The Frontstretch: Driven To The Past: Phil Parsons by Vito Pugliese -- Thursday July 19, 2007

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Driven To The Past: Phil Parsons

Vito Pugliese · Thursday July 19, 2007

 

Hometown: Detroit, MI
Starts: 202
Wins: 1
Top 5’s: 10
Top 10’s: 40
Poles: 0
Earnings: $1,819,306

Phil Parsons is probably best known to race fans as part of the trio that make up the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series color commentating team for Speed. Along with Rick Allen and Michael Waltrip, Parsons can be seen and heard calling the action in NASCAR’s version of Double-A baseball. What many may not know is that Phil was a pretty fair racecar driver in his own right, becoming part of racing history by winning the 1988 Winston 500 at Talladega.

To many, Phil Parsons is known as Benny’s younger brother…with hair. As fine as a person that Benny Parsons was, you’d be hard pressed to take that as anything other than a compliment. Phil Parsons began his career as many have, in one of NASCAR’s feeder series, the Goody’s Dash Series. From there he would move to what then was simply known as the Late Model Series, but today is the Busch Series. He joined the series as the new sponsor was coming on board in 1982, driving for owner Johnny Hayes. His first year in the series was a successful one, driving his No. 28 Skoal Pontiac to a win at Bristol, and fifth in the final series point's standings. The next year he would compete on a limited schedule (as many competitors did at the time), and ended the year 15th in points.

In 1983, Parsons and Hayes would aim for the big time, debuting in the Cup series in the Daytona 500. His 13th place finish was not too shabby considering the small, underfinanced team he was driving for. The most memorable moment of that season unfortunately would be one of the most spectacular crashes in the history of Talladega Superspeedway. A lap 72 incident between he and Darrell Waltrip resulted in a massive pile up, that saw Parsons' car barrel rolling about a dozen times in the midst of traffic. The wreck shook up his big brother so badly that Benny began screaming on the radio for a relief driver so he could get out of the car and go find Phil.

Phil Parsons would suffer a broken shoulder and be sidelined for six weeks as a result of that crash, but that would not deter him from his life’s passion. He would return to run a majority of the schedule in 1984 and when he ran; he would run well. Three Top 10s and a handful of runs in the low to mid teens would typically be the result. Parsons would bring the car home in one piece on most occasions, mindful of his teams limited resources, and eventually finish second to 1989 Winston Cup Champion Rusty Wallace in Rookie of the Year standings.

Parsons’ career got a real shot in the arm in 1985 when he signed on to drive as teammate to Harry Gant’s Skoal Bandit. He would also sponsored by the tobacco brand. Running the full season for the first time would result in a points finish of 21st, as a result of a slew of engine failures and mechanical woes. During a limited run the following season, Parsons would earn his first Top 5 finish for the Leo Jackson-owned outfit at the Talladega spring race. But running a limited schedule did not get Phil and the team the time they needed to gel, and the result was typically a mid-pack running car.

Things improved substantially the following season with a 14th place points finish, besting his teammate Harry Gant in the 1987 Winston Cup standings. The team would register a best finish of fourth at Martinsville, and earn six more Top 10s throughout the season. However, it would be the following season that it would all come together for the team and Phil Parsons.

In 1988 the landscape looked a lot different than it does today. Pontiacs, Buicks, and Olds, oh my! Chevrolet was still the dominant make, and there were only a pair of Fords that made any noise on a consistent basis. At the spring Talladega event, Parsons would qualify third and lead 52 laps en route to his first and only win as a Winston Cup driver. He held off Bobby Allison by 0.20 of a second for the win in the second race since the introduction of restrictor plates. Parsons would end the year ninth in points.

The 1989 season did not go as well. A pair of Top 5s (both at Daytona) were the only bright spots, and he would lose his ride at season’s end. He would begin the 1990 season driving the Kodak No. 4 for Morgan McClure Racing, but would be ousted early in the year in favor of Ernie Irvan. The 1991 season would see him running a handful of Busch Series races, but no Cup starts. In 1992 he managed a tenth place finish at the Daytona 500 in a one-off ride with Harry Melling, essentially replacing Bill Elliott who had left to drive the legendary Coors’ Ford for Junior Johnson. A crash at midway decimated the field, and Parsons was able to drive through to a decent finish.

1993 saw Parsons paired with owner Larry Hedrick. He was released towards season’s end, but landed a ride with the RayMoc bunch and scored a Top 10 at Atlanta in the season finale. While that would be it for the most part for Parsons’ career in the Cup Series, he would post an impressive Busch Series win in 1994. He showed up in Charlotte with a small fledging operation with only one full-time employee, and while Mark Martin looked to dominate the event in his No. 60 Winn-Dixie Roush Thunderbird, Parsons managed to win handily, by 11 seconds. The third place finisher that day is now one of his television colleagues, Michael Waltrip. As a Busch Series owner, Parsons would run well during the late 1990’s, finishing the in Top 10 in points from 1995 through 1998.

Today Phil Parsons can be seen most Friday nights or Saturday afternoons, calling the Craftsman Truck Series action. He also can be heard along with John Kernan on the Sirius Satellite Radio show, "The Driver’s Seat". While Parsons hasn’t competed in several years, he did wave the green flag at this year’s Daytona 500. Somewhere above, his brother is looking on as well, and smiling.

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