Benny Parsons’ Legacy Lives On Through His Family And The NASCAR Hall Of Fameby Hunter Thomas January 22, 2017 0 comments
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Benny Parsons’ induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame will forever preserve his legacy of being a champion and a voice for the common man.
Parsons, who was originally from Wilkes County in North Carolina, moved to Detroit, Michigan following high school to work at his father’s company, Metropolitan Cab Co. He became a taxicab driver, but soon after, Parsons won back-to-back Automobile Club of America (ARCA) championships in 1968 and 1969. In 1973, Parsons won the NASCAR premier series championship, and two years later, he won the Daytona 500. The Detroit taxicab driver quickly became a successful NASCAR competitor, but through all of the success and fame, Benny continued to simply be his self.
“He didn’t know he was bigger than life,” said Benny’s widow, Terri Parsons. “He didn’t know that he was as famous as people tell me now. He didn’t see himself in that way. To him, he was still the same guy that was born and raised in Wilkes County, that lived in Detroit, that drove a cab. He saw himself with the common person, not somebody that got someplace to be famous. And I think that’s why really in reality, I think that’s why he connected so well with the people that were listening to him on television commentate races, because that came across in everything that he said.”
Although Parsons had 526 starts, 21 wins and 20 poles in NASCAR’s premier series, his friendly, down-to-earth personality was equally, if not more known by individuals within the industry. Parsons stepped away from competition in 1988, and he transitioned to becoming a TV personality. His on-air talent and knowledge of the industry gave me him opportunities at ESPN, NBC and TNT. Fans watching the races at home were introduced to the same Benny that drivers and crews had known through his years of being a competitor. He loved the sport, and he didn’t use the big words that viewers at home couldn’t understand.
“Well, he was a big race fan,” said Parsons’ son, Kevin Parsons on Friday night at the Charlotte Convention Center. “He got that from his father. There was not a bigger race fan than our grandfather, and he took him to his first race at Wilkesboro. He just loved, as Keith (Parsons) said earlier, loved everybody in racing, and that came across. I was talking to Ned Jarrett earlier tonight, and when the two of them and Bob Jenkins worked on their team together, I’m biased, but that was, I think, the pinnacle because they all got along, and it was like they were sitting in their living room.
“I think just his regular speak, for lack of a better phrase, came through to the fans. He didn’t use $10 words.”
While many have their favorite Benny story, his family shared some of their most memorable moments during a Q&A session following the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Friday night.
Kevin Parsons recalled the years when he and his brother, Keith began to get involved with the efforts at the racetrack. In the 80s when Benny was driving for Johnny Hayes, as well as for Leo and Richard Jackson, Kevin and Keith were able to get hands-on with the car. In prior years, the two brothers would join their mother trackside to watch their father compete in NASCAR’s premier series.
“At the track, probably when he started driving the 55 car, they were gracious enough to let Keith and I be involved,” Kevin Parsons said. “Up until then, we had been there sitting in the stands, or in the infield in the car with our mother. And we each drove for Mr. Jackson and Johnny Hayes. They were nice enough, Keith and I ran gas when they put the gas in the car, so we felt more involved. And then I started sticking the head in the window and listening to conversations.”
One of Keith Parsons’ favorite memories was Friday night’s Induction Ceremony, because for the first time in his life that he can recall, he was surrounded by many of the individuals, who helped his father become a NASCAR legend.
“I think it would be tonight but maybe not for the reason you’d think,” said Keith Parsons when asked about his favorite memory.
“We were fortunate enough to have ‑‑ I guess everybody gets to bring people, and we had his crew chief when he won his two ARCA championships was here, a man named Ralph Young, Travis Carter who was his crew chief when he won the championship and the Daytona 500 was here, David Ifft, who was his crew chief in 1979 and ’80 was here, Leo Jackson that Kevin was mentioned that was his owner was here, Andy Petree that worked on those cars for years was here. That group of people has never been together that close in my lifetime that I can remember, and it was just neat to see those guys and to just know that they were such a big part of this and they enjoyed it.”
In 2007, Benny Parsons passed away at the age of 65; however, before he lost his battle with cancer, he asked his family and friends to not let the sport forget him. Friday night’s 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony helped solidify that wish, because now he will forever be enshrined into the industry’s most coveted destination.
Terri Parsons said, “Well, I mean, as far as my list, there’s still one thing on that list that isn’t complete, but this was a big one, the big one, that he ‑‑ I thought he had only said that to me, was Terri, don’t let them forget me. I’ve found out since then from different crew chiefs that he had from years ago that he said the same thing to them while he was battling cancer.”
The NASCAR Hall of Fame didn’t open its doors until 2010, so unfortunately, Benny wasn’t able to walk through and view the completion of the building in Uptown Charlotte. Before he passed away, Benny did receive a call from NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director, Winston Kelley, informing him that he’d be on the original Hall of Fame list for eligible inductees.
“So we all knew that this was what he wanted,” Terri Parsons said. “We didn’t know how we were going to make it happen, but we knew we didn’t want people to forget him, and then when the Hall of Fame ‑‑ he knew he was on the original list for the Hall of Fame. Winston Kelley had called and told him that, and he was so deeply honored that he would even make a consideration list at that point in time.
“But then when he got into the Hall of Fame and it was announced that day here that he had made it, one of the crew chiefs, and I don’t remember which one it was, and I want to say it was Waddell Wilson actually, that mentioned to me, he said, well, there is it is. And I said, what. He said, he said, don’t let people forget me. They can’t now, he’s in the Hall of Fame.”
Cover Photo Credit: ISC Archives via Getty Images