Monday, January 22, 2007

Benny Parsons 1941-2007

You know, I guess in a perfect world it would have been different for me. But it's not a perfect world. I may have turned out better off because of it. ~ Benny Parsons

I'm not overwhelmed by celebrity. There are relatively few famous people I'd ever like to meet or to have met. Benny Parsons was one of the few I'd like to have been introduced to. That's because I think Benny was not only an excellent race driver and the best stock car racing analyst of the bunch, but I think he'd have made me feel comfortable and taken the time, if he had it at all, to talk to me as though I was someone who mattered.

Everything I'm reading about him convinces me that I'm right about that.

Benny Parsons was born in the North Carolina backwoods. He somehow made his way to Detroit where he was, among other things, a taxi driver. He got into ARCA racing, which was the northern equivalent of the old Grand National circuit (now the Busch series). Today ARCA is pretty minor league stuff, but then the Cup division of NASCAR was always on the lookout for a promising driver from this circuit. Benny delivered on the promise.

The pure statistics of his career bear this out: Two ARCA championships, 526 Cup starts, 21 wins, 283 top ten finishes, and one Cup championship. He won that championship in the days when consistency counted, before the idiotic “chase” series. Over half the time he ran, he finished in the top ten. Can you realize how hard that is to do?

In my 30-odd years of racing Benny Parsons, I never knew of anyone being mad at Benny. -- Darrel Waltrip.

Stock car racing has always rewarded a certain amount of ruthlessness. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Darrel Waltrip, and others drove in a manner that made it clear that no one but no one had better get in their way. Yet Benny Parsons raced with the likes of Petty, David Pearson (who was no pushover himself), and Cale Yarbrough and won without seeming to make anyone mad. At least not for long.

He didn't change much when he went into the booth.

He was just an absolute gentleman. -- Don Miller, Penske Racing

Benny never soft-pedaled in the booth, but he didn't go out of his way to say anything bad about any driver. He knew what was going on down there, which is why he made such an excellent partner to Ned Jarrett, who was not so well loved when he drove, but became an elder statesman in the booth. Benny and Ned provided amazing insight into the events of any race. But, you never heard some of their best stuff.

I used to have a C-band satellite dish. It was frequently possible to pick up the uplink from a sporting event which had two wonderful advantages: No commercials, and the chat between the announcers while they were “off the air.” Some sports analysts got into trouble for oogling cheerleaders or slamming a player that they were praising on air. Benny and Ned never would have gotten into trouble. But, during the commercial breaks, they would discuss the racing a little more critically than when they were on the air. They would also get a little more into the technical aspects of racing, which the average viewer wouldn't really care about.

It's a pity, because some of the most incisive analysis I ever heard about a race came from Benny when most folks weren't listening. But, his on-air commentary was top-of-the-line anyway.

B.P. was one of those guys you'd run after and keep chasing, because you wanted to spend some time talking to him. -- Robbie Loomis

That was how he called a race, as though he was talking to you. It carried over to his long-time partners, Jarrett and Bob Jenkins. You were just listening to three guys who really understood racing, who just happened to be sitting in the seats in front of you and were really giving you the inside scoop about what was going on. Drivers and crew chiefs loved to be interviewed by Benny, because he wasn't going to soft-pedal the questions, but he would never, ever try to make them look bad, either.

Even the last time I saw him, he was at Homestead, and had this girl carrying his oxygen bottle, and he's in the garage and he's just as happy as he could be. You knew he didn't feel good, but he still came down to see everybody and wish them luck and hang out in the garage, because that's where he wanted to be. -- Matt Kenseth

Benny raced in an old-timer's series that was floated for a while. The cars had speedometers, which, of course, stock cars normally don't have. He said that if they'd had those when he raced, he never would have made it because if he knew how fast he was going, he'd have been scared to death. I think that's the only time I ever heard Benny tell a lie, because once he started racing, I don't think anything could have kept him out of a stock car.

Millions of people welcomed him into their homes each week through his radio and television work and he became a friend of the family. -- Richard Childress

That's how it felt, like an old friend had come over to watch the race.

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