Tuesday, 07 July 2020 15:32

Benny Parsons, 'the professor'

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The late Connie Parsons and Benny Parsons, with sons Kevin and Keith, in victory lane following BP's win at the 1980 World 600 in Charlotte. The late Connie Parsons and Benny Parsons, with sons Kevin and Keith, in victory lane following BP's win at the 1980 World 600 in Charlotte. Contribute photo by the Parsons family.

ROCKINGHAM — Nicknames aren’t something that are just given out. They’re earned, have a deeper meaning and usually define a person based on his way of life.

For Benny Parsons, the late NASCAR driver who made Richmond County his home during his 19-year Hall of Fame career, he had two. 

He was known simply to family, friends and the racing world as “BP,” a nod to his straightforward attitude toward racing and a reflection of his innate desire to help others. 

Later in his life, Parsons became known as “the Professor,” a tip of the cap to his extensive knowledge of and love for stock car racing.

The final edition of this two-part feature series on the life of Benny Parsons will focus on some of his greatest accomplishments on the track, as well as his successful broadcasting career following his time as the driver of the No. 72 car.

Again, his son Keith Parsons helps remember his father, who passed away from complications of lung cancer in 2007.

“The older I get, the more special I realize it was to grow up the son of a NASCAR driver,” Keith Parsons said. “We were a part of that family and growing up and NASCAR was huge in Richmond County.

“It was a different era, but I’ve been able to reconnect with a lot of people within the sport years later thanks to social media,” he continued. “We’ll always have that connection, being a part of a special fraternity. I’m glad my dad was a big part of the sport.”

“Fair On The Race Track”

BP drove in 526 NASCAR races in his career, and according to Keith Parsons, his dad was known by many in the racing community as one of the fairest drivers on the circuit.

“My dad was always a guy who was fair on the race track,” Keith Parsons shared. “Now it's accepted to pass someone by knocking into them, but he never did that. If he caused an accident, he felt bad about it. 

“He was also very competitive on the track. My dad wanted to lead every lap that he could, that’s where he wanted to be. He wanted to be in the fight of the race battling guys for the top spot.”

Keith Parsons added that “some of (Benny’s) best races, he may not have won, but he relished the competition and the friendships he made.” 

The NASCAR community of the 1970s and 80s was a “family affair” and Parsons remembered his dad as being a person who wanted to make the sport better.

Highlights Of A Successful Career

As mentioned in part one, Parsons won his lone NASCAR championship in 1973 when he edged out Cale Yarbrough by 67.15 points in the Winston Cup Series. He picked up a victory at Bristol that season, one of his 21 career trips down victory lane.

Another moment that stood out in his dad’s career, Keith Parsons noted, was him winning the Daytona 500 in 1975. In the second race of the season on Feb. 16, 1975, Parsons, who was sponsored by King’s Row Fireplace and racing for L.G. DeWitt, edged Bobby Allison.

Parsons led for just four laps during that race, in what would be his only first-place finish of the season.

“That was a really big deal to bring that victory home to Richmond County,” Keith Parsons said.

Five years later, Parsons also picked up an exciting win over fellow NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip in the 1980 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Competing on the 1.5-mile track, Parsons, then racing for M.C. Anderson and sponsored by Melling Tool, the win would be the first of three that year for Parsons.

“I remember the last 20 laps went back and forth between Dad and Darrell Waltrip,” Keith Parsons said. “There were six lead changes, and my dad held (Waltrip) off to win. That was probably the most exciting, competitive win of his career.”

The Professor

Parsons’ racing career came to a close at the end of the 1988 season, competing for the last time at Atlanta for Bull’s Eye Barbecue Sauce and Junie Donlavey. But even though his time in the pits and racing toward a checkered flag was over, Parsons still had a lot more to offer the sport.

The twilight of his career saw Parsons split time as a driver and a broadcast journalist, choosing which races to drive in. He started as a pit reporter in the 80s for ESPN and quickly climbed the ladder of success in the broadcasting world.

After his official retirement from racing, Parsons was offered a deal with ESPN, where he offered color analysis from 1989 through 2000. He then went on to work for NBC and TNT from 2001 to 2006, when he officially retired altogether.

Parsons was successful in front of the camera, earning an ACE Award in 1989 and an ESPN Emmy in 1996.

“He really enjoyed broadcasting and being a part of that color analyst family,” Keith Parsons said. “I know my dad enjoyed each being around the sport and people tell me all the time those were the best days of NASCAR on TV.

“When he started doing TV, he started wearing glasses and he had this look about him that he was given the name ‘the professor’,” he added. “The way he talked and explained things in detail, he developed that nickname. My dad had that tone of ‘I know what I’m talking about’.”

Parsons worked in television up until he his diagnoses of lung cancer in July 2006 and started having complications from treatment.

A Hall Of Fame Career

In Jan. 2017, a decade after his death, Parsons was part of a five-member class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He was joined by fellow driver Mark Martin, whom Parsons had “a great relationship with,” and owners Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Raymond Parks.

“Our family went to the induction and was really neat,” Keith Parsons said. “It was cool for my daughters, Emily and Libbie, to experience that because they didn’t get to see him race.”

Another story that Keith Parsons remembers about the induction was when driver Jimmie Johnson, then fresh off his seventh NASCAR title, approached the Parsons family.

“Jimmie Johnson walked up and introduced himself,” Parsons recalled. “He told us congratulations for my dad, and it was a really neat deal. It was really nice and he was the only driver to do that.”

Benny Parsons And NASCAR Today

The sport has continued to expand since Parsons passed away, and recently a string of events have challenged for social reform in NASCAR. Among them are the banning of the Confederate flag within the sport, as well as drivers supporting Bubba Wallace, the lone African-American driver on the circuit.

On Monday, Keith Parsons took to Twitter and shared a seven-tweet thread full of stories about his father and how he was ahead of his time in terms of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. (Click here for thread).

“How the world is, I know my dad would be for all the changes NASCAR has gone through,” Keith Parsons said. “He was all about trying to reach new people, be totally inclusive to all walks of life and would have been on board with the social changes.

“He’d love the races today, even though racing is different than when he raced,” he closed. “My dad loved NASCAR and its fans, and knew how tough it was to race. He never gave up the joyful, kid-like enjoyment as being a part of the sport.”


Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

Submit local sports scores to: kpillar@richmondobserver.com

Twitter: ROSports_