Rival on Parsons: 'Almost too nice to be a race car driver'

The beloved champion and later broadcaster died of complications from a bout with cancer

Published January 17, 2007

DAYTONA BEACH - Benny Parsons was a champion driver and a legendary broadcaster, but on the day he died, people who knew him talked more about what a nice person he was.

Mr. Parsons, 65, died Tuesday (Jan. 16, 2007) from complications resulting from the chemotherapy used to treat his lung cancer.

"Benny Parsons was the kindest, sweetest, most considerate person I have ever known," fellow series champion and broadcaster Darrell Waltrip said. "He was almost too nice to be a race car driver and I say that as a compliment."

Mr. Parsons, who grew up in rural North Carolina and later drove taxis, won the 1973 championship at NASCAR's highest level, and was named one of the sport's 50 greatest drivers. His popularity grew when he took his considerable knowledge and easy charm to the broadcast booth and the burly man who came to be affectionately known as "BP" was well-liked by drivers and fans.

Driver Jeff Gordon called him one of the most "genuine and generous" drivers he had ever met. Elliott Sadler was invited to Thanksgiving dinner at Mr. Parsons' house at age 12 because his older brother, Hermie, was suitemates with Parsons' son, Keith. Sadler remembers looking at Mr. Parsons' trophies - he won 21 times in NASCAR's top series, including the 1975 Daytona 500 - and playing Pictionary.

Mr. Parsons, in Sadler's opinion, never changed.

"It's weird how certain things are etched in your mind, experiences you have and that's one I will always remember," Sadler said. "He was the same then as the last time I saw him at the racetrack. ... He didn't put a value on you whether who you were somebody in the sport, but who you were as a person."

Mr. Parsons had been hospitalized since Dec. 26 because aggressive cancer treatment had damaged his left lung and a blood clot was discovered in the right. Mr. Parsons, a former smoker, was diagnosed with cancer in his left lung in July but was deemed cancer-free in October after radiation and chemotherapy.

"It's just so disappointing," Greg Biffle said last week, when Mr. Parsons was in intensive care. "I thought he was doing better, and I talked to him a few times. He makes a point to come see me in the garage. It's obvious he's the only reason for why I am here in this sport. I would still be in Washington racing local stuff."

Biffle was building and racing Late Models out of his home base of Vancouver, Wash., in 1995 when he packed his gear in the winter and went to a made-for-television stock car series in Tucson, Ariz., that attracted some top drivers in the West. Mr. Parsons, a TV analyst for the event, was so impressed watching Biffle win all but one race, he began lobbying Nextel Cup teams to sign him sight unseen.

Eighteen months later, Roush Racing signed Biffle, who went on to win truck (2000) and Busch series (2002) championships and tie for second in Nextel Cup points in 2005.

Mr. Parsons is the second member of the tight-knit NASCAR community to die of cancer in two weeks. Former truck series champion Bobby Hamilton died Jan. 7 at 49 after contracting head and neck cancer.

"Gosh, it seems like this cancer thing, whatever, the horror of it is," Biffle said. "It's just evil stuff."