Debt owed to Parsons for his patience

My first Daytona 500 came in February 1996. I was the host of "RPM 2Night," a position I'd earned by telling the bosses I knew absolutely nothing about car racing.

Good thing for me that Benny Parsons was waiting for me in Daytona.

Along with Jerry Punch, Benny schooled me and all the other converts to NASCAR who had traveled south from ESPN headquarters.

When the questions we peppered Benny with became too absurd ("In which direction do they drive?"), Benny didn't lose patience. He just sort of paused.

It told us a few things about Benny. One, he thought we were complete idiots. And two, he thought enough of us and cared so much for his sport that he was willing to guide the neophytes through the dark.

And three, he wanted in if we were constructing a Daytona 500 pool.

There was never a time when Benny was too busy to explain the difference between this or that NASCAR oddity to me. The way the cars are readied, the way the drivers think during a race, why it is that Chocolate Yoo-Hoo is popular in the South.

And there was never a time when Benny wasn't there for us if $100 worth of Daytona pool spaces remained.

In fact, more than once, I would find Benny after the race to report how he'd done in the betting.

Me: Sorry, Benny, you owe me $100.

Benny: What for?

Me: You finished sixth in the pool. We paid out only to the top five. Tough game, Benny.

Benny: OK. That's a heck of a pool you run.

What this illustrates mostly is that Benny Parsons was dependable. A rock to be counted on.

Whether it was filling time on the TV on any subject we threw at him or filling in the holes on a 500 pool in deficit.

My introduction to racing included working with Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon.

But the guy helping steer things was Benny. He was part instructor, part interpreter and -- I hope he felt the same -- part friend.

And he left this earth owing me nothing. Paid in full on all accounts.

Kenny Mayne has been a broadcaster at ESPN since 1994. He currently provides features to SportsCenter and "The Mayne Event" segments to Sunday NFL Countdown.