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Benny Parsons Comes Home at Last

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Home, at Last: Parsons' dream of a house and vineyard in Wilkes is coming to fruition after his death

By Monte Mitchell


Benny Parsons dreamed of coming home to Wilkes County.

He had planned a home on a hill overlooking a vineyard, with a tasting room and his own label of wine for sale.

But Parsons, the 1973 Winston Cup champion and a NASCAR broadcaster, died Jan. 16 of complications from treatment for lung cancer. He was 65.

He’s home now. Down a dirt road, past the new mansion on the hill, past the grapevines planted last month and across a wooden bridge over a creek, Parsons rests in peace near a weathered two-story farmhouse set on a foundation of piled stones.

The old homeplace didn’t have electricity or running water when he moved in as a 5-year-old boy with his great-grandmother Julia, known as “Mama Julie” to the family. His parents moved to Detroit to look for work, but Mama Julie was so attached to Benny that he stayed with her because everyone thought that she might die of heartbreak if he left.

The two houses speak of a rise from dirt poor to wealthy, but they also show how Parsons’ heart never really left the Parsonsville community where he grew up.

The greater Wilkes community will remember Parsons this weekend as the third annual Shine to Wine festival in North Wilkesboro is dedicated in Parsons’ honor. Such memorabilia as his trophies and a Wheaties box bearing his photograph will be on display at the Wilkes County Library as a preview of a Benny Parsons museum that is expected to open this year at his vineyard.

The museum will chronicle a career that saw him win a NASCAR championship and the Daytona 500, become the first person to go faster than 200 mph in a stock-car qualifying run, and become a well liked national figure for his friendly manner in broadcasts on NBC and ESPN.

Melissa Smithey, the executive director of Historic Downtown North Wilkesboro, said she remembers talking to Parsons at the wine festival last May. He expected to come back this year and have his own wines ready for tasting.

“Benny told us he had every intention of pouring this year,” Smithey said.

But Parsons would be found to have lung cancer in July, and begin chemotherapy treatments.

He lived in Concord but still dreamed of coming home to Wilkes. He continued to build his house and make plans for his Benny Parsons Rendezvous Ridge vineyard. They planned to have the tasting room in the old homeplace, where visitors could sit on the front porch and hear the rushing creek.

After he died, his widow, Terri Parsons, and their dog, Winston, moved into the new home they were building in Wilkes County. It was still under construction and had just one working bathroom, on the top floor.

“Benny would have gotten a kick out of that,” she said. “The vineyard was just a pile of dirt in the front yard.”

The 6 acres of grapevines will be ready to produce grapes for wine in about three years, but Rendezvous Vineyards has leased space at other vineyards and will soon release its first offering, BP’s Blush.

Benny Parsons’ Rendezvous Ridge vineyard and the museum aren’t ready for visitors yet, but about 20 or 30 visitors a week still stop by, Parsons said. Some come past the signs that read, “Private Drive, No Admit, Keep Out” and to the house itself. She recently noticed people wearing Jeff Gordon jackets in her yard and teased Gordon about it the last time that she saw him at a track.

Visitors will be welcome when the tasting room and museum open by the end of the year.

“We look forward to everybody coming back and seeing the memorabilia and what Benny’s dream was,” Parsons said. “I wanted to complete what he wanted - that was his vineyard and museum, and being part of Wilkes County again.”

The old homeplace was the fulfillment of a promise, too. It was 1904 that Benny Parsons’ great-grandfather William “Gaither” Parsons, stopped at a sawmill to help out some friends and got caught in the machinery. As he lay dying, they promised to build his family a home.

That home, now weathered but still standing on its foundation of piled rocks, is the place where Benny Parsons is buried.

Before he died, Parsons helped write a promotional piece for his vineyard, talking about the history of the home, waking up there on cold mornings, and how his accomplishments were the “inspiration of a great-grandmother who gave him all the love she had.”

He talked about coming home to live and run his vineyard, but the vision has been fulfilled in a different way.

“And now he returns to the land where he was raised,” it said.

■ Monte Mitchell can be reached in Wilkesboro at 336-667-5691 or at mmitchell@wsjournal.com.


Shine to Wine

The 3rd Annual Shine to Wine Festival will be 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday on Tenth Street, between Main and D streets in North Wilkesboro. Admission is free. Tasting tickets are $20.

The event features 13 area wineries. The preview of the Benny Parsons museum is free and will be in the nearby Wilkes County Library, also from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information about Benny Parsons Rendezvous Ridge, visit www.rendezvousridge.com

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