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Sneva, Parsons Joining the Elite

Times Staff Writer

Indianapolis 500 winner Tom Sneva and NASCAR champion Benny Parsons, two of the most popular drivers in American motor sports, will be among a group of nine racing personalities inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on Thursday in Detroit.

Better known as a TV racing analyst by today’s viewers, Parsons won the 1973 Winston Cup championship in one of stock car racing’s most dramatic finishes. He also won the 1975 Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the final race at Ontario Motor Speedway, the 1980 L.A. Times 500.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 18, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 18, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 Foreign Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Indianapolis 500 winners -- An article in Tuesday’s Sports section about the Motorsports Hall of Fame said Troy Ruttman was the youngest winner of the Indianapolis 500 when he won the 1965 race at age 22. He was 22 when he won the race in 1952.

Sneva won the 1983 Indianapolis 500 and Indy car national championships in 1977 and 1978, driving for Roger Penske.

Coincidentally, Sneva and Parsons were the first to break the 200-mph barrier in their divisions. Sneva did it at Indy in 1978, Parsons at Talladega, Ala., in 1982.

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Going into the final NASCAR race of 1973 at Rockingham, N.C., Parsons had a slight margin over Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough, even though he had won only one race, on the half-mile at Bristol, Tenn.

“I figured if I could finish fifth, I would be the champion,” Parsons said. “But on the 13th lap, I wrecked pretty good when I caught Johnny Barnes flush and just about tore off the right side of my car. Even the roll bar was gone. I figured my day was over.”

Then a remarkable thing happened. Crewmen from other cars came to Parsons’ assistance, patching the car together so he could get back into the race. They even cut a roll bar off another car and welded it onto Parsons’ chassis.

Parsons lost 136 laps during the repair job but returned in time to complete 308 of 492 laps, good enough for 28th place and the championship.

When Parsons came down pit road after the race, every crew was on the track giving him thumbs up. Dale Inman, Petty’s crew chief, went out onto the track to congratulate him.

No victory was so popular among competitors until 1998, when Dale Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 in his 20th attempt.

Sneva’s lone Indy win also ended dramatically. After having finished second three times and surviving a horrifying crash in 1975, he found himself behind race-leading Al Unser and Al Unser Jr. in a lapped car late in the 1983 race. Little Al, in his first 500, tried to block for his father , but Sneva managed to get by him, then caught Big Al nine laps from the end.

Other inductees:

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* Hurley Haywood, three-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, five-time winner of the Daytona 24-Hour race and the first to win Le Mans and Daytona in the same year. He joins his long-time racing partner, Peter Gregg, who was inducted in 2000.

* Tommy Ivo, drag racing’s “TV Tommy” who played an important role in the sport’s formative years with his match-racing appearances. He first attracted attention because of his role as Haywood Botts, the boyfriend in the “Margie” television series.

* Danny Foster, unlimited powerboat racing’s first post-World War II superstar and winner of the 1947 and 1948 Gold Cup races. Driving Miss Pepsi IV and Guy Lombardo’s Tempo VII, he won 14 races and two national championships.

* Jay Springsteen, motorcycle racing’s youngest grand national champion in 1976 at 19 and still competing today. Springsteen also won AMA titles in 1977 and 1978.

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* John Holman and Ralph Moody, car owners and builders associated with Ford. Their cars won 93 NASCAR races in 366 starts between 1957 and 1973.

* Troy Ruttman, the 1965 Indianapolis 500 winner at 22, still the youngest winner. He also won the 1951 and ’52 Pacific Coast sprint car titles and the 1947 and ’48 CRA roadster championships.

The nine will join 126 already enshrined in the Motorsports Hall of Fame in Novi, Mich.


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