Benny Parsons Reaches Milestone with 200-mph Qualifying Lap at Talladega
Almost immediately after the opening of Talladega Superspeeday in 1969, there was talk of 200-mph laps on the speedway built to be a faster version of Dayton.
Bobby Isaac had approached the magic number in April 1970, recording a qualifying speed of 199.658 mph in Winston 500 qualifying.
Thirteen years later, Benny Parsons drove a Pontiac LeMans past the 200-mph barrier in an official qualifying session at Talladega.
In 1969, When NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. built Talladega Superspeedway, his mammoth monument to speed in eastern Alabama, he wanted it to replicate Daytona International Speedway—but faster.
And, as with so many other things in France’s long and productive life, he got what he wanted.
After a stumbling start—the track’s first race was hit with a major driver boycott after tires failed on the speedway’s rocket surface, Talladega evolved into a NASCAR speedplant, a high-banked marvel of motorsports engineering that sent stock car thunder to new heights.
Almost immediately, there was talk of 200-mph laps on the 2.66-mile track. If the engines could stand the heat and the tires could hold up, there was little question that standard eventually would be reached.
It took 13 years. Officially, anyway.
In qualifying for the Winston 500 at Talladega in April 1982, veteran driver Benny Parsons became the first driver in NASCAR history to record a 200-mph time-trial lap. Parsons ran 200.176 on his second qualifying lap after having officially broken the 200 barrier for the first time a minute earlier with a 200.013 run.
Bobby Isaac had approached the magic number in April 1970, recording a qualifying speed of 199.658 mph in Winston 500 qualifying. But the idea of a 200-mph lap dampened after NASCAR brought in smaller engines.
NASCAR lore has it that other drivers topped the magic 200 mark at Talladega in one-off test runs at the track, but Buddy Baker became the first driver to pass the 200 mark in an officially timed session with a speed of 200.447 at Talladega in March 1970. That speed, however, was recorded during test laps in a winged Dodge Daytona prepared by veteran team owner and mechanic Cotton Owens. Thirty laps into the session, Baker ran 200.096 and later was clocked at 200.447. Bill France Sr. offered congratulations.
The official qualifying break of the 200 barrier would have to wait for Parsons.
On the day he set the record, Parsons drove a Pontiac LeMans owned by Harry Ranier and prepared by Waddell Wilson. Wilson also built the engine.
“It really is exciting,” Parsons said that day. “I’m sure there’ll be a lot of conversation about it, and it will probably get bigger than it is now over the years. Yesterday after we ran 198 (in practice), there was some talk about 200, and there was more emphasis put on it. We talked about the fact that we probably would run 199.5, so we might as well go ahead and try for 200.”
Parsons’ Pontiac was strong in the race, but he lost the win on the last lap to Darrell Waltrip. Terry Labonte was second and Parsons third.