Benny Parsons had a long career as a driver, in which he won 21 races and the 1973 Cup championship, and as a broadcaster.
Editor’s Note: Allen Bestwick is a long-time broadcaster now with ESPN. He worked with Benny Parsons from 2001-06 on NBC and TNT.
A humble man with a big laugh, bigger heart and even greater passion for auto racing than anyone I’ve ever known — Benny Parsons — Ol’ BP — is being enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
If he were here today to talk about it he would tell you that so many people deserve the honor more than he does … but I, and so many more, would completely disagree with that humble notion. Let me share with you my reasons why.
Benjamin Stewart Parsons did more with less than anyone; won a championship, won the big races, and was one of the most important figures in NASCAR racing’s explosive of growth in the 1980s and 1990s — and those are just the headlines.
Much of the first half of Benny’s two-decade career at NASCAR’s Cup level was spent driving for LG DeWitt, a businessman in rural Ellerbe, North Carolina, a couple of hours east of Charlotte. Parsons and his crew competed against teams who first had the direct support of Detroit auto manufacturers and later landed the first major corporate sponsorships in the sport. There were no such resources flowing in for DeWitt and Parsons.
BP’s 1973 championship fit this mold, scoring one win, 15 top-5 and 21 top-10 finishes that year, winning the title in dramatic fashion at his and the team’s home track, Rockingham.
His team had to frantically repair heavy damage from an early crash, and Benny did what he needed to — finish enough laps to beat the power teams at their own game. When Benny would tell the story of that day it always concluded with one of those huge smiles and hearty laughs, the pride of accomplishment he was too humble to state shining through.
Big race wins? Checked that box, too. His 1975 Daytona 500 victory was another example of the underdog overcoming difficult odds to win.
A week filled with engine problems sent Benny to the starting grid with something under the hood that was patched together, a piece they did not expect to go the distance.
Benny certainly did not have the dominant car that day, but when the driver who did, David Pearson, got in trouble in the closing laps, it was Ol’ BP who was running second and went on to win the sport’s biggest race. That’s another story told with a smile and laugh.
There were more big wins, including one of the fiercest and most entertaining fights for a win I ever saw.
The 1980 World 600 at Charlotte was the first Cup race I ever attended in person. A cousin and I sat in Row 7 just past the flag stand on a broiling Sunday afternoon. When the race reached the 500-mile mark there were two contenders who had distanced themselves from the pack: BP, driving MC Anderson’s Chevy, and Darrell Waltrip, in the DiGard Chevy.
The two swapped the lead time after time … it seemed like it was almost every lap going into Turn 3. While the stats say the lead changes weren’t quite that frequent, you get the point: two future Hall of Famers slugging it out. Benny took the lead for the final time with two laps to go and won it. It was a classic and such a thrill to witness.
In all, BP scored 21 wins in 21 seasons of Cup racing, and he only ran about half the races for a handful of those years. Those are pretty stout results. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers during the sanctioning body’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 1998, and deservedly so.
On top of all that, Benny’s legacy in the sport goes well beyond his driving.
When he stopped competing, races being broadcast on television was just beginning to become a regular thing. The TV booth was a role he was made for. His passion and enthusiasm for racing and his outgoing, friendly personality made him a perfect spokesman for the sport.
As people across the country began tuning in, Benny and fellow Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett were absolutely the right people to teach newcomers about the sport without “talking down” to the hardcore, longtime fans. Their love of racing and respect for the competition poured out of the television. The ESPN broadcasts of the 1980s and 1990s “spread the gospel” of NASCAR racing nationwide, and I feel certain the broadcasts would not have attained the popularity they did without Benny and what he brought to them. He played a major role in NASCAR becoming what it is today.
Benny’s passion for the sport ran so deep.
A story to illustrate is from 2006, when he was diagnosed with cancer. He fought the illness like he fought the wheel of a race car for so many years, but all of the side effects from his treatment could not keep him away from the racetrack.
We were riding together in a rental car, as we did nearly every weekend we worked together, and I told him it would be perfectly understandable if he needed to take some time away from the track and I asked why he wasn’t, why he was grinding it out on the road while dealing with all the nastiness of the treatments?
He looked at me and said, “I love this sport so much, there’s no place I would rather be on Sunday than at the track. I wanna see who’s gonna win”!
His passion for the sport, his concern and respect for each and every driver, owner and crew member in the garage, and his genuine love for those he worked with are unmatched by anyone I’ve ever met.
As I write this, tears are steaming down my face — and yet I’m smiling and laughing, too.
We lost Benny on Jan. 16, 2007, and not a single day goes by without some BP story popping into my head. We’ll tell a lot of them around Jan. 20, 2017. While BP would humbly tell you how much racing gave to him, that the NASCAR community is bestowing its highest honor to Benny is something he so earned and deserves.
Wherever he’s watching from, I know he’ll be humble, yes, but he’ll also be so deeply honored and forever thankful.