Remembering Benny Parsons: 8 years since we lost beloved ‘BP’

3 Comments

With things like raising families, job changes, a struggling economy and more taking up so much of our collective time, it’s easy to understand that eight years can pass by fairly quickly.

But sometimes, especially if you work in the NASCAR industry or are a longtime fan, a moment comes along every so often where you stop dead in your tracks and begin a sentence that you say to yourself, “My God, has it REALLY been eight years …”

You pause briefly, almost incredulous, and then add, “… since we lost Benny Parsons? Where has that time gone?”

Yes, Friday marked the eighth anniversary of Benny’s death from lung cancer.

Having done some boxing in his younger days, Benny put up quite the battle. But sadly, within only a few months of being diagnosed, and no matter how many different treatments he went through to try and beat his foe, Benny was unfairly taken from us.

As Billy Joel sings, “Only the good die young,” and Benny was both as good as they get and far too young to pass away at the age of 65.

I’ll never forget when I heard of Benny’s passing and where I was at.

NASCAR was having a preseason test at Daytona International Speedway. It was a rather gloomy and chilly morning as I pulled into the infield media parking lot with my daughter, who was off from college and accompanied me to Florida for a few days of what was supposed to be warm weather.

I had literally brought the rental car to a stop, put the transmission in park, was just about to turn off the ignition when the sad, sad news came over the radio that the man everyone lovingly referred to as “BP” had passed away.

I’ve been around death a lot, including at racetracks, but Benny’s passing was surreal. As my daughter and I walked through the garage area, I saw more than a few people crying.

I saw several drivers, crew chiefs and team members come together in small groups, long looks upon their faces.

You didn’t have to ask what they were talking about in almost hushed whispers. They, too, had just heard about Benny’s passing.

Almost everywhere I went, everywhere I looked, it was almost as if time had stopped in Daytona. Instead of wondering who was going to be fastest in practice that day, you just kept hearing the words over and over, “Benny” and “BP.”

Practice was late in starting that day. The official reason was supposedly weather, but I’ve always thought it actually had more to do with Benny’s passing.

Eventually, action started on the track and business was conducted as usual.

And in fitting Parsons fashion, what started as a terrible day – weather-wise and emotionally – became a nicer day as the hours and minutes clicked by. The sun even came out and warmed up the place.

To this day, I still think Benny had something to do with that. He wouldn’t want us moping around and feeling bad about him when there was racin’ to be done, even if it was just practice.

Parsons had such a unique way about himself. He was as blue collar as they get, born in North Carolina, raised up north in Detroit, where he drove a taxi for a while before moving back south to find his fame and fortune in NASCAR.

He’d often joke that even when he became a NASCAR star, he was still driving an old taxi – that’s what he liked to call stock cars back in the day.

I remember him laughing once, “Yeah, I went from driving a taxi in Detroit to driving a taxi in the south. Same kinda thing.”

Back in 2005 during the annual NASCAR Awards Week in New York, Parsons, my wife and myself were the only occupants of a mini-bus that shuttled us from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to a celebration party across Manhattan in honor of Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart.

The ride lasted about 20 minutes and we chatted like we all had been lifelong friends. Truth be told, Benny knew me somewhat, while he had never met my wife and vice-versa.

Talking with Benny made a big impression on my wife (and trust me, as the wife of a sportswriter who has met dozens of star athletes over our long marriage, she does not get impressed very easily).

After we exited the bus and Benny bid us adieu, my wife remarked, “That has to be one of the nicest men I’ve ever met in NASCAR.”

She paused and then slightly recanted her comment, adding, “Actually, one of the nicest men I’ve ever met, period.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Even though he came from a rough part of Detroit, Benny had a genuine, downhome Southern charm that folks just loved.

And oh, how he loved folks, be they fans, media, drivers, crew chiefs, pretty much anyone connected with NASCAR.

Benny was the common thread. People knew they could confide in him and that he wouldn’t betray that confidence and trust.

He was a great advisor, kept secrets secret, and was always positive and cheerful (even while fighting that damn cancer).

And he was also arguably one of the greatest storytellers the sport has ever known. He could regale and keep you in stitches for hours, if not days, on end.

For those who knew him, Parsons didn’t have an enemy in the world – even the guys he used to race against. And he was a very tough competitor, winning 21 races, including the 1973 Winston Cup championship and the biggest race victory of his career, the 1975 Daytona 500. It’s no wonder he was chosen one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers back in 1998.

But once he got out of that old taxi of a race car, he was as sweet and warm as fresh baked peach cobbler.

If Parsons’ name were to appear in a dictionary, perhaps the first word to describe him in the definition would be “beloved.”

Indeed, Benny was beloved. His face rarely was without that famous smile. He loved to give people hearty pats on the back for either a job well done or compassion for trying yet coming up short.

As I was preparing this column, I looked at Benny’s obituary once again on Legacy.com. For most people who’ve passed, maybe a few dozen remembrances are left by family and friends.

As of this writing late Friday afternoon, Benny had nearly 2,400 testimonials.

That’s most definitely beloved.

As I reflect back on Benny and how life has gone on over the last eight years, I’m sure somewhere Benny is having a grand time with some of the sport’s legends, guys like Dale Earnhardt, Lee Petty, Bill France Sr. and Jr., Davey Allison and so many more.

They’re probably swapping stories and telling jokes, invariably replaying some of the great races over the years they saw or broadcast or competed in.

As I said at the beginning of this column, it’s so hard to believe that it’s been eight years – eight very long years – since Benny Parsons left us.

Even 25 or 50 years from now, it’ll still seem like it was only yesterday that we lost BP.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:


Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”