Historical NASCAR Figures Who Helped Make The Sport What It Is Today

Culture | 10/26/20

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, otherwise known as NASCAR, is an American auto racing company headquartered in Daytona Beach, Florida. Although most people in the United States are familiar with the name NASCAR, it didn’t become as successful as it is out of nowhere. NASCAR was built by a number of individuals who either took the sport to the next level or were crucial in getting the company off the ground. Take a look to see who these individuals were and exactly how they helped develop the sport into what it is today.

Raymond Parks Started Out As A Bootlegger

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ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Although he started out as a bootlegger, Raymond Parks made enough money to buy out his uncle’s gas station, eventually becoming a respected businessman in Atlanta. While Parks was trying to stay away from the bootlegging lifestyle, the men he was involved with created stock car racing on local farms.

After fighting in World War II, he proved himself as one of the first team owners with the help of mechanic Red Vogt, who supposedly came up with the name “NASCAR.” In 1948-1949, Parks won the first two NASCAR championships with his driver, Red Byron, and helped keep the sport financially afloat in the early days.

Smokey Yunick Was Mechanic Of The Year

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ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

After serving in World War II, Smokey Yunick operated Smokey’s Best Damned Garage in Town in Daytona, Florida. He was twice named NASCAR’s Mechanic of the Year, and he was part of Chevrolet’s unofficial factory race team. Yunick is credited with numerous innovations to the sport, including offset chassis, raised floors, and roof spoilers, among several other improvements.

However, NASCAR and Yunick didn’t always get along, and they didn’t adopt his air jacks for stock cars or the first “safe wall,” which was made of sheets of plywood and old tires. Yunick had nine patents related to engines and racing.

Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker Was The First Commissioner Of Racing

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Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker was the first official Commissioner of Racing for NASCAR after it was established on February 21, 1948. In the early 20th century, Baker was known for organizing motorcycle and auto racing events and was notable for his point-to-point drives, which resulted in motorcycle and car manufacturers paying him to promote their products.

Baker also made an estimated 143 cross-country speed runs on his motorcycles, which is about 550,000 miles, and raced in the 1922 Indy 500, finishing in 11th.

Junior Johnson Won Over 100 Races

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ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Starting as a moonshine runner in the South, Junior Johnson became skilled behind the wheel, which would show when he became a race car driver. During his first full season as a NASCAR driver, in 1955, he won five races and finished sixth in the Grand National (Sprint Cup) point standings. In 1966, he retired as the driver with the most all-around wins without winning a championship.

After retiring, he became an owner, and his team included some of the best drivers of the time. All in all, his drivers won 139 races in NASCAR’s top series, and Johnson was inducted in the first class of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.

Bud Moore Was Known For His Red And White Cars

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ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

A decorated war veteran from South Carolina, Walter M. “Bud” Moore was a car owner, and over the course of 37 years, had 63 wins and 43 poles, and two NASCAR Grand National championships. Typically, Moore’s cars were red and white with the No.15 with a Motorcraft sponsorship on display.

Some of his top drivers included Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, and Fireball Roberts, among many others. He was a highly respected member of the sport and was inducted into the second class at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011.

Richard Petty Is Known As “The King”

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ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Richard Petty was son of racing legend Lee Petty, making him a second-generation racing legend. Referred to as “The King,” Petty won seven NASCAR Grand National and Winston Cup championships and is the only driver to have won 200 races in NASCAR’s top series. Petty was known for driving as the No. 43 under the Petty Enterprise Banner.

With an impressive 1,184 races over 35 years, his final race was at the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He has also worked in public relations for NASCAR as well as being a driver and owner.

Bill Gazaway Helped Create The Design For The Stock Car

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ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

Starting out as a NASCAR owner in 1960, by 1963, Bill Gazaway had moved up to a technical inspector at NASCAR’s front office. In 1967, he became an assistant technical director and remained in the position until 1979 when he took over as Director of Racing Operations and Competition director for NASCAR.

He was then made the Vice President of competition and held that same position until he eventually retired in 1987. To this day, he is credited with developing the original template that outlined the stockcar.

Glen Wood Was A Driver Before Becoming An Owner

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ISC Images and Archives via Getty Images

The powerhouse behind Wood Brothers Racing, Glen Wood began driving dirt modifieds in the 1950s before transitioning to the sportsman class when we won a championship and then moved to NASCAR’s convertible division. In 1960, he only drove a few races before retiring as a driver. He then became an owner alongside his brother, Leonard.

The duo soon became one of the most respected teams in NASCAR with their drivers such as Fireball Roberts, Cale Yarborough, and David Pearson. Their 50 years in the sport helped it progress even further.

Linda Vaughn Was The Face Of NASCAR

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Randy Holt/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images

Although she wasn’t technically a driver, Linda Vaughn is regarded as one of the faces of NASCAR and is considered to be the sweetheart of auto racing. Known lovingly as “Miss Hurst Shifter,” Vaughn could always be seen at NASCAR and NHRA events, and in 1961, became the spokesperson for Atlanta Raceway.

Although she is known for her looks, her personality is what also made her loved by NASCAR fans, and she was heavily involved in the sport until the 1980s. In essence, she set the bar for what a trophy girl should look like.

Ken Squier Came Up With “The Great American Race”

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Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As a teenager, Ken Squier began his career as a racetrack public address announcer. He did this until 1965, when he was hired as the announcer for the Daytona International Speedway. He is credited with naming the Daytona 500 “The Great American Race” and worked for ABC sports and their NASCAR telecasts until he joined CBS sports in 1973.

