BARBARA PARKS, WIFE OF NHRA FOUNDER AND EARLY DRIVING FORCE, PASSES AWAY GLENDORA, Calif. -- Barbara Parks, wife of NHRA founder Wally Parks and a driving force behind the early successes of the 54-year-old sanctioning body,...
BARBARA PARKS, WIFE OF NHRA FOUNDER AND EARLY DRIVING FORCE, PASSES AWAY
GLENDORA, Calif. -- Barbara Parks, wife of NHRA founder Wally Parks and a driving force behind the early successes of the 54-year-old sanctioning body, succumbed to cancer Jan. 25 after a long battle with the devastating illness. She was 82.
It's hard to know what the enduring image of Barbara Parks will be in the field of motorsports. In contrast to the many women who take the very deserving spotlight as a result of their untiring efforts to contribute to the progress of automotive hobbies and racing, Mrs. Parks, by her own choice remained in the background. But she was a force--an important, determined and very creative influence--in the earliest days of the founding of hot rodding and, of course, the National Hot Rod Association and championship drag racing.
She was active to the end, remaining at her husband's side as he pursued with painstaking effectiveness the efficient operation of an NHRA museum, a monument to the sport's illustrious history and a showcase of the archival record of NHRA drag racing. Many of the features showcased in the museum, now named for its founder as the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, are the product of Barbara's vision, creativeness and talents.
Barbara Parks got her start in an innocent way. Little did she know when she signed on as secretary to Wally Parks, then editor of Hot Rod magazine, that she would devote the remainder of her adult life working with the esteemed Mr. Parks to cultivate and nurture the hobby we know as hot rodding.
She made the transition from a secretary's role with a major network in New York's Rockefeller Center to a secretary's job at Hot Rod Magazine in Southern California. She knew little about automobiles, but she was fascinated and genuinely appreciative of the people she met whose wholehearted dedication was centered on cars.
As Hot Rod's staff secretary, she was introduced to many basic elements of what was current and popular among car enthusiasts all across the country, finding special interest in the activities of car clubs. And when her 1951 arrival coincided with the National Hot Rod Association's formation, she inherited the added functions of processing a flood of new memberships, typing members' cards and handling a deluge of correspondence as a routine part of the daily workload.
She was fond of telling about how, after office hours working on Hot Rod magazine, she spent her evenings processing the earliest association memberships at home, typing out NHRA membership cards, stuffing envelopes, and maintaining the files and records of the earliest days of NHRA.
When the first National Championship races were formulated in 1955, she was deeply involved with their planning, preparations, and event promotions. NHRA introduced its divisional system and appointed the directors, she encouraged a selection of leaders whose spouses were active in, or at least appreciative of, the still neophyte hot rod movement's qualities.
In 1960, when NHRA's "working force" consisted of three secretaries and office space at Hot Rod was limited, NHRA moved its headquarters to North Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles, with Barbara appointed its executive manager, and the headquarters staff soon expanded to eight. A part of her functions was the establishment and maintenance of a communications network with the Division Directors and track operators, and was also an ambassador in the association's auto industry relationships, cultivating many friends among car manufacturers and their agencies.
She was deeply involved in the structuring of NHRA's chartered car clubs program and when this growing activity was spun off as the International Car Clubs Association, she moved to separate headquarters where she served as executive director, with Tex Smith as its pioneering advocate. Her insight and appreciation of the beneficial results that could be gained in cooperation with civic and law enforcement leaders added much to the organization's process in its early stages -- still lasting values today.
As their working relationship developed Barbara and Wally became close friends, enjoying together the challenges of their work and the realization and satisfaction at having started in the early 1960s what quickly developed into one of the most popular automotive pastimes in America. Barbara and Wally eventually married; they enjoyed more than 40 years of being together, all the while pursuing the never-ending task of contributing their time, talents and experience to the betterment of all activities of NHRA--the hot rod hobby and championship drag racing--and its progression under their guidance to become the largest motorsports sanctioning organization in the world.
Very little has been written about Barbara's involvement in the association, from the earliest days of NHRA on to the present. It was Barbara who recognized the importance of instruction throughout the hobby and pursued the establishment of an umbrella group to nurture and promote car clubs, the single most important step in the overall creation of a structured car club group, the International Car Club Association. The ICCA was a significant stimulus in the promotion of car clubs throughout the country, which today number in the hundreds. The ICCA is also credited with spurring interest in the hot rodding sport among carmakers; Dodge was the first--and a frequent--sponsor of ICCA club projects and activities.
Barbara also made important contributions to the progress of drag racing both as an amateur sport available to "...anyone with a car and a driver's license," in her words, to the highly popular professional sport that today enjoys worldwide attention and popularity. It was Barbara who encouraged Wally to take drag racing the "next step," from a pure amateur sport in its early days to a professional level that allowed commercial participation by hundreds of major corporations, from small equipment manufacturers to carmakers to today's POWERade division of Coca Cola.
Barbara's personality beamed with wit and intellect. Despite what some may assume her lifestyle to be due to her passion for hot rodding and drag racing, Barbara was an aficionado of various forms of music--in particular jazz--and modern art. She will be remembered as a person of class and character, but more importantly, she will never be forgotten as the one individual who was behind the scenes working with Wally Parks, who, from "day one," introduced the National Hot Rod Association and vigorously pursued its influence and impact throughout the world.
It is commonly said that if it wasn't for Wally there might be no drag racing sport as we know it today, no hot rod hobby, and no industry serving it, an industry that today stands at $26 billion in annual volume. And in all fairness we must with confidence add Barbara's name to that credit, for it was her astuteness, enthusiasm and good judgment that in a big way helped make it all happen.
"We mourn the passing of many legends in motorsports, but few can match the dedication and passion with which Barbara Parks devoted her time to the National Hot Rod Association and all of its programs," said Tom Compton, president, NHRA. "In her memory lives an unmatched commitment and loyalty to a sport and the people in it she so dearly loved. We admired her for her understanding of the sport and all that it means to so many thousands of participants, and we respected her for her knowledge, good humor, fairness and understanding. Although she is no longer with us, her spirit will endure and will always be an important part of the history of NHRA and championship drag racing."
Barbara is survived by "her family," all of the people who make up the sport of drag racing and the hot rod movement. She never hesitated to refer to her family as all the people of NHRA--not just employees, but drivers, crewmembers and fans. That, of course, is a fitting tribute to the woman who gave her all so that those of us involved could have a sport we love and enjoy, and careers that would not have been possible without her foresight.