Terri Parsons

Benny Parsons’ Hall of Fame induction an emotional celebration

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Terri Parsons wasn’t going to watch the video honoring her late husband, Benny Parsons, as she stood backstage moments before accepting the honor of his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

She was afraid to watch the video Friday night because this had been such an emotional week.

Ten years ago Monday, Benny Parsons died. Now, four days later, NASCAR celebrated the 1973 champion with its highest honor, as he joined Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Raymond Parks and Mark Martin in the Hall’s eighth class.

In between those days were memories, stories, laughter and tears.

“It’s just been a roller-coaster ride,’’ Terri Parsons told NBC Sports.

This week brought a flood of friends, crew chiefs, crew members and drivers sharing stories of Benny. Some, Terri had never heard.

Martin told her about the time in 1978 that his dad contacted Benny to ask what they could do to help Martin’s chances of reaching NASCAR.

Benny told them to come to Ellerbe, North Carolina, and they’d talk. He took them to lunch and offered his advice.

“Can you imagine?’’ Martin told NBC Sports, recounting what the former champion did for him. “Yeah, come on down and I’ll take you to lunch. That’s unbelievable.’’

That was Benny, friends said.

Ricky Craven bought the farm Benny once owned. The conversation started when Craven won a pole award and Benny presented it. Craven said he wanted to buy the farm. A few weeks later, Craven won another pole and said the same thing to Benny.

Benny agreed to it. But what price? Benny said they would get someone to appraise the land and that would be the price Craven would pay. It’s a standard Craven says he’s used even these days when selling items to friends.

Perhaps one of the greatest signs of Benny’s impact on those around him was that 1973 season finale at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. He couldn’t avoid a wrecked car in front of him and tore off the right side of his car. His crew and others helped rebuild the right side so he could complete enough laps to win the title.

“You can’t say enough good about him,’’ said Waddell Wilson, the engine builder for Benny that championship season. “He was a gentlemen’s gentlemen. He was one you’ll never forget.’’

Brad Keselowski, who introduced the video segment on Benny, told Terri how Benny had been such an influence and hero to him.

She didn’t know that.

It’s not surprising. There are many more stories of Benny Parsons. A friend of those in the garage and an advocate for the fans, his popularity soared through his racing and TV career with ESPN, TNT and NBC. Fans embraced him, placing him on their Hall of Fame ballot each of the past six years, longer than any other nominee.

Backstage, Keselowski and Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett convinced Terri Parsons to watch the video. Soon the memories returned, seeing the smile and hearing that sweet, melodious Southern voice.

Then it was time for her to go on stage. The last thing she wanted to be was emotional.

As she stood before the crowded ballroom, Terri Parsons wanted to make sure everyone knew how important they were to Benny.

“The most important thing about tonight for him would be the people and especially the fans, understand how much they meant to him and how much he loved each and every one of you,’’ Terri Parsons said. “You all have such great stories, and tonight is really a celebration of his life. This is not sad, this is happy.  I’m the only one that’s sad.’’

Her voice quivered again.

When she exited the stage, she went to her seat on the front row with the other inductees. She sat down in front of seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

He rubbed her back and told her: “Terri, it’s fine. It’s good to show emotion.’’

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