WOODY: Requiem For A Nice Guy Named Benny
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Seven years ago this week NASCAR – and the world – lost one of its resident Nice Guys.
Benny Parsons died from lung cancer. I was around Benny a lot back in the old days and never saw him smoking. He used to gnaw on a stogie now and then, and that was about it.
But we know what they say about bad things happening to good people, and Benny was one of the best.
What appealed to me about Benny was how he was able to pull himself up by his bootstraps, as most stock car drivers back then. They came from the farms, factories and mills, and stock car racing was their way out.
Nobody had to fight harder than Benny.
He was raised by his grandmother in rural North Carolina, and although he never used the word “poverty” to describe his upbringing, the wolf often scratched at their cabin door.
Benny joked about how someone who has never visited an outhouse on a cold, frosty morning don’t know what they’re missing.
I met Benny one summer when he came to Nashville to race at Fairgrounds Speedway.
He had hit rock bottom. He had lost his ride, was broke, and didn’t know where to turn. Bill
Donoho, the Fairgrounds track owner and promoter, called Benny and invited him to come run a Cup race.
Benny said he didn’t have a car.
Donoho said he’d get him one.
Benny said he didn’t have any traveling money.
Donoho said he’d send him some.
Benny said he couldn’t afford a motel.
Donoho said he could stay at his house.
So Benny came to Nashville, bunked at Donoho’s home, and raced. I don’t recall how he finished, but that race got him back on his feet. A ride came along shortly afterwards.
“I don’t know why Mr. Donoho took such an interest in me,” Benny would tell me a few
years later, after he won the Cup championship. “But he probably saved my career.”
I asked Donoho — a gruff old former assistant police chief who carried a pistol everywhere he went — why he did it.
“Benny Parsons was a good guy down on his luck, and I wanted to help him out,” Donoho growled. The tough old ex-cop seemed embarrassed that he’d been caught in the act of a good deed. After all, he had a reputation to protect.
When Donoho died, Benny was the only NASCAR driver who came to his funeral.
I liked Benny’s sense of humor. One Sunday morning I was flying down the San Bernardino Freeway on my way to Riverside Raceway, when up ahead I saw a car sitting on the shoulder, hood up, steam boiling out. Standing beside it was Benny and some lanky red-headed kid. I pulled over and they hopped in. Benny introduced me to “Bill Elliott, from Georgia, who plans to race some day and is traveling with me.”
Added Benny: “It’s a bad sign when your rental car blows on the way to the track.”
Benny didn’t win a lot of races – some thought he wasn’t ruthless enough – but few drivers won more friends and fans, and his engaging personality made him a huge success in his second career as a TV commentator.
Drivers like Benny Parsons, who raced on shoestrings and prayers, paved the way for today’s wealthy young hotshots. They built the sport. They should never be forgotten.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments