The founder, president and chairman of the board of the National Hot Rod Association, Wally Parks was the driving force behind making drag racing a legitimate amateur and professional sport.
A native of Goltry, Oklahoma, Parks moved with his family to Southern California during the Great Depression and competed in land-speed record runs in the 1930s in a 4-cylinder Chevrolet Roadster on the dry lakes in California’s high-desert country.
One of the founders of the Southern California Timing Association in 1938, Parks served with the 754th Tank Battalion in the South Pacific during World War II. And when he returned to the dry lakes he did so driving the 140-mile-per-hour Bill Burke & Don Francisco bellytank Streamliner that was built on a Model T chassis and powered by a flathead Mercury engine.
He also became the SCTA’s president in 1946 and it was through his efforts that racers were first allowed to use the wide expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1948.
Parks became a co-founder and the first editor of HOT ROD MAGAZINE in 1948 and while at the magazine he created the NHRA in 1951 to promote highway-driving safety among “hot rodders.”
The NHRA was incorporated with the slogan “Dedicated To Safety” and in that regard Parks established the NHRA’s “Safety Safari” which toured the country in the mid-to-late 1950s to work along with local and state officials to educate young drivers on highway safety and to provide technical and safety expertise in holding the first organized drag racing events.
Also, in addition to holding local races, the “Safety Safari” was responsible for the creation of the first NHRA Nationals in 1955.
Today, the National Hot Rod Association is the largest race-sanctioning body in the world with an international membership and its national-event winners are awarded a trophy statue nicknamed “The Wally” which features a bronze figure of a man standing next to a drag-racing slick that is mounted on a wooden platform.
From 1951 until 1963, Parks ran the NHRA and worked in a variety of editorial positions with HRM, Motor Trend and the other magazines that were produced by Petersen Publishing Company. But during this time he also did some racing with a light yellow 1957 Plymouth Savoy two-door coupe named “Suddenly.”
The “HOT ROD Magazine Special” had a requisite roll bar, 15-inch steel wheels and Firestone Land Speed Racing tires and it was powered by a Hilborn fuel-injected 392-cubic-inch Hemi engine. And with these modifications it set new gasoline-burning Experimental Class records for the “flying mile” at NASCAR’s February 1957 speed trials on Daytona Beach with a one-way run of 166.893 miles per hour and a two-way average of 160.175 mph.
Parks left the publishing business in 1963 to concentrate on the operation of the NHRA and he continued to be a valued on-site presence at the NHRA’s national events, then in 1966 he published a well-received book entitled, “DRAG RACING: Yesterday and Today – The Story of the Fastest Sport in the World.” And he also kept his racing options open.
In 1998 at age 85, Parks and some friends built an exact replica of “Suddenly” and he became a “rookie racer” again. In September, with straight alcohol in the tank, Parks and “Suddenly II” made a 147-mph pass at the 50th Anniversary Bonneville Nationals and in October he and the ’57 Plymouth ran 131 mph at an SCAT meet on El Mirage Dry Lake in California.
Prior to his passing (January 23, 1913 – September 28, 2007), he was chairman of the board of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California.