Parsons family would like some memorabilia back

Benny Parsons was quick to lend personal items to help businesses near him. Now it's time for some of those businesses to give some of it back, writes Marty Smith.

Updated: March 13, 2007, 4:36 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Benny Parsons, as selfless and thoughtful a man as the good Lord ever molded, was quick-as-a-hiccup to aid a friend in need. He didn't keep tabs, wasn't interested in paybacks. He just wanted to help.

Benny Parsons
Motorsports Images & ArchivesBenny Parsons, in his Copenhagen days, accepts the trophy as the winner of the 1984 Coca-Cola 500.

It's time some of those folks he helped reciprocated the gesture.

Terri Parsons, Benny's second wife, is searching desperately for memorabilia from Benny's driving career. The hope is to collect a wide range of helmets, trophies, driving suits and sheet metal to display in a special wine-tasting room at Rendezvous Ridge, Benny's winery in Wilkesboro, N.C.

Terri seeks a driving uniform and helmet from every car he ever drove.

To date, the quest has been exasperating.

"This is the hardest thing I've ever done, and it's certainly the hardest thing Benny's family has ever gone through," Terri said.

During and after his driving career, Parsons lent much of his personal memorabilia to Charlotte area restaurants and businesses, or donated it to charities and auctions to help them raise money.

There were conditions. Unfortunately, some chose not to adhere to them.

"We signed legal papers saying that when these restaurants went out of business or changed decor or whatever, they'd give them back to him, and what happened was a lot of them went out of business and we found everything on eBay, and it had been sold," Terri Parsons said.

The chief culprit, she said, is Chris Politis, former owner of Sandwich Construction Company, the Charlotte area hangout for racers in the late '80s and early '90s before it went under.

For the record: I exhausted every avenue to locate Politis but could get no further than learning that he lives somewhere near Myrtle Beach, S.C. If you know him, or where I might find him, please e-mail me.

The Sandwich Construction walls were covered with racing memorabilia donated from nearly every team and driver in NASCAR -- including Parsons.

One day while perusing the Internet, Terri happened upon some of Benny's things. She couldn't contain herself.

"I bid on something of Benny's, something we'd loaned Sandwich Construction Company, and Benny got so upset with me that I had gone and bought back something he'd given away," Terri chuckled.

"The older drivers didn't have as much duplicate stuff as the younger drivers have. It's hard to find. It's hard now to replace it, especially the bigger things that people would really enjoy seeing."

Terri has located a couple of Benny's uniforms. One from back in the No. 55 Copenhagen days and another, purchased for Terri as a gift by NASCAR on Fox producer Pam Miller and pit road reporter Matt Yocum, from the 1st National City Traveler's Checks Chevy owned by L.G. DeWitt.

Somewhere out there are Benny's suits from the Griffin Marine Chevrolet and the Melling Tool Chevrolet and the Skoal Buick and the Folgers Chevy and the Bull's-Eye Barbecue Sauce Ford. Helmets, too.

But anything and everything is welcome.

Terri told me a story about a small box she received in the mail. Inside was a little gold ring inscribed with the words: Winston Cup, 20th anniversary. On one side, it said "1973" and on the other was Benny's signature, clear as an Alaskan riverbed.

She'd never seen one before, didn't know what it was. It was one of nine rings given to the championship driver by NASCAR, along with his personal championship ring, for his pit crew.

It was mailed anonymously, a Winston-Salem, N.C., postmark offering the only clue about to whom it belonged.

"They didn't want me to know where it came from," Terri said. "That's pretty special."

Special indeed, a gesture befitting the man for whom it testifies.

It's time others follow suit.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.

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