BENNY PARSONS LEFT HIS MARK ON MICHIGAN
BROOKLYN, Mich. (January 17, 2007) -- Benny Parsons was always know as the feisty, intense driver you would expect from someone born in the shadows of "The Rock" in Wilkes County, North Carolina. It was his feisty personality, booming Southern voice made for television, and warm smile that everyone will remember about Parsons, who succumbed to lung cancer on January 16, 2007. He was 65.
A NASCAR champion in 1973 and avid supporter of one of the nation's most popular sports, Parsons was claimed by the faithful fans of Wilkes County and later Ellerbe, North Carolina as one of their own. A child and teenager growing up in a poverty lifestyle in the heartland of NASCAR America, Parsons would leave the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina and later return to where his roots began making a name and legacy for himself along the way.
Despite being born in an area rich with NASCAR tradition, it wasn't until a move to Detroit that racing really entered Parsons' life. With his family residing in the Motor City, Parsons was raised in a city where the automotive industry was booming. The automobile had become a mainstay in American culture and nearly every household had a General Motors or Ford vehicle parked in its driveway. Detroit was a hard-working, blue-collar city with automotive factory jobs abundant.
While in Detroit, Parsons would work at a gas station and also for his father's taxi cab company as a driver and repairman. Then in 1963, he decided to begin his racing career at Mt. Clemens Speedway, a track approximately 30 miles northeast of downtown Detroit. He would later join the Temperance, Mich. based Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) Series, winning rookie of the year honors in 1965 and the ARCA championship in 1968 and 1969. It was his mastery in ARCA and his on-and-off again success in various NASCAR races since 1964 which caused him to move back to North Carolina and join the full-time NASCAR ranks in 1970.
Parsons would go on to win 21 career NASCAR Cup races, including one in 1980 at Michigan International Speedway, which sits in the backyard of the Automotive Capital of the World. After a long rain-delay on June 15, 1980, Parsons managed to hold off a hard-charging Cale Yarborough on the final lap, giving him his first and only Cup victory at MIS. Ironically, Parsons' sponsor for that victory was Melling Tool Company of Jackson, Mich. (20 miles from MIS, Melling Tool Co., and company president Harry Melling, would later go on to have great success with driver Bill Elliott).
"It's been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait," Parsons would say in Victory Lane following his MIS win.
The victory was even more special because his parents, two brothers, sister, wife and two sons were in attendance despite the rain-delay. Parsons would make 38 career NASCAR Cup starts at MIS, registering 16 top-10 finishes, one win and two poles.
Following a 24-year NASCAR racing career that ended in 1988, Parsons was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994 (the International Motorsports Hall of Fame is located in Novi, Mich.) and the Motor Sports Hall of Fame of America in 2006. He was also named as one of the "50 Greatest Drivers in NASCAR History" in 1998.
In his later years, Parsons resided in Concord, N.C., and was still very involved in the sport he cherished. Even in 2006, with diagnosed lung cancer, he continued to serve on the NBC and TNT television broadcast teams, where he was respected by drivers, crew chiefs, owners and fellow commentators on every level.
Up until his death, Parsons still listed Detroit as his hometown and took pride in his early nickname "The Taxi Cab Driver from Detroit" for listing it as his occupation on race entry forms. It was his ties to the Great Lakes State and the success he carried from it to NASCAR that made Parsons one of Michigan's own. He may have been claimed by fans of North Carolina as theirs, but he will always be remembered as the "Taxi Cab Driver" from Detroit.