Tonight, Speed TV will televise the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. One of the drivers being inducted tonight is a modern era driver – Rusty Wallace. Still to be inducted into the Hall of Fame are NASCAR and stock car racing pioneers Red Byron and Raymond Parks. I mean no slight to Rusty Wallace whatsoever, but the question must be asked – Why is he being inducted before Red Byron and Raymond Parks?
Rusty Wallace’s stats speak for themselves: 55 Wins and 1 Championship in Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup. He’s also contributed to the sport through his work with ESPN after he retired as a driver. Red Byron’s stats may not be as strong but when you factor in the history he made and what he overcame to win his races and championships, one can only wonder why he isn’t in yet. Byron had only 2 wins in 15 races over 3 years in the Strictly Stock Series (predecessor to today’s Sprint Cup Series) but he was the first Strictly Stock champion in 1949. In 1948 he won the first NASCAR sanctioned race in Daytona Beach on the beach course. That same year he won NASCAR’s first ever season championship, the 1948 NASCAR Modified Division Championship. That alone should qualify him for the NASCAR Hall of Fame but there’s more. Byron served in the US Army Air Force as a flight engineer/gunner during World War II and was shot down in a B-24 over the Aleutian Islands, suffering a severe injury to his left leg. It took over 2 years for him to recover but after the war, he returned to racing. His injury prevented him from operating the clutch properly so he would BOLT HIS LEG BRACE TO THE CLUTCH PEDAL. Yes, he raced with his leg bolted into the car and still won races and won NASCAR’s first two championships. I ask again – Why isn’t Red Byron already in the NASCAR Hall of Fame?
Let’s move on to Raymond Parks. Raymond Parks was a north Georgia moonshine runner turned race driver and team owner. After serving Federal prison time, he transitioned to mostly legal enterprises such as service stations and liquor stores. Parks could easily be seen as laying the foundation for the the “super teams” of today such as those run by Hendrick and Roush. He utilized the skills of Atlanta mechanic Red Vogt to build some of the best cars available. Foreshadowing Roger Penske, Parks insisted that these cars be immaculately turned out at the track and provided sponsorship for them through his businesses. Parks hired some of the best drivers around: Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall, and Red Byron among them. Prior to the founding of NASCAR, Parks’ team was frequently the one to beat. After the formation of NASCAR, they were still often the team to beat. Parks was one of those that met with Bill France at Daytona Beach’s Streamline Motel in 1947 to help found NASCAR. It could be argued from reading Neal Thompson’s Driving with the Devil that Byron’s often unofficial loans to Bill France Sr. helped keep the fledgling NASCAR in operation. Once again, the question must be asked – Why isn’t Raymond Parks in the NASCAR Hall of Fame?
Both Red Byron and Raymond Parks (and arguably Red Vogt) should already be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I’d argue that they should have been inducted prior to Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, and Rusty Wallace. Many would probably disagree with me, but I believe that Byron and Parks should have been inducted prior to Junior Johnson, Richard Petty, and Dale Earnhardt. For the pivotal parts they played in the formative days of NASCAR, they should have been inducted along with Bill France Sr. It wouldn’t have bothered me in the least had their induction pushed the induction of one or both of NASCAR’s seven time champions to the second Hall of Fame class (and I was a long time Dale Earnhardt fan). It is time for the NASCAR Hall of Fame voters to decide whether the Hall of Fame is going to recognize inductees for their contribution to the sport or make it a popularity contest. I believe inductees should be selected on the basis of what they contributed to the sport and their place in the history of the sport. Every year that goes by that Byron and Parks aren’t inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame diminishes the Hall of Fame’s credibility.
Suggested Reading: “Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR” by Neal Thompson. Thompson’s book is a wonderful look at stock car racing prior the birth of NASCAR and during NASCAR formative period.