Remembering a champion - Benny Parsons (1941-2007)

Remembering a champion - Benny Parsons (1941-2007)

18.01.2007: Remembering a champion - Benny Parsons (1941-2007)

Benny Parsons, who charmed television audiences with his folksy demeanor as much as he impressed fans with his ability as a driver, died Tuesday at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte following complications from lung cancer. He was 65.

The former self-proclaimed Detroit taxi driver-turned-NASCAR racer never forgot his humble rural North Carolina roots, and it came through in every aspect of his life.

Even though he gained fame as the 1973 Winston Cup champion and winner of the 1975 Daytona 500, Parsons understood that as a broadcast analyst, it was his job to aim the spotlight away from himself.

"I heard someone say this one time and I thought it was fabulous," Parsons said. "Everyone can't be stars. Someone has to sit on the sidewalk and clap as they go by.

"We announcers on TV that talk about sports are simply the people sitting on the sidewalk clapping as the parade goes by. We are no longer the stars. The guys on the racetracks and in football and basketball games -- those are the stars."

Only four drivers won NASCAR championships during the 1970s -- Richard Petty won five, Cale Yarborough won three, Bobby Isaac won the 1970 title ... and in 1973 there was Benny Parsons.

Parsons beat Yarborough by 67.15 points for the only NASCAR title of his career despite finishing 28th in the season's final race. It made him the first driver to win both ARCA and NASCAR championships.

But titles never defined Parsons, who died Tuesday from lung cancer.

Some may have known "The Professor" as the analyst for NBC/TNT broadcasts for the past six years, thanks to his colorful insight to sheet metal going 180 mph around a circle 500 times.

Others may know him as the NASCAR legend who was named one of the sport's 50 greatest drivers in 1998. It's no coincidence that Bill France once said such a title defined the competition of the sport.

Key Dates

July 12, 1941 -- Benny Parsons was born in Ellerbe, N.C.

Aug. 9, 1964 -- Benny Parsons' first NASCAR race, the Western North Carolina 500 held at the half-mile Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. Parsons started ninth but finished 21st after an overheating problem in his Holman-Moody Ford. He won $250.

May 9, 1971 -- Benny Parsons' first NASCAR victory, the Halifax County 100 at the .357-mile South Boston Speedway. Parsons led 42 laps in his No. 72 L.G. DeWitt Ford and finished one lap ahead of second-place Richard Petty.

March 18, 1984 -- Benny Parsons' final NASCAR victory, the Coca-Cola 500 at Atlanta International Raceway. Parsons beat Dale Earnhardt by 0.9 seconds. It was his second of just 14 races that seasons, although he finished the year with 10 top-10s.

What you didn't know

1 -- Time B.P. finished on the lead lap during his 1973 championship season, although he wasn't in the car when it crossed the start/finish line -- in first. John Utsman relieved an ailing Parsons and drove the car to its only lead-lap finish at the Volunteer 500 at Bristol and its only victory of the season. Parsons clinched the championship later that year with 15 top-fives and 21 top-10s.

Numerology

Benny Parsons drove at least one race in 21 different seasons. He ran a partial schedule for eight seasons, and for 13 seasons Parsons was a full-timer in NASCAR's premier series. In 10 of those seasons, he finished inside the top 10 in the point standings

0 -- Times Benny Parsons finished on the lead lap in 31 races during the 1972 season, although he collected 10 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes and ended the year fifth in the final standings.

1 -- Victory for Benny Parsons in 1975 -- the Daytona 500 -- which marked the first of seven consecutive seasons he won a race. Parsons would later say winning the great race meant more to him than winning the 1973 championship.

1 -- Victory for Benny Parsons from the pole position: the 1980 Gabriel 400 at Michigan. He started up front, led 75 laps and held off Cale Yarborough for the win. It was the second of three victories for Parsons that season.

2 -- ARCA championships for Benny Parsons (1968 and 1969). Parsons became the first ARCA champion to be inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame and is the only driver to win the ARCA and Cup Series titles.

