin Raymond, delivering moonshine during the week and racing moonshine cars on the weekend. Raymond Parks purchased brand new 1939 Fords for his cousins to race with and had Red Vogt modify them for speed and handling, using many of the tricks used when modifying them for moonshine delivery. Bill France noticed this and while not a moonshiner, raced with them as events sprung up in the south and he needed the moonshiners to come to Florida, to help fill the field of modified stock cars for Daytona Beach’s ,sand-events.
Roy Hall Races on the Beach
Lloyd Seay,& Roy Hall, would put on driving displays in their new meticulously prepared Fords that had people all over the southeast talking, while law makers and church elders condemned the racers as being law breaking criminals, the sport continued to grow in popularity amongst blue collar people. The world was changing and while the rest of the world was involved in World War 11, the U. S. was not, and continued in its peace time activities, including moonshine and stock car racing, until one fateful day in 1941, when Woodrow Anderson, a cousin of Lloyd Seay shot him dead, apparently over a dispute on a sugar bill, for ingredients for the moonshine still. As shock rang out through the south of Seay’s’ death, Woodrow Anderson was sentenced to life in prison. The AAA was still at it’s peak in open wheel racing but they saw the up start stock cars as a threat. Moonshiners Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall, Bob and Fonty Flock had huge success at northern tracks such as Allentown, PA with Bill France winning at Langhorne, PA.
In fact, Bill France had accumulated enough points in 1940 to be declared stock car champion. The AAA declared all southern stock car drivers to be banned from northern tracks. So instead of arguing, whether, the racing stock car hub was either Lakewood Speedway- Atlanta, Georgia or Daytona Beach, Florida. It was now AAA north vs. southern stockcar moonshiners. A young racer from Colorado, Robert Byron was racing AAA open wheel cars and racing in the upstart Alabama Stock Car Association and after Lloyd Seay’s’ death, Raymond Parks needed a new driver and Red Vogt recommended Byron for the job. There was one problem and that was the U. S. had entered the War in 1942 after Pearl Harbor, so all” race time” activity ceased.
From 1942-1945 Raymond Parks was drafted into the Infantry and Byron to the air corps. Robert Byron would survive the war, but was wounded by schrapnel while on a mission in a B-24 bomber, leaving him partially crippled for life. After the war, Raymond Parks, Red Vogt, Bob Flock, Roy Hall, Fonty Flock and new driver, Robert “Red” Byron would continue where they left off, racing and wining against the likes of Eddie Samples, Goober Soosbee and Buddy Shuman. Bill France had picked up where he left off, promoting NCSCC races in the south, but he had changed, no longer wishing to see his once fellow competitors “moonshiners” win, he raced against them, but try as he might he had to settle for 2nd place behind moonshiner Roy Hall at Lakewood Speedway where 30,000 people attended the first race, since the office of Defence Transportation had officially lifted its wartime ban on sporting events.
From 1945 to 1947, the AAA “Elitist contest board” dabbled in stock car racing as well as open wheel racing, so it was Sam Nunis vs Bill France and his loosely organized NCSCC. France knew that if he was going to gain control of stock car racing and spread north and west, it would have to be a dictatorship and not a democracy in order to become organized. Bill France Sr. placed an ad in Speed Age magazine, inviting all participants, car owners and mechanics to a meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach on December 14, 1947. Would this meeting lead to the birth of organized stock car racing?