In December 1947, a group of men gathered inside a smoky conference room in Daytona Beach, Fla. to create the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR.
Among them was a well-dressed, 33-year-old man from Dawsonville with big dreams and deep pockets.
With his financial support, the largest sanctioned body of stock car racing in the United States flourished.
To many, Raymond Parks would come to be known as “the godfather of NASCAR.”
Memorial services are scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta for Parks, 96, who died June 20 at his Atlanta home.
He was the last living member of the group who created NASCAR, said Gordon Pirkle, local racing historian and owner of the Dawsonville Pool Room.
“If it hadn’t been for Raymond Parks, there would be no NASCAR,” Pirkle said. “His money is what helped finance them to get started.”
Pirkle said some of Parks’ financial success stemmed from his bootlegging days.
“He was the biggest moonshiner and liquor distributor there was,” Pirkle said.
“After Prohibition, he went into legal business, and then he really made a killing.”
Added Pirkle: “It’s hard to imagine him with the kind of background he had. To see him, you’d think of him as a minister more so than a moonshiner. He was such a gentleman.”
Dawsonville native David Sosebee agreed.
“He was the gentleman’s gentleman,” said Sosebee, son of race car driver Gober Sosebee. “His word was better than any written contract from any lawyer today.”
Sosebee said his father was friends with Parks.
“My dad said Raymond was square and honest, and he didn’t put up with people who wasn’t,” Sosebee said.
“There wouldn’t have been a NASCAR if not for Raymond Parks. [NASCAR co-founder] Bill France was the promoter. Raymond was the backbone, the one with the money.”
Sosebee said the money “maybe came from running moonshine ... but he took that and did an important thing. Something very good came out of it all.”
Parks began running moonshine at age 15. He left Dawsonville about the same time, moving to Atlanta.
He later became a bona fide businessman in the real estate industry. During World War II, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge as part of the 99th Infantry Division.
Sosebee said Parks will be missed.
“He was about as good as they come,” he said. “A great legend has died.”