Red Byron - NASCAR's First Champion, 75 Years Later

Red Byron, 1948 NASCAR Modified Champion & 1949 NASCAR Strictly Stock Champion

By Cody Dinsmore


Cover Photo courtesy Peach State Speed archives.

Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Ford, recently just claimed the 2023 Nascar Cup Series Title, the series’ diamond anniversary.

75 years prior, Red Byron, driver of the #22 Ford, claimed the 1948 Nascar Title. 

And that's about where the similarities stop. 

Red Byron, the man who had dreams of competing in the Indy 500 and failed to qualify, twice.… the man who was a tail gunner on a B-24, and was shot down over the Pacific Corridor during WWll, causing a permanent limp in his left leg and had to race with a special brace welded to the clutch pedal…defied all odds to become NASCAR’s first Champion 75 years ago. What a story….

Let’s go back to December of 1947 at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona. Bill France had organized a group of about 25 men to discuss creating a new legitimate organization to govern organized stock car racing. Byron was in attendance with his chief mechanic, Red Vogt and car owner, Raymond Parks. Byron had just competed in another one of France’s attempts at an organization, this one known as NSCRA - the National Stock Car Racing Association.  He had finished second in points in 1947 to his teammate, Fonty Flock, who only took over the #14 with a month left in the season to aid his older brother, Bob, who broke his back in a late season accident. 

The new organization, NASCAR, with the name suggested by Byron’s crew chief Vogt, was set to be a legitimate sanctioning body that would run races all over the Southeast and a few visits to the North with plans on going national within a few years. 

The first race held under the NASCAR banner was February 15, 1948, on the Daytona Beach & Road Course. Bob Flock would make his first start in his Parks #14 since breaking his back, barely four months removed. Byron was looking to add another victory to his resume from the Sandy Shores of Daytona in his #22 Parks Ford and even team owner Raymond Parks himself entered a spare car in the race, just in case one of his cars had a mechanical failure. Interestingly enough, Parks in one of his very few starts from behind the wheel was doing pretty well, but soon saw his #14 coupe driven by Flock sitting on the side of the track, sans a rear tire. So, Raymond pulled over and gave up his car to Bob, who would take it to a third place finish. Red Byron would go on to take victory in the race, which would make him NASCAR’s first race winner. Back then, it probably didn’t mean much, but little did they know 75 years later it would still be a monumental achievement still talked about today.

The inaugural season for Nascar consisted of 52 events held mostly across the southeast. Towards the end of summer, NASCAR started to introduce double headers - two points races on the same day at the same track. However, earlier in the year, on June 20th, NASCAR held three different races, at three different tracks, in three different states. The Flock Brothers - Bob, Fonty & Tim, all decided to split up and each compete in a different race as to not compete against themselves. The bet paid off and each brother won their respective race - Fonty in Birmingham AL, Bob in Columbus GA, and Tim in Greensboro NC. To this day, it's the only time the same family has won a race in three different states, held simultaneously on the same day!

For the most part, the season was one that was dominated by two names - Byron & Flock. Between Red & the Flock brothers, they accounted for 32 victories in the 52 races held.  Byron himself entered in 33 of 52 races and brought home first place 11 times.  Fonty on the other hand had more starts, more top tens, and four more victories but still finished second to Byron in the year end points. In fact, Byron clinched the title with three races to go with his victory in a 100 mile race in Charlotte NC.  The next week he’d finish second to Fonty Flock in Winston Salem NC and the following week, the results would flip - Byron prevailing at the season finale with Flock in second in Columbus Ga, on November 14th, 1948. Thus capping off the inaugural season of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. 

The first champion was one that Big Bill France could be proud of. He wasn’t a southern bootlegger, and he wasn’t a hell-raising outlaw. He was calculated, and reeked of professionalism. His dream was to run the Indy 500 (which he failed to qualify for twice), and that’s how he treated his stock car races. It helped that he had one of the best cars in the field. With Red Vogt as chief mechanic and Raymond Parks as team owner, you couldn’t have asked for a better pairing. It's widely known that any car that had Parks’ name or business on the quarter panel had way too much money invested in it. When Fonty Flock won the 1947 NSCRA title driving the Raymond Parks #14, he was quoted as saying that Raymond spent over $20,000 on his race team, in 1947, about double the average cost for a new home!  Byron finished second in the year end points and now one year later finally was on top.

The trio of Byron, Vogt & Parks would go on to also claim the 1949 NASCAR Strictly Stock Title, now known as the Cup Series. In a short eight race season, they entered six races and won two - Daytona Beach & Martinsville. 

Unfortunately, their 1948 triumph is commonly overshadowed by the 1949 title, in what most claim as Nascar’s first season. 

It’s hard to believe that was 75 years ago. Those who lived that history are gone, and quickly going are the ones who know that era. And that is what Peach State Speed is all about - keeping the memories and stories alive of the Pioneers of Georgia Stock Car Racing.