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Parsons was born in Wilkes County, North Carolina. He spent his childhood years in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and played football at Millers Creek High School (now known as West Wilkes High School). Following high school, he moved to Detroit, Michigan where his father operated a taxicab company. Parsons worked at a gas station and drove cabs in Detroit before beginning his racing career. While working at the gas station one day, a couple of customers towing a race car invited him to a local race track. The driver of the car never showed up for that evening's race, and Parsons drove the car in a race for the first time later that night. Benny later moved to Ellerbe, North Carolina and always called it home.
Parsons began his NASCAR career by running a single race in 1964 for Holman-Moody with a young Cale Yarborough.
Parsons won the 1968 and 1969 ARCA championships, and then moved to Ellerbe, North Carolina.
Parsons had three top-10 finishes in four NASCAR races in 1969.
Benny joined the NASCAR circuit full-time in 1970 with crew chief, John Hill. He had 23 top-10 finishes in 45 races, a pole at Langley Field Speedway, and finished eighth in the final point standings. He raced the No. 72 car for L.G. DeWitt/DeWitt Racing.
Parsons had 18 top-10 finishes in 35 starts in 1971, including his first win at South Boston Speedway. He finished eleventh in the points.
In 1972 he had 19 top-10 finishes in 31 races. He finished fifth in the final points standings.
In 1973 he won the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship with only one win, even though David Pearson won eleven races (but Pearson only entered eighteen events). Parsons' consistency likely won him the championship: he had 21 top-10 and 15 top-5 finishes in the 28 events. His improbable return to the track after an early crash cemented his championship at Rockingham, North Carolina. He saw his championship hopes start to fade as he was involved in a lap 13 crash and his car was heavily damaged. He took to the pits to muster whatever he could out of the car and hope for a top five finish in the final standings. The rest of the garage was hoping to see the underdog unseat the mighty Richard Petty and joined in to help Parsons' crew put the car back together. Parsons miraculously got back on the track 136 laps later and completed enough laps to finish 25th and take the 1973 championship. Richard Petty, with the championship in his sights after winning the pole and seeing Parsons' accident, had engine trouble and was relegated to a 35th-place finish. The poor performance dropped Petty all the way to fifth in the final standings, as Cale Yarborough took the runner up spot on the season with his third-place effort. He finished 67 points behind the champion.
Parsons also became the only person to win both ARCA and NASCAR championships.
Parsons finished between third and fifth in the final points standings from 1974 to 1980 and won the 1975 Daytona 500. He switched to the No. 27 entry for M.C. Anderson starting in 1979.
In 1979 at North Wilkesboro Speedway Bobby Allison led most of the race but in the final 150 laps, Darrell Waltrip caught Allison. The two hit together hard and Darrell nailed the front stretch wall. Waltrip began crowding off Allison under the caution and got black flagged for the crowding. Benny Parsons would win the race, but it would be his only win at the North Wilkesboro Speedway, a track which his wife Terri (married from 1992 until his death in 2007) would become an investor two years after his death.
He won the 1980 World 600 at Charlotte and the Los Angeles Times 500 (the final major motor race held at Ontario Motor Speedway) and finished 3rd in points.
In 1981 he started racing in the No. 15 Bud Moore Ford Thunderbird. He had wins at Nashville Speedway USA, the final race at Texas World Speedway, and Richmond. In addition, he received his final top-ten points finish, finishing tenth that year.
Parsons qualified for the 1982 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway at 200.175 miles per hour (mph), which was the first NASCAR qualification run over 200 mph (322 km/h).
Parsons raced in about half of the races between 1983 and 1986 for owner Johnny Hayes. Parsons' final career victory came in 1984 at the Coca-Cola 500 at Atlanta.
He appeared in the 1983 Burt Reynolds movie Stroker Ace.
Parsons joined Hendrick Motorsports in 1987 as a substitute driver for Tim Richmond, who was stricken with AIDS and would succumb in 1989. During the first lap of a race at Darlington Raceway, Parsons hit the wall and badly damaged his race car. He was able to continue, but had to make several pit stops for repairs. At one point, his crew chief, Harry Hyde refused to allow Parsons to pit because he and the crew were on an ice cream break. This incident was alluded to in the film, Days of Thunder. Another scene in the film was inspired by a real-life incident at Martinsville Speedway involving Parsons and the notoriously cantankerous Hyde: Hyde sarcastically told Parsons to hit the pace car on a restart because it was the only thing on the track Parsons had not hit.
Parsons drove the No. 90 Bulls Eye BBQ Ford for Junie Donlavey in his final NASCAR season in 1988 and then moved to the broadcast booth, a position that he would hold until his death.
Parsons did decide to race a few other times, the first during the 2003 Old Dominion 500 as part of Wally's World segment and he drove a ceremonial victory lap at the last fall race at Rockingham in 2003 in a 1973 Chevrolet similar to the one he won the championship with.
He is also credited with discovering former NASCAR driver Greg Biffle at a "Gong Show" held in Tucson, Arizona.
Motorsports career results
(key) (Bold – Pole position awarded by qualifying time. Italics – Pole position earned by points standings or practice time. * – Most laps led.)
(key) (Bold – Pole position. * – Most laps led.)
- Inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2016 as part of the Class of 2017.
- Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994.
- Named as one of the NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
- Inducted into the Court of Legends at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1994.
- Inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2005.
- Had 283 top 10 finishes, led at least one lap in 192 races, and finished no lower than fifth in points between 1972 and 1980.