“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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.