NASCAR loses two greats

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In just the last two weeks, NASCAR has lost two of its most influential personalities in former Cup champion Benny Parsons and former truck champion Bobby Hamilton.

This week, just nine days after Hamilton succumbed to head and neck cancer, Parsons also passed after a long bout with throat cancer.

Parsons, 65, is a legend in NASCAR, having won 21 races over his 22-year career, including the 1973 Winston Cup Championship.

Parsons was one of only four drivers who won a championship during the ‘70s and made his mark on the sport with nine Top 5 finishes in the final standings.

On the track, Parsons was ferocious and fast. In fact, Parsons was the first man to qualify at over 200 mph when he did so before the 1982 Winston 500 at Talladega.

Off the track, Parsons was nothing short of &#8220Gentile Ben.”

Parsons spent his years of retirement from the sport not far from the track. Not far at all.

After turning over his steering wheel for good, Parsons went to the broadcasting booth for ESPN and was an immediate hit.

Parsons and Bob Jenkins became the voices and faces of a sport that went from a Wide World of Sports event to the largest sport in America.

After the sport became so large that even ESPN could not compete, NASCAR moved to the major networks and Parsons followed suit by signing on with NBC.

On NBC, Parsons worked side-by-side with Allen Bestwick, Bill Weber and Wally Dallenbach and served for six years as the color commentator.

Parsons took off for just a few races this past season to undergo treatment, but just like he did on the track, he finished what he started.

Hamilton, 49, was also a fighter to the end.

During his 15-year Cup career, Hamilton won just four races, but during that time he single-handily restored pride and winning back to Richard Petty Racing, something that hadn't been there in a long while.

But it is in, perhaps, the Craftsman Truck Series that Hamilton left the biggest imprint.

In just 11 years in the series, Hamilton won a championship and compiled 10 wins.

Hamilton started his own team and not only competed with Jack Roush's team, but surpassed them.

Although he raced in only three races last season, Hamilton left his team in good shape and it will now be up to his son Bobby Jr. to continue the winning tradition.

While Hamilton and Parsons will surely be missed, they will never be forgotten.

Prior to the 2003 Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, I had a chance to speak with Parsons and that is a moment I will cherish forever.

During that conversation, we discussed the media and his transition from driver to broadcaster.

Parsons stressed to me that day the importance of being a good writer and how every good broadcaster is only as good as his written words.

Well Benny, and Bobby, these written words are for you.

Austin Phillips is The Greenville Advocate sports editor.

You can contact him by e-mailing austin.phillips@greenvilleadvocate.com or by calling 382-3111 ext. 122.