3 -- Top-10 finishes in four starts during the 1969 season for Benny Parsons, his second attempt at NASCAR after a one-race deal in 1964. Parsons finished fifth in a Daytona qualifier, seventh in the Daytona 500 and third at Texas World Speedway. His only blemish was a 38th-place finish at Michigan when his engine expired.

4 -- Victories in 1977, the most in a single season during Benny Parsons' career. The victories came at Nashville, Pocono, Dover and Charlotte. He had 22 top-10 finishes and wound up third in the standings behind Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty.

5 -- Consecutive races that Benny Parsons either started or finished first at Nashville Speedway. He earned consecutive poles in 1975 and '76, then won two races in a row from 1976-77, then earned the pole at the July race in 1977.

7 -- Seasons that Benny Parsons had more than 20 top-10 finishes: 1970 (23), 1973 (21), 1976 (23), 1977 (22), 1978 (21), 1979 (21) and 1980 (21).

8.2 -- Average finish for B.P. in 28 races at North Wilkesboro, one of his most successful tracks. He had one victory, 16 top-fives and 21 top-10s at the .625-mile speedway.

9 -- Times Benny Parsons finished inside the top five in the season's final point standings.

9.259 -- Average starting position for B.P. during his career, 21st on the all-time list. He is one of only 30 drivers who have a career starting average of 10th or better.

10 -- Consecutive seasons Benny Parsons finished inside the top 10 in points, nine of which he finished fifth or better. Between 1972 and 1981, he did not miss a race and won in eight of those seasons.

14 -- Consecutive races during Benny Parsons' 1973 championship season that he finished in the top 10. Parsons was fifth at Bristol on March 25 and kept the streak going through short tracks and superspeedways until he was credited for a victory in the Volunteer 500 on July 8 -- his only victory of the season.

21 -- Victories for B.P. in his 21-year career, tying him for 28th on the all-time list with Bobby Labonte and Jack Smith.

53.8 -- Percentage in which Benny Parsons finished in the top 10 during his 526 career starts. He had 283 top-10 finishes, ranking him 17th on the all-time list.

199 -- Top-five finishes for Benny Parsons in his career, ranking him 13th on the all-time list. He finished in the top five in 37.8 percent of his starts.

200.176 mph -- Speed that Benny Parsons clocked to win the pole for the 1982 Winston 500 at Talladega -- the first NASCAR qualifying run faster than 200 mph.

1980 -- Year that Benny Parsons won his second consecutive race at Ontario Motor Speedway. Parsons' two victories happened to be the final two NASCAR races held at the track.

1989 -- First full season that Benny Parsons was a NASCAR broadcaster for ESPN. He won an ACE Award that year as the best sports analyst.

$4,426,278 -- Career earnings for Benny Parsons during his 21-year career, ranking him 74th on the all-time list.

 

Benny Parsons' career statistics

Year Starts Wins T-5 T-10 Rank Start Finish

1964 1 0 0 0 120 9.0 21.0
1969 4 0 2 3 56 12.5 13.2
1970 45 0 12 23 8 9.9 13.7
1971 35 1 13 18 11 10.7 16.2
1972 31 0 10 19 5 11.2 14.5
1973 28 1 15 21 1 7.7 10.1
1974 30 0 11 14 5 8.6 14.6
1975 30 1 11 17 4 7.5 14.4
1976 30 2 18 23 3 7.0 9.6
1977 30 4 20 22 3 4.7 7.8
1978 30 3 15 21 4 4.7 9.4
1979 31 2 16 21 5 7.0 11.3
1980 31 3 16 21 3 5.8 11.4
1981 31 3 10 12 10 10.1 19.0
1982 23 0 10 13 18 10.0 14.6
1983 16 0 4 5 29 8.9 18.9
1984 14 1 7 10 27 7.1 12.6
1985 14 0 1 6 29 10.4 21.3
1986 16 0 2 4 30 9.4 23.1
1987 29 0 6 9 16 11.7 18.7
1988 27 0 0 1 24 23.5 23.0

Totals 526 21 199 283 9.3 14.5

- Nascar -

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18.01.2007 / MaP

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