Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In the Rearview Mirror: Benny Parsons, driver and commentator

Trying to decide each week who I write about In the Rearview Mirror can prove to be a difficult task. Careers that are remarkable were aplenty and to single out someone each week is hard. This week I chose Benny Parsons. After all the Hall of Fame hype with Darrell Waltrip being a driver and then race announcer, who else got that nod? Good ole’ BP himself.

Benny Parsons 1974
1974 ride of Parsons; the No. 72 Chevrolet for DeWitt Racing
Credit: Motorsports Images and Archives 
Benjamin Parsons (commonly referred to as Benny or simply BP) was born July 12, 1941 and spent his childhood in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. After high school. he moved to Detroit to join his father, the owner of a taxi cab company. Parsons operated taxis and also worked at a gas station to pay the bills until he found his passion for racing.


Benny Parsons made the leap into NASCAR in 1964 at the age of 22, landing a job with the Holman Moody team and worked alongside of his teammate Cale Yarborough. He competed in the Western North Carolina 500 and finished 21st after problems with overheating. That was his only start that year and until a few years later.


While not running in the NASCAR Grand  National Series, Parsons took to the track in ARCA racing and won back-to-back championships in 1968 and 1969.


Parsons returned to Grand National racing in 1969, partnering with Russ Dawson for a four-race deal. In those four races, Parsons brought home top-10 finishes in three of the four races.


Moving to full time in 1970 and joining with DeWitt Racing steered his career in the right path. Although winless in 1970, the foundation was laid with 12 top-5 and 23 top-10 finishes and claiming his first career pole as well.


In 1971 Parsons continue racking up the top-5 and top-10 finishes and also got his first win at South Boston Speedway. He would conclude the season in the 11th position.


Jumping ahead to 1973, Parsons was on a roll. Fifteen top-5 and 21 top-10 finishes along with one win earned Benny Parsons the NASCAR Winston Cup Championship in 1973. Parsons defeated David Pearson (who had 11 wins) because of his consistent runs; in the end, he won the championship by 67 points over one-time teammate Cale Yarborough. Benny Parsons became the first and only driver to win both an ARCA and NASCAR series championship.


To note every milestone in the career of Benny Parsons or any driver would take a while, so here are some notable highlights:
  • Winner of the 1975 Daytona 500
  • Winner of the 1979 Holly Farms 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway after Darrell Waltrip crashed then leader Bobby Allison. Waltrip was black-flagged for crowding down Allison. Parsons went on to win his first and only race at North Wilkesboro. 
  • Winner of the 1980 World 600
  • In qualifying at the 1982 Winston 500 (Talladega), Parsons clocked the first speed of over 200 mph, with a speed of 200.175 mph
  • Final career victory came in 1984 at the Coca Cola 500 at Atlanta
  • In 1987, Parsons climbed into the seat for an ailing Tim Richmond. Of particular note, if you have ever seen the movie "Days of Thunder": Parsons had a particularly bad race at Darlington, hitting the wall and damaging the car severely. After needing several pit stops, crew chief Harry Hyde told him not to pit because he and the crew were on an ice cream break! That is depicted in "Days of Thunder" along with other exchanges between Parsons and Hyde.
Benny Parsons ESPN Historic
BP the ESPN reporter
Credit: Motorsports Images and Archives 
In 1988 Benny Parsons made the transition into the announcing booth for ESPN and later joined TNT and NBC as well. Parsons received an ESPN Emmy award as well as an ACE (Award for Cable Excellence) award for his broadcasting skills. Outside of the booth, Parsons made numerous movie appearances, including "Stroker Ace," "Herbie Fully Loaded" and "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."
Benny Parsons Daytona Construction 2004
Parsons at Daytona during construction -2004
Mike McCarthy/NASCAR
Throughout his career, Parsons garnered multiple awards including:
  • Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994.
  • Inducted into The Motor Sports Hall of Fame of America 2005
  • Won a Sports Emmy for outstanding live sports series "NASCAR on NBC/TNT" 2006
  • Meyers Brothers Award 2006
  • North Carolina Motor Sports Industry Life Time Tribute Award 2007
  • National Motor Sports Press Association Award 2007
  • Honored by having Highway 421 renamed to Benny Parsons Highway
Benny Parsons lost a battle with lung cancer in January 2007 at the age of 65.




NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two weekly columns with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also strives to provide exclusive interviews for the readers of Skirts and Scuffs. To read her past columns and interviews click here. Feel free to contact Amanda via Twitter.

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