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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — 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 race car 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.
Parks was one of stock car racing’s earliest team owners. He began as an owner in 1939 with drivers Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall and his cars went on to dominate in the 1940s. Red Byron won the first modified NASCAR title in 1948 and his first premier series title in 1949 in a Parks-owned car.
Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles won the 2017 Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR.
The 2017 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, from left, Benny Parsons, Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Richard Childress, is displayed after being announced in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, May 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)