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How Benny Parsons delivered Christmas to an NC school

By Tom Higgins
TOM HIGGINS’ SCUFFS

Once again, Dear Readers, I wish to post my favorite Christmas story.

It’s not Charles Dickens-like, by any means, but it touches my heart. I hope it does yours as well. This likely will be the last time I recount the tale because my weekly contributions to ThatsRacin.com will end with this column.

Thanks for reading all these years. And my hope is that you enjoy happy holidays in the years to come.

--Ol’ Tom

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All those who observe Christmas likely have a favorite memory of the holiday.

Here is mine:

It’s a story of Christmas past, one of long ago.

And although it took place in the 1970s, what occurred remains vivid in mind as the glorious, most meaningful of days for the world’s Christians draws near. I hope that somewhere a fellow now in middle-age remembers this tale of uncommon caring and generosity as well.

It happened in the little town of Ellerbe, located deep in the heart of North Carolina’s piney Sandhills. The hamlet had gained a measure of notice as the home of 1973 NASCAR Cup Series champion Benny Parsons, who moved there from Detroit to drive for local team owner L.G. DeWitt.

One wintry, dreary December day Benny’s two young sons, Keith and Kevin, came home from school with sad faces. Their demeanor made the day seem even grayer for Benny, who had been elected president of Ellerbe’s elementary school.

The boys were upset because they had learned that some of their classmates were not going to receive presents or anything special to eat for Christmas.

Benny immediately checked with teachers and administrators at the school. He found that things were even worse than he imagined in the area that had a high rate of poverty.

Parsons, known throughout motorsports for his tenderness of heart and good-guy nature, set about to rectify the sad situation. He began calling in favors from his many friends in racing.

Donations of winter jackets, shoes, food, toys and Christmas candy began accumulating.

On short notice a big party was scheduled for Ellerbe Elementary’s auditorium the night before holiday recess was to begin.

Some of stock car racing’s foremost stars showed up to take part.

The Wood Brothers, Glen and Leonard, had a choir from their church in Stuart, Va., travel down by bus to sing carols.

Children who never had known much of a Christmas were wide-eyed as Santa called their names to come forward and receive gifts.

One little fellow, a lad of 7 or 8, strode over to where Benny and I stood watching. He held a toy truck in one hand and a pair of new sneakers in the other.

“Mr. Benny, what am I supposed to do with these?” he asked.

Benny was stunned.

“Why, take them home, son. They’re yours,” he said.

The kid’s face expressed astonishment.

“To keep?” he asked.

Benny gulped. Benny’s eyes moistened, as did mine, as he leaned down to give the little guy a hug.

Then Benny excused himself to be alone for a bit.

It was a Christmas moment I always will treasure.

Benny Parsons, the winner of 21 races, 20 poles and named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers, passed away on Jan. 16, 2007, at age 65 of complications from cancer.

God rest ye, Merry Gentleman.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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