Benny Parsons made a career of beating the odds, rising up from a childhood of poverty in the North Carolina foothills to a job as a Detroit cabbie, and eventually, becoming a NASCAR champion.
When he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Parsons had every reason to believe he would beat that, too. But despite a battle that saw "BP" carrying an oxygen tank around the race track, Parsons couldn't win this fight.
He died Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., where he had been hospitalized since Dec. 26 because of complications from his treatment. He was 65.
The 1973 NASCAR champion, Parsons was a member of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers and a lovable fixture at the track. He won 21 races, including the 1975 Daytona 500, and 20 poles. He was the first Cup competitor to qualify for a race faster than 200 mph, going 200.176 mph at the 1982 Winston 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
He retired from racing in 1988 and entered broadcasting, where his folksy style and straight-shooting manner endeared him to fans and drivers. Sometimes referred to as "The Professor" because of his relaxed ability to deliver information, Parsons spent the past six years as an NBC and TNT commentator.
"When you talked to him he brought out the human element," said Michael Waltrip. "The cars are nuts and bolts, but he talked through that. He was able to deliver to the people. He just tried to be passionate about what he believed and he did a great job of explaining what people were seeing."
Survivors include wife Terri, sons Kevin and Keith, and two granddaughters. Parsons was preceded in death by his first wife, Connie.
"Benny was a beloved and widely respected member of the NASCAR community, and of the NBC Sports family," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said.