Raymond Dawson Parks - not a name everyone knows, but one every racing fan should.
Raymond's story was something of a screenplay. He was a self-made millionaire during the Great Depression. He owned dozens of different businesses through the years and even sponsored a local Atlanta baseball team at one point, but most importantly, a true gentleman. Most folks, however, remember Parks for his contributions to stock car racing. And his story starts in Dawsonville.
Parks was born on a farm near present-day Shoal Creek Road on June 5, 1914. As the oldest of 16 children, he grew up as a farmhand, hating it. At the age of 14, his father asked him to take the family's Model T Ford down the road to Dawsonville to get a jar of corn liquor. He was stopped and subsequently put in jail for three months. When released, he decided to leave home. He worked for a man who made moonshine (during the Prohibition era, corn was much more profitable by the gallon than by the bushel.)
Fast forward to the early 1930s: Parks made moonshine, 'ran' it, owned a still and hired distillers and runners to deliver. By this time, he had also made enough money to buy his uncle's Hemphill Service Station, where he worked during the day. Once prohibition was lifted in 1933, Parks was among the first to own a legal liquor store in Atlanta and over time, would grow that number too.
Jump to 1938 - Parks was a very successful businessman known throughout Atlanta. I would venture to say he was as known as Al Capone in Atlanta but without the violence. At this point, Parks had two cousins from Dawsonville that worked for him hauling the illegal liquor down to Atlanta from the mountains: Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall. Both were interested in an upcoming stock car race at Lakewood Fairgrounds. Parks agreed to provide two cars and decided if he was going to have cars out there, why not put his businesses on the side? He was one of the first, if not the first, to have 'sponsors' on his race cars. Lloyd won that first race and the bug was set so to speak. His team of Seay and Hall won everything there was to win before the war.
Following his honorable discharge after the war, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, Stock Car Racing was more than just a backyard hobby. One problem was promoters not paying drivers. A part-time racer for Parks, Bill France, was interested in promoting races. More so, he wanted to create a legitimate organization dedicated to stock car racing.
In December 1947, Parks, two of his driver's and his chief mechanic traveled to Daytona Beach to attend the first NASCAR meetings. Parks would quietly help fund the organization for the first couple of seasons. He provided pace cars and purse money. All secretly, of course.
A Parks car won the first-ever Nascar sanctioned race in 1948, driven by Red Byron at Daytona. Byron dominated the season and claimed the Inaugural title. The following season included the addition of the 'Strictly Stock' division (now Cup Series). Parks fielded a brand new Oldsmobile for Byron. Together, they won 2 of 8 races en route to the first Cup Title. Isn't it ironic that the first Nascar Cup Title and the most recent Cup Title both have direct ties to Dawsonville?
In 1950, Parks decided to quietly leave the young sport. He made his mark and his cars won nearly everything there was to win over the last decade. He was also spending large amounts of money to be in contention to win; reportedly spending over $20k on his race team in 1947 alone! He turned his focus to his empire in Atlanta to become one of the most successful businessmen in Atlanta in the second half of the 20th Century.
Many do not know his name or how important he was. It is widely discussed that if not for Parks, Nascar would not have survived its first couple of years. He remained a lifelong race fan, holding the same seats at Daytona from that tracks' first race in 1959 till he passed in 2010. Parks was the first person inducted into the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in 2002, and in 2017, was finally recognized by Nascar for his contributions to the sport by being inducted into the Nascar Hall of Fame.
Parks was the epitome of a true Southern Gentleman. You never saw him without a tie and a fedora. Referred to as the 'Godfather' of Southern Auto Racing, Parks helped plant Dawson County's footing in racing history.