2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee profile: Benny Parsons – Charlotte Observer
Born: July 12, 1941, Wilkes County; Died: Jan. 16, 2007, of cancer, in Charlotte.
Family: Wife Teri, sons Keith, Kevin (by first wife, Connie, who died in 1991.
Career Highlights: Won the 1973 Winston Cup championship in very dramatic fashion, edging Cale Yarborough, in the season finale American 500 at N.C. Motor Speedway, at the time Parsons’ “home” track. … Scored 21 victories, 283 top 10 finishes and 20 poles in 526 starts on NASCAR’s major circuit from 1964-88. …
Biggest triumph came in the 1975 Daytona 500. … Also won Charlotte’s World 600 in 1980 and posted other superspeedway triumphs at Atlanta, Darlington, Dover, Michigan, Pocono and two defunct tracks, Ontario Speedway in California and Texas World Speedway. …
Was the first driver to exceed 200 mph in qualifying, logging a lap of 200.175 before the 1982 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. … Won ARCA championships in in 1968 and ’69. … Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. … Inducted into International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994 and Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2005. … Became a TV racing analyst after his retirement as a driver and won an Emmy for his excellence in 1996.
Retired Observer motorsports writer Tom Higgins on Benny Parsons:
I first saw him: On Aug. 9, 1964 when he made his NASCAR debut at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway, starting ninth and finishing 21st in the Western N.C. 500. Somewhat ironically, Yarborough, destined to become a three-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer, also made his debut in that race.
My favorite memory of him: Parsons winning the 1973 championship and the emotion that overwhelmed him. In the season finale American 500 at Rockingham he came in with a small points lead but, on the 13th lap, a crash essentially destroyed his car. His team made repairs with parts cannibalized from a car that hadn’t made the field, and Parsons returned to the track 136 laps down but held on for the championship.
What people might not know about him: When Benny’s parents moved to Detroit he stayed behind to attend Millers Creek High in Wilkes County, living with his great grandmother in a the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain valley called Parsonsville. He played football at Millers Creek, and on occasion after practice he had to walk home, a distance of about 12 miles. …
Throughout his racing career and even today Parsons is sometimes referred to as “a former Detroit taxi driver.” He wasn’t, at least not full time. “My dad owned a cab company/service station and after moving to Detroit I worked there. I drove a few fares on a substitute basis, but not at all regularly. …”
Benny got his start in racing by chance. “Some guys with a jalopy racing team stopped at dad’s station to gas up,” he recalled. “They invited me to go to the race with them, so I hopped in the bed of the pickup truck that was towing the car. When the regular driver didn’t show up, I volunteered to fill in, and I was instantly hooked.”
Parsons moved to Ellerbe after hooking up with Dewitt in 1970. The team was based at a small shop near DeWitt’s trucking company and home at the crossroads hamlet of Norman. Benny soon became president of the Ellerbe PTA. After learning from his sons that many classmates faced a bleak Christmas in the area that had a high rate of poverty, Benny went into action. Lobbying fellow NASCAR people to help, Parsons secured loads of clothes, food and toys for a big party at the school on the eve of holiday recess. I was chatting with Benny as the celebration continued when a little fellow of about 6 nudged him on the leg. The boy held up a pair of new sneakers. “Mr. Benny,” he said. “What am I supposed to do with these?” Benny was momentarily stunned. “Why,take them home, son. They’re yours.” The boy’s eyes widened. “To keep?” he blurted in astonishment. Deeply touched, Benny excused himself to be alone for a moment. …
Benny’s brother Phil followed him as a NASCAR driver and TV motorsports analyst. Phil also is a team owner.
Most memorable Benny Parsons quote: “No matter the car, crew or team owner, I never started a single race without thinking that some way I could win.”