In the Rearview Mirror: Red Byron, NASCAR'S First Champion

Do you know the first ever NASCAR champion? Well that honor goes to Robert “Red” Byron, who earned the title in the 1949 inaugural season of the NASCAR Strictly Stock Series. (Now the Sprint Cup Series) Red also earned the Modified Title in 1948.
Red Byron was born on March 12, 1915 and raised in Anniston, Alabama. Byron began racing in 1932 and by the early 1940s he had success racing at Talladega, Alabama. His racing career was short lived, due to World War II.

Byron served as a flight engineer in the United States Army Air Force during World War II. His B-24 was shot at, and he sustained serious injuries to his leg. After two years, he managed to make a recovery, although a limp remained in the leg.

Injury and all, Byron returned to racing after the war. He drove with a brace attached to his clutch pedal to assist him in driving. Red was a part of the newly founded NASCAR, and joined the NASCAR Modified Series. He won the Championship that year, becoming NASCAR’S first ever Champion of any touring series.

In 1949 Red moved onto the Strictly Stock series, which had just been formed and was starting its first season in an opening race at Charlotte Speedway. In his first race, he finished third. The second race of the season was the beaches of Daytona, the combined beach and road course. Red Byron won that race. The Strictly Stock series than traveled to Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsboro, NC where Byron unfortunately did not do as well as previous races. He finished 22nd following a crash. That crash didn’t throw Byron off, because the next race at Langhorne Speedway, he was back on pace. Byron finished third, well on his way to earning that championship.

After four of the eight races scheduled for the season, Byron was leading the points by 140 over the second place of Bob Flock. Race number 5 was at Hamburg Speedway, in which Byron did not drive. Byron returned for the next race at Martinsville Speedway, good thing he did, because he won that race. Byron and the second place car of Lee Petty now lead the points standings. Byron sat out the next race at Heidelberg Race in Pittsburgh, PA, leaving only one more race on the schedule for him to compete. The final race that season was at North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina. Byron finished the race in 16th, which was enough to earn him the championship. Red Byron won the championship by 117 points over the second place car of Lee Petty.

Byron’s career statistics include 2 wins, 9 top 10s and 2 poles in only 15 races in a short three year career.

After his racing career ended, Byron became involved in car ownership and owned a team with the Sports Car Club of America. He was working with his team when he passed away from a heart attack, sadly at the young age of 45.

Robert “Red” Byron has been recognized by many awards because of his contributions to the sport of NASCAR. Included are induction into the National Motorsports Hall of Fame (1966), listed as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers and also a 2010 and 2011 nomination bid for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Red Byron's car is one of many cars you will find in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
In the Rearview Mirror: Red Byron, NASCAR'S First Champion In the Rearview Mirror: Red Byron, NASCAR'S First Champion Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 Rating: 5