Red Byron Was NASCAR’s First Champion
by Tom Jensen August 05, 2020
Badly wounded in World War II, Red Byron fought back to win titles in each of NASCAR’s first two seasons.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Red Byron (2018) was a hero in World War II, a man who spent 27 months in a hospital after being injured in a bombing mission over the Aleutian Islands. An explosion in a B-24 Liberator bomber nearly cost Byron his left leg and would cause him pain for the remainder of his life.
Once out of the hospital, Byron knew he wanted to resume the racing career that he began prior to the war, so he found a pair of powerful partners, Atlanta businessman, team owner and fellow Hall of Famer Raymond Parks (2017) and the brilliant mechanic Red Vogt.
Driving for fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Parks, Byron drove a Vogt-prepared and tricked out 1939 Ford to 11 victories and the championship in the 1948 NASCAR Modified Division.
Byron, Parks and Vogt went on to win the first NASCAR Strictly Stock Division (now premier series) championship in 1949, picking up two victories along the way.
That gave Byron a record that can never and will never be equaled – he was the first champion in the inaugural season for two different NASCAR series.
After winning the Strictly Stock title in ’49, Byron greatly scaled back his racing activities, competing in just 4 of 19 scheduled Strictly Stock races in 1950. He would never again run anything close to approaching a full racing season.
But during 1950, Byron and car owner Parks were part of a contingent of NASCAR competitors who competed in the inaugural Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, one of the most dangerous motorsports ever conceived. The event was a grueling six-day, 2,178-mile “Mexican Road Race” contested over deserts, mountains and towns.
Even after car owner Parks was robbed of $2,000, the duo raced their Lincoln up to the last day. But they failed to finish after Byron passed out behind the wheel and crashed, fortunately suffering only minor injuries. Still, it was a tremendous effort over a daunting and dangerous course.