He was also one of the founders of the Motor Racing Network, eventually becoming an award-winning broadcast journalist. Today, he is still regarded as one of the greatest spokespersons for NASCAR.

Bruton Smith Changed The Way We View Racetracks

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ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

At just 18 years old, Bruton Smith became a promoter for a small North Carolina track, only to grow to become the owner and promoter of Speedway Motorsports Inc. After establishing the company, he made sure to build the most extravagant tracks that somehow almost always beat out their competitors.

His impact on the sport has been providing fans with incredible tracks such as Bristol, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Texas Motor Speedway, and several other major tracks.

Tom Higgins Made Huge Strides In NASCAR Journalism

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Chris Keane/Getty Images for NASCAR
Chris Keane/Getty Images for NASCAR

Tom Higgins reported on NASCAR for 35 years years, beginning back in 1958 for the Charlotte Observer. He is regarded also as one of the few reporters who can tell stories about the sport from an era that spans from the 1950s to the 1980s.

A lot of drivers trusted Higgins with interviews, and Higgins was able to transform their conversations into great stories. To this day, he is a respected reporter in the sport and is still writing columns.

Mike Joy Was An Extremely Knowledgeable Journalist

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ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Mike Joy is a modern-era television announcer who focuses on NASCAR, broadcasting more than 30 Daytona 500s in which he provides lap-to-lap commentary for Fox Sports NASCAR Sprint Cup Coverage.

Not only does he talk about the races, but he also is known for his knowledge of the cars driven, which is something not every broadcaster has. Today, Joy is considered one of the most respected commentators in the sport of NASCAR and is credited for humanizing racing with an intelligent mind and knowledge of the sport.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. Was Nothing Short Of Gifted

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ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt Sr. dropped out of high school and became a driver despite the discouragement of his father. He began racing on short tracks but didn’t run his first NASCAR Cup race until 1975, where he placed 23rd.

To this day, Earnhardt remains the only NASAR Cup driver to follow up the Rookie of the Year title with a championship, among countless other accomplishments. He is considered to be one of the best drivers to have ever lived. Sadly, he lost his life in a crash at Daytona International Speedway in 2001.

Bill France Made It All Happen

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ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Regarded as the father of NASCAR, Bill France and his family dedicated their lives to establishing the sport and ensuring that it continued to expand throughout the decades. The first sanctioned race hosted by the American Automobile Association took place in 1936 and in 1938, France took over running the course, although only a few races were hosted each year until the breakout of World War II.

Although France was initially a racer, he felt his talents were best suited for promotion. In 1947, a meeting took place at the Streamline Motel in Daytona Beach, which resulted in NASCAR’s establishment on February 21, 1948.

Lee Petty Had A Late Start

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ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Lee Petty was the patriarch of the iconic Petty racing family and a three-time NASCAR champion in the years 1954, 1958, and 1959. Alongside his son, Richard, he established Petty Enterprises, which was one of the biggest NASCAR racing teams for decades.

Although he didn’t begin racing until the age of 35, he finished in the top five of the points during his first 11 seasons and won the first Daytona 500 in 1959. His son, Richard, would be inducted into the first class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and Lee would be inducted into the second.

Marshall Teague Brought Sponsorships Into The Fold

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ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

Known for driving his Hudson Hornet, Marshall Teague is considered one of NASCAR’s first real stars, winning seven races in 23 events. In 1952, Teague and his Hudson Hornet won 27 out of 34 major stock car races. Furthermore, Teague is credited with bringing Pure Oil Company and Hudson Motor Car Company together as his sponsors, making them the first sponsors in NASCAR history.

Tragically, while attempting to make a closed-course record in an IndyCar at Daytona in 1959, Teague crashed and lost his life. Bill France took his death hard and banned IndyCar racing at the speedway.

Jim Hunter Went From Journalist To Vice President

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Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR

An athlete at the University of South Carolina, Jim Hunter began his professional career as a reporter, eventually covering stock car racing for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. After working as a journalist, in 1983, he accepted a job as NASCAR vice president of administration. Then in 1993, he took the position of president at Darlington Raceway.

In 2001, he came back to NASCAR where he became vice president of corporate communications. He remained in this position until he passed away from cancer in 2010.

Chris Economaki Was A Beloved Announcer

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ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

Chris Economaki started his career selling copies of National Speed Sport News before becoming its editor in 1950, eventually becoming the owner and publisher as well. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, Economaki was also the announcer for several major races and covered the Firecracker 250 at Daytona for ABC Sports.

After two decades of working for ABC, he transitioned to CBS Sports, where he continued his coverage of NASCAR along with other auto racing events. Economaki’s journalism garnered him numerous awards, as he was dedicated to his craft and love for NASCAR.

Bill France Jr. Followed In His Father’s Footsteps

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ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

The son of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., France Jr. grew up working around the tracks and races, doing anything that needed to be done. He succeeded his father and was the CEO of NASCAR from 1972 until 2000.

During his career, France Jr. continued to expand the enterprise, implementing the “Winston Million” from R.J. Reynolds. He also changed the Grand National series to the Winston Cup, and made the winnings far more lucrative. Furthermore, he signed a deal with CBS to televise the 1979 Daytona 500 and created NASCAR.com in 1996.