Ryan: The genial legacy of Benny Parsons and other Hall of Fame voting takeaways

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CHARLOTTE – The case for Benny Parsons’ Hall of Fame candidacy was illustrated best by the numbers – and not necessarily those the affable broadcaster and driver posted on track.

Parsons scored 21 victories in NASCAR’s premier series, including the 1975 Daytona 500, but his results weren’t overwhelming. In his 1973 championship season, Parsons finished on the lead lap only once (his victory at Bristol Motor Speedway). Fellow Hall of Fame candidate Ricky Rudd had two more victories in his career.

But Parsons made an enormous impression with his easygoing and genteel North Carolina hospitality, building strong friendships throughout the garage and helping build the strong bonds between others. Much has been made of car owner Jack Roush finding Greg Biffle solely because of Parsons, but the former NBC Sports broadcaster also had subtle and strong influences in virtually every NASCAR team.

While there aren’t definitive ways of calculating Parsons’ sway in the NASCAR industry, there are statistics that bear it out.

The leading vote-getter for the eighth class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame garnered 85% of balloting, which is tied with Cale Yarbrough (2012) and trails only Bill Elliott (87%, 2015) and David Pearson (94%, 2011) for available total (there were no percentages released in the first year).

Just as telling is the support that Parsons received in the Hall of Fame discussion. Nearly two dozen voters spoke on behalf of candidates. Nearly half mentioned Parsons – more than any other candidate – and some told intensely personal and vividly detailed stories of how Parsons had affected the trajectory – always for the good — of their personal and professional lives.

Parsons was the Will Rogers of NASCAR but with a twist: Not only did the Ellerbe, North Carolina, native never meet a man he didn’t like, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t like Parsons within the fiercely competitive world of racing.

“As a Daytona 500 winner and broadcaster, Benny loved a good story and loved sharing stories of the people that make this sport great,” NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said. “I’ll always remember him at the track, leaning up against a stack of tires and connecting with everyone who passed by. We were lucky to have him as the leader of NBC’s NASCAR team for six years.”

In the midst of celebrating his election Wednesday, fellow inductee Mark Martin went out of his way in an NBCSN interview to recall being a teenager who sought counsel from Parsons about a NASCAR career in the mid-1970s. Parsons invited Martin and his father to his home despite barely knowing them, and they talked for hours.

“He loved every job he ever had,” widow Terri Parsons told NBCSN on NASCAR America. “He didn’t care if it was working on taxi cabs or driving race cars, a commentator for TV or a radio announcer.

“Whatever job he was doing, he loved, and he loved the sport of NASCAR. Most of all, he loved that he was in a position that he could educate fans on questions that they always wanted to know the answer to but didn’t know who to ask. He definitely was in love with the sport of NASCAR, that’s for sure.”

Wednesday proved how much the NASCAR love affair was reciprocal.

Other thoughts on the Hall of Fame from a voter’s perspective:

–The new class will usher in two deserving team owners in Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress, but there remains a dire need for more crew chiefs and mechanics in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The last full-time crew chief to be inducted was Leonard Wood in 2013, and the only other true mechanic in the shrine is Dale Inman.

It’s inexplicable that Ray Evernham, who was voted the greatest crew chief in NASCAR history by a 2006 media poll and changed the face of NASCAR with fresh approaches to pit crews, setups and strategies, didn’t finish among the top eight in voting.

It also is hard to fathom why some mechanics such as Kirk Shelmerdine, Smokey Yunick and Jake Elder haven’t been up for nomination yet.

–Of the 58 voters (including an online fan poll), there were four who weren’t in the room Wednesday because they were recused from being on the ballot: Rudd, Robert Yates, Waddell Wilson and Ken Squier. There were several other voters who voted absentee Wednesday, leaving the room a few voices short of the usual 50-plus for the verbal discussion.

–Let’s hope the election of Childress and Hendrick puts to rest the fallacy that a candidate should be penalized for being active because “history still is being written.”

There was nothing left for Childress and Hendrick to achieve that would have made their resumes worthier of the Hall of Fame. Once someone is eligible for the Hall of Fame, the only criteria for induction should be what the candidate has accomplished, not whether they still are doing it.