Cup Champion – 1949
March 12, 1915 – November 11, 1960
Career: 1949 – 1951
Robert ‘Red’ Byron had a short but historic career. Although he only competed for three full seasons, his contributions to NASCAR are significant.
Byron won the first race sanctioned by NASCAR in 1948 on the Daytona Beach road course driving a modified 1939 Ford. He went on that year to win NASCAR’s first championship in the Modified Division.
The following year brought more success as he teamed up with car owner Raymond Parks. In 1949, driving the No. 22 Parks Novelty Oldsmobile, Byron won NASCAR’s first Strictly Stock Division championship; the forerunner to today’s Sprint Cup Series. He competed in six of the eight series races that season, capturing two wins at Daytona and Martinsville.
Byron began racing in 1932 but his career was interrupted when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941. During his stint as a pilot in World War II, he was severely wounded. Byron’s bomber was shot down and he nearly lost a leg. As a result of the injury, he endured constant pain and had to wear a leg brace as well as an orthopedic boot.
After the war he moved to Atlanta and met ‘Red’ Vogt. Vogt was immediately impressed with Byron. He was not only a gifted driver but had an understanding of the strategy it took to win a race. The two men automatically clicked. Vogt was the mastermind behind the innovative modifications that allowed Byron to compete with his injured leg.
In late 1945, Vogt introduced Byron to Raymond Parks. These three men would soon become one of NASCAR’s first super teams.
Byron’s declining health cut short his racing career but he continued his involvement in motorsports. In his later years he was working on developing an American car that could win the 24 Hours of LeMans.
He died of a heart attack on Nov. 11, 1960, in a Chicago hotel room, at the age of 45.
“In so many ways he was the perfect first champion,” Bill France Jr. said of Byron in 1998 when he was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. “A guy who loved racing so much he refused to give it up. And he loved his country so much he gave it all he had.”
2010 – 2013 Nominee for NASCAR Hall of Fame
2008 – Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame
1998 – Named one of NASCAR’s “50 Greatest Drivers”
1966 – Inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) Hall of Fame
1949 – Won NASCAR’s first championship in the Strictly Stock Division
1948 – Won NASCAR’s first championship in the Modified Division
1948 – Won the first race sanctioned by NASCAR at Daytona Beach