Benny Parsons, NASCAR TV analyst, dies


Benny Parsons, a taxi driver who became a NASCAR champion in 1973 and later a popular television analyst, died Tuesday from lung-cancer complications, his son Keith said. He was 65.

Parsons died in Charlotte, N.C., where he had been hospitalized since Dec. 26.

A member of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers and a lovable fixture at the track, Parsons won 21 races, including the 1975 Daytona 500, and 20 poles. He was the first Cup competitor to qualify for a race faster than 200 mph, going 200.176 mph at the 1982 Winston 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

He retired from racing in 1988 and entered broadcasting. He spent the past six years as an NBC and TNT commentator and continued to call races from the booth during his treatment.

"Benny Parsons was a true champion, both on the race track and in life," NASCAR chairman Brian France said. "Benny loved our sport and the people that make it up and those people loved him. He will be remembered as being a great ambassador for the sport."

Parsons was diagnosed with cancer in his left lung in July. Parsons, who quit smoking in 1978, underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments and was declared cancer-free in October. But the treatment cost Parsons the use of his left lung, and he was hospitalized last month when doctors found a blood clot in his right lung. He was placed in an induced-coma.

Parsons, known throughout NASCAR as "BP," hosted a weekly radio program and kept fans updated on his condition in a blog on his Web site.

"As my radiation oncologist told me today, John Wayne lived and had a great career with one lung. There is no reason why I can't do the same," Parsons said in a Dec. 18 entry after learning of the damage to his left lung.

"If given a choice between cancer or losing a lung I would say that I got the right end of the deal," he added.

Parsons began broadcasting in the 1980s as a pit reporter for ESPN and TBS, when he was still racing a partial schedule. He moved into the booth for good in 1989 for ESPN and won a CableACE Award for best sports analyst in his first season in the booth. He also created the popular ESPN segment "Buffet Benny" on food available at race tracks.

"Benny was a beloved and widely respected member of the NASCAR community, and of the NBC Sports family," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said.

"He was a great driver and a terrific broadcaster, but above anything else he was a kind and generous human being. His character and spirit will define how he is remembered by all of us."

After he retired from racing, he remained popular with fans and the driving community. Michael Waltrip came to preseason testing at Daytona International Speedway this week with "We Love You BP" painted on the side of his car.

"Benny Parsons was the kindest, sweetest, most considerate person I have ever known," said Darrell Waltrip, a three-time NASCAR champion and Fox Sports analyst. "He was almost too nice to be a race car driver, and I say that as a compliment. In my 30 odd years of racing Benny Parsons, I never knew of anyone being mad at Benny."

Parsons was born July 12, 1941, at his parents' rural home in Wilkes County and eventually moved to Detroit, where he worked at a gas station and a cab company owned by his father. After winning ARCA titles in 1968-69, he returned to North Carolina in Ellerbe to become a full-time racer, often listing "taxicab driver" as his occupation on entry forms.

Parsons made 526 starts from 1964 until his 1988 retirement. He ended his career with 283 top-10 finishes, led at least one lap in 192 races and finished no lower than fifth in the points from 1972 to 1980 while earning more than $4 million.

His 1973 championship season was built on endurance and consistency: He won only one of the 28 races that season while second-place finisher Cale Yarborough won four times and David Pearson won 11. But Parsons finished the most miles that year to claim the crown.

He was honored as one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers in 1998 and was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994. He was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association's Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame in 1995.

Survivors include wife Terri, sons Kevin and Keith, a former sports writer for the Associated Press, and two granddaughters. Parsons was preceded in death by his first wife, Connie.