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WOODY: Requiem For A Nice Guy Named Benny

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 17 2014

Benny Parsons was as likable as he was skilled behind the wheel. (Photos courtesy of NASCAR)

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

Benny Parsons had a lot of friends in the NASCAR garages.

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

Benny Parsons and Miss Winston after the 1981 race at Texas World Speedway.

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 lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 17 2014


  • Tim Smith says:

    I met Benny only once. It was prior to his TV days. Early ’80s in Raleigh, NC. He was making some sort of public appearance on behalf of his black and white Skoal car — owned by Richard Jackson, I believe. I don’t know if they had “show cars” back in those days. But I do recall that there was no engine or transmission on this one that day. Benny was just as kind, gracious and down-to-earth as his reputation said he would be. I never forgot that moment and was delighted to see Benny be a success on TV. I am also very glad that he recommended a kid named Biffle to Jack Roush after he’d seen him run circles around other drivers in Phoenix during their winter series. I imagine the Bif is also plenty glad to observe a moment for his friend Benny….

  • Chad says:

    Benny was a great announcer. He could explain things that didn’t make ya feel dumb. He could. Put u in the drivers point of view. And I always loved the. Benny’s buffet when was with espn. Could tell he loved doing that

  • RFan says:

    Benny seemed to be a person who was fun to be around. His combined contributions to NASCAR both as a driver and a great TV announcer are hard to compare. I was puzzled that there seemed to be so little fanfare at his passing, especially when I saw what Earnhardt got and still gets. Benny’s passing was sad for me, because I had spent so many hours listening to him. I felt I knew him and I liked him.

    Benny did a classic interview with Alan Kulwicki the winter after Alan won his championship. He went up to Alan’s home in Wisconsin. It was an interesting and touching interview with Alan who told about his hopes to someday have a family living in that house.

    I was a big fan of the AMC Matador in the 1970s. In 1975, Bobby Allison finished second to Benny in the Daytona 500 driving Penske’s Matador. I have often wished the Matador would have won the race, but then I think that I wouldn’t want Benny’s victory taken from him, either.

    There will never be another Benny Parsons (sadly).

  • Susan says:

    Thanks for the memory piece on Benny. I still miss him. Loved the story about him and Bill. Classic. Nice guys can finish first.

  • Dan says:

    My interest in NASCAR was solidified in the 90s with ESPN, Bob Jenkins, Ned Jarrett, and Benny Parsons. The banter among the 3 has never been duplicated by any of their successors.

  • Rita Jean says:

    What a good read.
    Thanks, Larry.

    • roger says:

      thanks what GREAT ARTICLE I have HAD THE PLEASURE OF BEING friends of the parsons family for years and they all are wonderful people