Cup Champion: 1973
Born: July 12, 1941
Died: January 16, 2007
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
Premier Series Stats:
Racer, broadcaster, mentor, friend; you could use any of these words to describe Benjamin “Benny” Parsons. But his most endearing quality was that he was simply one of the most gracious and unpretentious people you could ever hope to meet. That’s a rare commodity in a sport as competitive as NASCAR.
To his colleagues and friends, he was known as “Gentle Ben.” His ever-present smile and upbeat attitude was infectious. It was impossible not to like him.
Pit reporter Matt Yocum probably said it best, describing Parsons as “part Elvis, part Santa Claus and part comedian.”
As this month marks nine years since we lost our beloved BP, it seems only fitting that we take a moment to reflect on his life and career in NASCAR. Newer fans will remember him as a familiar face and voice in the broadcast booth while more established fans will recount stories from his racing career, highlighted by his 1973 Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) Championship.
It was a championship that almost wasn’t and it all came down to the final race of the 1973 season at North Carolina Motor Speedway. Parsons undoubtedly thought his championship hopes were over when he came upon a wrecked car on the track.
“A car had spun and was sitting on the racetrack sideways, just sitting there,” Parsons explained. “I tried to turn under him and when I did I just caught him with the right side of my car and ripped the whole right side off of it.”
But he headed in for repairs and was able to return to the track and run enough laps to win the championship by 67 points, besting Cale Yarborough.
Parsons’ most dramatic win came in 1975 at the Daytona 500. David Pearson was leading the race but spun out with two laps remaining. Parsons, who had started the race from the 32nd position in the No. 72 DeWitt Chevrolet, found himself in position to take advantage of Pearson’s mistake and captured the checkered flag, earning his third career Cup victory.
Parsons was born in Wilkes County, North Carolina but was raised in Detroit where he worked driving a taxi. He won two consecutive championships in the ARCA Racing Series (1968-1969) before moving back down south to pursue a career in the Cup Series.
He made 526 starts during his Cup racing career, winning 21 races and 20 poles. More impressive, Parsons finished no lower than fifth place in the points standings from 1972-1980. He also had the distinction of being the first Cup driver to qualify for a race at a speed faster than 200 mph, posting a lap of 200.176 mph in 1982 for the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
He retired from racing in 1988 and entered the world of broadcasting, utilizing his expertise on the track and his gift for storytelling. Parsons won an ACE Award in 1989 and an Emmy in 1996 while working at ESPN. In 2001, he moved to NBC and TNT and also co-hosted the show, “Fast Talk,” with Doug Rice on the Performance Racing Network.
Parsons’ multi-faceted career also included appearances in several movies including Stroker Ace, Herbie Fully Loaded and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. His gregarious personality made him a natural for the big screen.
In July 2006, Parsons was diagnosed with cancer in his left lung and underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The treatments were successful and he was declared “cancer-free” but he lost the use of his left lung.
Parsons was hospitalized on Dec. 26 after doctors discovered a blood clot in his right lung. Shortly after, he was moved to intensive care and placed in an induced coma. Parsons passed away Jan. 16 at the age of 65.
After his death, Darrell Waltrip said, “Benny Parsons was the kindest, sweetest, most considerate person I have ever known. He was almost too nice to be a race car driver, and I say that as a compliment. In my 30-odd years of racing Benny Parsons, I never knew of anyone being mad at Benny.”
Jeff Gordon echoed Waltrip’s sentiments, saying, “Benny was a special person and anyone who came in contact with him knew it. He was one of the most genuine and generous individuals I’ve ever met.”
Greg Biffle was discovered by Parsons who convinced Jack Roush to hire the young driver. “It’s obvious he’s the only reason why I am here in this sport,” Biffle said. “I would still be in Washington racing local stuff if not for BP.”
Racer, broadcaster, mentor, friend; Parsons’ influence is still felt today. And nine years later, NASCAR continues to mourn his loss.
1965 – ARCA Racing Series Rookie of the Year Award
1968 – 1969 ARCA Racing Series Champion
1989 – Cable ACE Award for Best Sports Analyst
1994 – Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame
1994 – Inducted into Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Court of Legends
1995 – Inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame
1996 – ESPN Emmy
1998 – Named One of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers
2005 – Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductee
2006 – Myers Brothers Award
2007 – North Carolina Motorsports Industry Lifetime Tribute Award
2010 –2016 Nominee to NASCAR Hall of Fame