Charlotte, N.C. — To Benny Parsons, auto racing was everything.
From driving to announcing, he was an icon in the sport and became one of the most beloved figures in the NASCAR community.
Parsons, who died in 2007 at age 65, was rewarded for his accomplishments and impact on the sport when he was selected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
Fellow driver Mark Martin and car owners Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Raymond Parks also were voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“Benny was one of the first drivers to make the smooth transition from the racecar to the broadcast booth,” said Doug Rice, PRN president and longtime TV co-host with Parsons. “His down-home style and vast experience made him an instant fan favorite and it gives me great joy to see him elected in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.”
Parsons, the 1973 NASCAR premier series champion, was the first driver to eclipse 200 mph in 1992 at Talladega Superspeedway. He was referred to by some as the “everyman’s champion” and was known for his consistency.
He won 21 times in 536 starts but finished in the top 10 in more than half of his starts (238).
Parsons’ biggest victory might have been in the 1975 Daytona 500, and he is recognized as one of NASCAR’s top 50 drivers. Following his racing career he made seamless transition into television and was a commentator for NBC and TNT until he died of lung cancer.
“This is the biggest honor of Benny’s life,” said Parsons’ widow, Terri. “It summarizes everything he has ever worked toward. Every job he has ever had be it as a racecar driver in all divisions, host of a NASCAR radio shows, NASCAR color commentator for TV networks each were just as important to him as the next. He lived his life for NASCAR fans.”
Martin, who was driving up to see the Indianapolis 500 in his motor home when he heard the news, said he was “humbled to no end” to be a part of a class that includes Parsons. Parsons was instrumental in Martin getting into NASCAR when he was just a teenage dirt track driver growing up in Arkansas.
“He gave me great advice,” Martin said.
The 57-year-old Martin went on to win 96 races across NASCAR’s national series competition, including 40 on the Sprint Cup level. Still, he’s known as the best driver to never win a championship, finishing second in the Sprint Cup standings five times.
But he never let it define him.
“I don’t have a Daytona 500 trophy and a championship trophy,” Martin said. “I would ask the question ‘how would my life be different if I had one?’ I truly believe my life wouldn’t be different. But my life will be different from now on because I’m in the Hall of Fame now. That is my crown jewel.”
Hendrick won 14 owner championships, and Childress 11 across NASCAR’s three series.
Parks was the first car owner to win a title. He died in 2010 at 96.
Hendrick, the founder and owner of Hendrick Motorsports, has won 11 of his titles on the Sprint Cup circuit — six with Jimmie Johnson, four with Jeff Gordon and one with Terry Labonte. He owned drag racing boat teams before founding “All-Star Racing,” the team would evolve into Hendrick Motorsports in 1984.
While humbled by the Hall honor, Hendrick said he has no thoughts of slowing down.
“We have accomplished so much and I am appreciative of so much, but with as competitive as we are, I still want more,” Hendrick said.
Childress’ name is synonymous with Dale Earnhardt, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class. Earnhardt won six championships with Childress’ cars and 67 races between 1984 and 2000.
Childress said he didn’t expect to get voted in.
“I was told the only way you were going to get in is if you retire or you die,” said Childress. “I sure like the first one better.”
He said celebrated by honor by opening a bottle of his own Childress cabernet wine.
Childress started out as a driver, purchasing his first racecar for $20 at the age of 17. He formed Richard Childress Racing in 1972 and continued racing until 1981 before turning his focus to being a full-time owner.
“Only in America could a kid with a $20 racecar and a dream wind up in the Hall of Fame,” Childress said.
Andretti voted best to never win Indy
The words were stunning as they flew out of announcer Paul Page’s mouth in the waning laps of the 1992 Indianapolis 500.
“Michael is slowing! Michael is slowing!” Page declared. “The rest of the field is coming past. Michael Andretti is slowing down.”
Andretti was within 20 miles of earning a coveted Indianapolis 500 victory. He’d dominated the race, led 160 laps, had the field covered. Then just like that, his car slowed to a crawl because of a broken fuel pump and his heartbreak was complete.
