CHARLOTTE — Benny Parsons didn’t want the people to forget about him.
Before the former NASCAR driver and analyst passed away from his battle with lung cancer a decade ago, he made sure to let those closest to him know that he wished to be remembered.
A career that included an improbable championship victory in 1973 and more than 280 top-10 finishes is anything but forgettable. However, according to his wife Terri, Parsons didn’t see himself the same way others did.
“He didn’t know he was bigger than life,” she said. “To him, he was still the same guy that was born and raised in Wilkes County, that lived in Detroit and that drove the cab. And I think that’s why he connected so well with the people.”
It would be tough to find a NASCAR fan who forgot about Parsons. But if there were any out there, they were certainly reminded about his legacy last week.
Parsons — along with Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin and Raymond Parks — was officially inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame this past Friday, Jan. 20, at the Charlotte Convention Center. Martin, who won 40 races in his 31-year career, was the only other driver in the 2017 class. Hendrick, Childress and Parks were all car owners.
A special induction dinner was held two hours prior to the ceremony, where Keith and Kevin Parsons accepted the Hall of Fame jacket in honor of their father. Terri Parsons would take the stage during the ceremony and accept her late husband’s Hall of Fame ring from Dale Jarrett.
“For me, it was an equal mix of pride and sadness. The pride was obvious, but the sadness because no one would’ve loved to have been inducted and been here more than he would have. He would’ve been beaming,” Keith Parsons said. “I would’ve much rather sat back there where our family sat and had him on the front row.”
Rick Hendrick, who has the most NASCAR national series owner championships in the history of the sport (14), took the time during his acceptance speech to say a few words about the other four inductees. When it was time to talk about Parsons, Hendrick labeled him a “true champion.”
“Benny was one sweet man. He loved and lifted everybody. He was such an ambassador for our sport,” Hendrick said. “When you go through life and no one has anything negative to say about you, then you’re a true champion. And Benny was that.”
Whether he was behind the wheel or in front of the camera, Benny had the ability to relate to everyone. And he is referred to as an “every man’s man” because of that. Family, friends, fans and former competitors can all attest to the character of the man who shocked the racing world almost 44 years ago.
“I think I probably underplayed it since they announced it,” Keith Parsons said of his father’s Hall of Fame induction. “Just hearing the stories and seeing everyone so happy for us is amazing. It’s so amazing that people care so much about him. I think it says everything about our dad.”
Before each ring was presented on stage, those in attendance — and watching from their homes — were able to enjoy tribute videos that were dedicated to the five members of this year’s class. Ned Jarrett (2011 HOF inductee), Tex Powell (NASCAR crew member) and Richard Petty (2010 NHOF inductee) were a few of the faces that made appearances in Parsons’ tribute.
An old clip of Parsons speaking on his partnership with car owner L.G. Dewitt, of Ellerbe, was also incorporated into the tribute.
“Seeing the love in that video, you can’t put a price tag on it,” Keith added.
Keith’s daughters, Emily (16) and Libbie (12), weren’t old enough to remember much about their grandfather before his passing, but attending Hall of Fame Weekend gave them some insight of the kind of person he was. They were able to hear stories, see videos and meet some of the people their grandfather spent a lot of his time with.
“The most fun part, I think, was watching all of those videos about what people said about him,” Libby said. “I don’t really remember a lot about him, but I can imagine what he was like.”
As for Kevin Parsons, he enjoyed catching up with friends he hadn’t seen in a while and witnessing the respect that other revered NASCAR drivers had for his father.
“It’s always good to see these folks because racing folks, in my experience, have been some of the best folks around,” Kevin said. “Ned Jarrett was very gracious to congratulate us. Jimmie Johnson walked in and sat right behind us. He went out of his way to congratulate us on our dad’s accomplishments. This whole weekend has just been a pleasure.”
Benny Parsons was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. Since he and DeWitt’s victory in the Winston Cup Series, no unsponsored team has won a championship. As an announcer, Parsons allowed himself to be buried in sand at Daytona and he paddled a canoe at Bristol.
He is now one of 40 inductees in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.
Brad Keselowski hugs the late Benny Parsons’ wife, Terri, after introducing him at the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony that was held at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Benny Parsons, a former Richmond County resident, was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame this past Friday at the Charlotte Convention Center. Parsons’ biggest victory came in 1973 at Rockingham, where he won the Winston Cup Series with car owner L.G. Dewitt. He would end his career with 21 victories.