Who can ever forget Benny Parsons?
by Pete McCole

January 16, 2007

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Benny Parsons

Benny Parsons, the 1973 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion turned TV commentator, passed away on Tuesday from complications from his battle with lung cancer. He was 65.

The former taxicab driver from Detroit died on Tuesday in the Intensive Care Unit at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC where he’d been since being admitted on Dec. 28.

Parsons was probably best known to the latest generation of NASCAR fans as a color commentator for NBC’s broadcast team, where his insightful and sometimes feisty comments have been a staple of NBC’s coverage since July of 2001.

Last July, Parsons revealed he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and stepped away from the broadcast booth to begin treatment, returning to the broadcast team a few times later in the season.

In October, Parson’s cancer was declared to be in full remission, however the aggressive treatment left Parsons left lung unable to function properly.

Parsons was admitted to the hospital on Dec. 26 for complications to his remaining healthy right lung, but his condition steadily declined over the last three weeks.

Parsons was always known for his kind demeanor and friendly persona that warmed the hearts of fans and fellow competitors from his days in the drivers seat all the way through his broadcasting career.

“Benny Parsons was the kindest, sweetest, most considerate person I have ever known,” said former champion and TV commentator Darrell Waltrip. “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.
“Benny Parsons was a great champion, a great ambassador for our sport but more than that, he was a great person. He exemplified that good guys can be winners too.”

“Benny Parsons was a true champion – both on the race track and in life,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. “Benny loved our sport and the people that make it up and those people loved him. He will be remembered as being a great ambassador for the sport.”

Born July 12, 1941, in Wilkes County, N.C., Parsons and his family moved to Detroit, Mich., where his father operated a taxicab company. Parsons worked as a gas station attendant and taxicab driver during the early stages of his racing career.

Parsons began his 21-year NASCAR career in 1964, making five starts over the next five years. He also raced on the ARCA circuit, capturing back-to-back championships in 1968 and 1969 before joining the then-Winston Cup Series full-time in 1970.

Parsons scored his first victory in 1971 at South Boston Speedway in Virginia, and went on to win 20 more races over the next 17 seasons, including the 1975 Daytona 500.

Parsons will perhaps be best remembered for his thrilling finish to the 1973 season, where Parsons and his crew, along with other fellow competitors in the garage area, managed to get Parson’s damaged racecar back onto the track during the season finale at Rockingham,  allowing Parsons to complete enough laps to beat out Cale Yarborough for the title.

Parson won the title having only won a single event in 1973, posting 15 top-5’s and 21 top-10’s, a proven record of consistency that would become a trademark of Parson’s racing career.

Parsons later made history in 1982 as the first driver to go over 200 mph in qualifying, winning the pole for the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway with top speed of 200.176 mph.

Parsons retired from driving in 1989, finishing with 21 career victories, 199 top-5’s and 283 top-10’s. A short time later, Parsons joined ESPN’s NASCAR coverage, winning several awards before moving over to NBC’s broadcast team when their coverage began in July of 2001. Parsons also hosted his own radio talk show on the PRN racing network.

Parsons was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994 and named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers in 1998.

Survivors include his mother Hazel Parsons; wife Terri Parsons; sons Keith and Kevin Parsons; brothers Steve and Phil Parsons; sister Patty Severt; and granddaughters Emily and Libbie Parsons.

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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