“It was that close to being the greatest moment in my life and it turned out to be the worst moment,” he later told Indianapolis Motor Speedway historians. “Me breaking down with 10 laps to go with a totally dominant car, it was a killer.”
In the lead-up to the 100th running of the “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” The Associated Press interviewed the 27 living race winners on topics ranging from the greatest driver to most memorable moment. Their answers to the best driver to never win the Indianapolis 500 gave Andretti a distinction he’d rather go to anyone else.
Andretti received 17 of the 27 votes, while Lloyd Ruby received four. Others mentioned were Tony Stewart, Jim Clark — who actually won the race in 1965 — Roberto Guerrero and Alex Zanardi.
“Being the best driver to have not won Indy is an unfortunate honor,” Andretti told the AP. “I think I’d much rather be one of the winners and not be honored in this category at all. But a lot of great drivers have raced here and never did win, so to be picked among those names is a real honor.”
Andretti built one of the most impressive careers in American open-wheel racing history. He ranks fifth in starts (317) and third in wins (42) and laps led (6,607). But his career is widely defined by his oh-so-close moments at Indy that added to the lore of the “Andretti curse.”
Michael’s father, Mario, won the Indy 500 just once, in 1969. Since then, Mario, his sons Michael and Jeff, nephew John and grandson Marco have come up empty time and time again.
“All this stuff about the Andretti curse is nonsense, I never, ever dwelled on the negative,” Mario Andretti told AP. “You have to look at the positive. Michael controlled this race better than some of the four-time winners. In ’92, he had a 1 1/2-lap lead and he could have pushed the car back to win the race. You look at things like that, and that’s how some people judge you.
Indy tickets sell out
All tickets for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 have been sold and, for only the third time in history, local race fans will be able to watch the race live on television.
The race has traditionally been televised on tape delay in the Indianapolis television market.
But with all reserved seating, suite and general admission tickets sold out for the 100th running of the race, the blackout was lifted. The race has not been televised live locally since the 1950s.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has almost 250,000 reserved seats and with the infield around the 2.5-mile oval packed in, organizers expect the crowd to be from 350,000 to 375,000.
The biggest winner: ticket brokers and scalpers.
General admission tickets, which were $40 at face value, are now going for almost $140 at online sites. Seats that originally cost $50 to $230 are now going for anywhere from $180 to $862, as of Wednesday afternoon, on vividseats.com. Suites cost significantly more.
StubHub was charging from $160 to $1,540 for reserved seats. Penthouse tickets were upward of $4,500 and the most expensive suite tickets were listed at $9,999.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence issued a statement in support of the decision to lift the blackout.
Tickets for Friday’s final practice and Saturday’s Legends Day are still available.
Track: Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway (oval, 1.5 miles)
Schedule: Thursday, practice (FS1, 2 p.m.), qualifying (FS1, 7:15 p.m.); Saturday, practice (FS1, 10 a.m.), practice (FS1, 1 p.m.); Sunday, race, 6 p.m., Fox
Distance: 600 miles (400 laps)
Defending champion: Carl Edwards
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (oval, 2.5 miles).
Schedule: Friday, Carb Day (NBCSN, 11 a.m.); Sunday, race, noon, ABC
Distance: 500 miles (200 laps)
Defending champion: Juan Pablo Montoya
Track: Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway (oval, 1.5 miles)
Schedule: Thursday, practice (FS1, 3:30 p.m.), practice (FS1, 5:30 p.m.); Saturday, qualifying (FS1, 11:15 a.m.), race, 2:30 p.m., FS1
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
Defending champion: Austin Dillon
New England Nationals
Track: New England Dragway, Epping, N.H.
Schedule: Friday, qualifying (5 p.m.), qualifying (7:30 p.m.); Saturday, qualifying, (2 p.m.), qualifying (4:30); Sunday, elimination finals, 3:55 p.m.