NHRA FOUNDER PARKS CELEBRATES 93RD BIRTHDAY GLENDORA, Calif. (Jan. 23, 2006) -- NHRA Founder Wally Parks celebrated his 93rd birthday today. A motorsports pioneer who moved drag racing off the streets and into safer, organized race tracks, ...
NHRA FOUNDER PARKS CELEBRATES 93RD BIRTHDAY
GLENDORA, Calif. (Jan. 23, 2006) -- NHRA Founder Wally Parks celebrated his 93rd birthday today. A motorsports pioneer who moved drag racing off the streets and into safer, organized race tracks, Parks continues to be actively involved in NHRA by serving on the drag racing sanctioning body's board of directors. In addition, he is chairman of the board for the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California. The popular museum, which features a wide variety of historical race cars from drag racing as well as other motorsports, is located in Pomona, Calif.
His efforts and ambition, 55 years ago, created what has become the world's largest motorsports organization, which today provides competition opportunities for more than 80,000 members nationwide and sanctions drag racing events for more than 140 member tracks.
Parks, who founded NHRA in 1951, has never implied that he did it all himself. Reflecting on the tremendous growth and success of NHRA, he notes how fortunate he was that so many dedicated people have shared his outlook that almost anything is possible if you believe in it strongly enough. But without Parks' vision and perseverance, much of what has happened today may not have been achieved.
"At age 93, I may be the world's oldest hot rodder--still excited at the innovative passion for cars and competition that now qualifies NHRA as the world's largest motorsports sanction body," Parks said. "The progress made in 50-plus years, with the cultivation of drag racing into a sport that hosts thousands of racers at 5,000 sanctioned events in a single season, is one of our most outstanding accomplishments. The long-term transition from widespread street racing to today's logistically-superior racing event productions is a rewarding feature--far beyond any of our wildest dreams, back in the days when we were often branded as renegade. Not a bad record for a bunch of car freaks."
Born in Oklahoma, then living in Kansas until age 8, Parks' automotive interests surfaced after his family moved to California. There, in his high school years, he became active in building stripped-down Model-T Fords and Chevy fours for use on the street and in early speed trials conducted on dry lakebeds in the Mojave Desert, north of Los Angeles.
In 1937, Parks took part in the formation of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) -- an organization focused on conducting land speed record events -- serving as one of its officials until World War II began. In 1946, following military service in the South Pacific, Parks was elected president of the re-organized SCTA. In 1947, after 10 years of employment as a road test driver and process engineer for General Motors, Parks left GM to assume a new role as the SCTA's general manager. It was his concept that produced America's first Hot Rod Show, presented by the SCTA in 1948 at the Los Angeles Exposition Armory.
In 1948, Parks helped co-publishers Bob Petersen and Bob Lindsay in the introduction of Hot Rod magazine, which became one of the world's largest circulation auto enthusiast publications, and later was named its first editor. In 1949 Parks organized the campaign that led to the opening of Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats for hot rod speed trials -- a still thriving annual activity.
In 1951, utilizing Hot Rod Magazine as a conduit to nationwide readership, Parks formed the National Hot Rod Association. In 1963, he resigned his position as editorial director for all of Petersen's automotive magazines -- Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Car Craft, Sports Car Graphic and Motor Life -- to assume full-time administrative duties as president of NHRA.
An early recipient of Car Craft magazine's prestigious "Ollie Award" for his many contributions to motorsports, Parks was named "Man of the Decade, 1962-1972" by Popular Hot Rodding magazine and was recognized as "Man of the Year" in 1973 by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). The American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) honored Parks in 1988 and again in 1994 for his pioneering efforts in motorsports. Parks received his highest honors in 1992 and 1993. He was drag racing's first inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992 at Talladega, Ala., and in 1993, he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame at Novi, Mich.
In 1994, the tributes to Parks' legacy continued to pile up. A large bronze statue of Parks was presented at NHRA's Gainesville Raceway, which was eventually moved to its current location in front of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. Later in 1994, Parks and his wife, Barbara, who has been actively involved with NHRA since its founding, were co-inductees into the Don Garlits' International Drag Racing Hall of Fame at Ocala, Fla. for their pioneering efforts which spearheaded NHRA's success. Parks also was the first recipient of the Don Prudhomme Award, a trophy presented by NHRA to an individual who has made a profound impact on the growth and positive image of the NHRA POWERade Series.
At the 2001 NHRA Awards Ceremony, Parks was presented the prestigious Blaine Johnson award for his dedication, perseverance and nurturing commitment to the sport over the years.
In 2002, Parks again was recognized for his many contributions to the sport of drag racing. He was presented with the inaugural Robert E. Petersen Lifetime Achievement Award at the fourth annual Hot Rod & Performance Trade Show in Indianapolis. Petersen, a renowned automotive publisher and creator of multiple automotive magazines, presented Parks with the all-bronze sculpture which was created to honor the entrepreneurs who have contributed to the history, growth and well-being of the hot rod industry.
In late 2003, Parks received another honor of distinction, as he was named the Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award winner by the Motor Press Guild in Los Angeles.
Parks now dedicates much of his time to his personal involvement with the cultivation and expansion of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. Although much of the Museum's historical focus is on the evolution of NHRA and drag racing, it also features many other forms of motorsports that relate closely to the formative years of NHRA, including dry lakes, Bonneville, oval track racing and allied performance industries.
These are elements that appeal most to Wally Parks, a guy who has been there, done that, enjoyed and appreciated it for decades.