The unmitigated devotion of the NASCAR fan baffles me on a daily basis.
Be it the guy in the next booth at the Anniston, Ala., Outback Steakhouse proudly sporting navy blue flannel Jeff Gordon pajama pants speckled with neon-yellow No. 24s or the "go-to-hell-idiot" e-mails from Junior fans everywhere, incensed at the audacity of a prognosticator stupid enough to pick Kasey Kahne -- or anyone other than Junior -- to win that weekend, or the guy who waited three hours in the blistering Indiana summer sun just to get Kurt Busch's autograph, I am forever amazed by the passion with which NASCAR fans support their heroes.
But rarely am I more impressed than when a fellow member of the family needs assistance.
Last week, I summoned the help of NASCAR Nation on behalf of Benny Parsons' second wife, Terri. The hope was to locate memorabilia from BP's Cup Series career that Terri might collect and display in a special wine-tasting museum at Benny's winery, Rendezvous Ridge.
The response has been overwhelming.
Hats. Jackets. Autographed posters. Authentic Victory Lane images from photographers of the era. Ancient editions of National Speed Sport News that chronicle Benny's race wins. ("They're all stored so I'll have to go hunt for them." Are you kidding me?)
Rain gauges. Doors from BP's racecars. Mark Wilburn, brother of Kyle Petty's crew chief Billy Wilburn, offered up a No. 55 Copenhagen car model from back in the day. It's still in the box.
One guy even has a 1976 Chevrolet Laguna (he claims Bobby Allison raced it) that he can personally restore to look just like BP's No. 72 King's Row machine. It's on eBay for 60 grand. The gentleman, Paul Cioni, can't afford to donate the machine. He hopes to send his kids to college by selling the car.
I pondered how I might contact Chris Politis, former owner of the Sandwich Construction Company, a Charlotte-area restaurant with a racing theme. It was the NASCAR hangout in the late '80s, early '90s. Its walls were decked with NASCAR memorabilia from many teams and drivers, including Benny Parsons.
Word on the street was Politis sold the joint and auctioned off the memorabilia on eBay. I wanted answers but was too inept to locate him.
In one day I had 200 e-mails with Politis' whereabouts -- address, phone number, where he worked and newspaper articles about him and his business. One lady even did a search at a North Carolina property appraisal office and found five establishments to which Politis is associated.
I found Politis. He denied selling anything, said when he sold the restaurant some memorabilia left on the walls might have been sold by the new owners. Terri said there were contractual agreements that if the establishment was sold BP would get his gear back.
"I have no clue about anything about that -- I'm in the dark," Politis said. "I don't know what you're talking about. I got zero dollars out of any memorabilia in the racing world. Zero. When I left Charlotte, I left. And I took no racing stuff with me. I had a couple things Benny gave me, and what he gave me I've got."
Politis said he has a placemat with BP's photo on it. BP autographed it to Politis and his wife. He tells me he sold Sandwich Construction to a "Buffalo Wings" group from Greensboro, N.C., affiliated with what is now Stock Car Café, and that they might have been the eBay bandits.
Next up for questioning: he who runs the Stock Car Café in Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
Here's some of the coolest e-mail responses from the first BP column.
Saw your March 13 article about the Parsons family search for memorabilia. Years ago -- June 1980 -- I was doing some freelance photography at Michigan International Speedway. (I own the photos.) Benny won that day driving the No. 27 Chevrolet for M.C. Anderson.
I have two shots of him in Victory Lane that have always been among my favorites. I don't know if these count as memorabilia or not, but I would gladly give them to the family if they would like to have them.
The race that day was rain delayed and ended very late, about 8 or 8:30 p.m. ET. As I recall, there were just a handful of photographers there at the end.
Marty, could you let me know if something like this would be OK to send, and if so could you provide an address for me? Thank you.
-- Mike Daley, Green Bay, Wis.
Absolutely, Mike. Those photos would look stellar on the winery walls. Thank you very much for your generosity. See the address below.
I really enjoyed your article about reclaiming Benny's stuff. I thought about what I could do in a small way to help, and I went out and found a neat little item at an antique store with Benny's name on it. It is a rain gauge from Dewitt Enterprises and I would like to deliver it to Benny's wife. Maybe it will find a place on the wall in the winery.
Keep up the good work! Heck, you even have me listening to Jimmie Johnson on XM, and I am a member of the "48 Haters."
-- Mark Gibbs, Fawn Grove, Pa.
Too cool, Mark. Betcha your offering will most certainly find a nice little niche on the wall at Rendezvous Ridge. Thanks for checking out the radio show, too. Handing Johnson a sizeable helping of humility is undoubtedly one of the highlights of my week.
I worked in NASCAR from the mid '80s 'til mid '90s with different teams. I helped the late J.D. McDuffie a lot, now race dirt late models myself. Anyway, the reason I am writing is I saw the deal on Benny today.
I have a badge that was handed out in '89 or so at The Rock called the "Benny Badge"; we got them in the garage when he drove the 90 car. Not sure if that is something that she would be interested in?
Thanks, man, for what you do. Although I do not know you, I have a lot of respect for what you do. You are honest and I like that. I've enjoyed watching you over the years.
-- Roger Lankford, Millers Creek, N.C.
By all means we'll take the Benny Badge, Roger. Those are the coolest kinds of trinkets -- those bestowed only upon the garage crowd.
And there's nothing cooler than an ol' vet appreciating your work. Thanks, Roger.
I'm a big fan of yours and BPs. I met Benny last year in upstate N.Y. at a racing expo in Turning Stone Casino. He signed a 1/24-scale car and I would like to donate it to Benny's family. Please send me the shipping address, if they would like this item. Keep up the great work. This is an awesome thing you are doing for one of the unsung heroes of NASCAR.
-- Bill Schab, Albany, N.Y.
The pleasure is most certainly all mine, Bill. Here's the shipping address to send items to Terri:
Rendezvous Ridge Winery
c/o Terri Parsons
1265 Benny Parsons Rd.
Purlear, NC 28665
Rendezvous Ridge Winery isn't yet open. The process of planting grapes is under way, but it'll be May or June before they're ready for visitors.
Terri asked me to personally thank everyone for their help and assistance, and that they'll gladly accept any and every piece of BP memorabilia folks are willing to donate.
And I want to thank everyone for reminding me yet again that race fans are the best fans in the world.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.