Stefan Parsons has been around racing his entire life. After all, he’s the son of Phil Parsons and nephew of the late 1973 Cup Series champion Benny Parsons.
But Parsons, now 23, hasn’t taken a conventional route to compete full time in the Xfinity Series season, which he will do in 2022.
Prior to the 2019 season, Parsons only made a pair of Camping World Truck Series starts. But that March, he met with BJ McLeod, owner of BJ McLeod Motorsports, just wanting a job in NASCAR while also finishing up school at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.
Once Parsons graduated college, he joined the BJMM road team as a mechanic. Along the way, he’d drive one of the team’s cars sporadically, including a 12th-place finish in his series debut at Daytona International Speedway.
“I’m super thankful for BJ and Jessica [McLeod] because they gave me a shot,” Parsons told Jayski.com last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I didn’t have a whole lot of credentials, two or three Truck Series races, and they took a chance on me. They didn’t know if I was going to be fast, slow, tear the cars up or anything.”
In six starts that season, Parsons finished 23rd or better in each race.
That led to the 2020 season, where Parsons drove from his residence in Charlotte to Daytona, just hoping to find the ability to race for someone that season. Throughout the year, he picked up jobs at Rick Ware Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing to help prepare their cars and spot on the weekend, as well as spot for some of McLeod’s drivers in the Xfinity Series.
Being on the sidelines, though still part of a race team, has given Parsons a new perspective on the sport. In a way, it’s humbling.
“It made me realize how – I’ve always wanted to do it – bad I want to do it,” he said. “Somebody told me, ‘I hope you make it as a driver because you’re not going to make it as a mechanic.’ It’s very grounding and provides a good sense of perspective being on both sides of it. It just makes you want to be in that position even more.”
This year, Parsons has driven in 10 races for McLeod, earning a best result of 13th (Daytona). Eight of those starts came in the opening 15 races of the season, before going on a 10-race hiatus. Sokal Digital backed Parsons in the majority of those starts.
As it turns out, that time away became valuable for the driver. Instead of worrying solely about the 2021 season, he wanted to look at the bigger picture: 2022. His ultimate goal? Be a full-time driver in the Xfinity Series.
That goal became a reality last month when BJMM announced Parsons as its first full-time driver for the 2022 season.
Parsons could breathe a sigh of relief.
“We’re very fortunate; Mark [Sokal, owner of Sokal Digital] is like family,” Parsons stated. “He has been so good to me and has such a good company, such good people around him. We were able to concentrate our efforts and figure out what works best for everybody: His company, himself and myself. Thankfully, we were able to pull that into a full-time deal for next year.”
Parsons’ father, Phil, and Sokal had become friends over the past year, as the company first sponsored the younger Parsons at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last fall. He, too, was an integral part of getting the deal finalized.
“We went to lunch one day and Mark liked Stefan and said, ‘We’ll try it,'” Phil recalled. “So they did a couple of races and that’s what has blown into going to be full time next year.”
When the deal was finished, Phil, Sokal and McLeod called Parsons into their conference call. He happened to be at the simulator, despite knowing this conversation was going to decide what his 2022 season looked like.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in,” Parsons said.
McLeod, who has been around racing since he was 3 years old, was happy to see Parsons’ dream come true.
“To see him get that and for him to do that with us after him coming into my office three or four years ago saying, ‘I don’t know if we’ve got money for one race,’” McLeod said, “and we made three or four come out of it. To see that come together is a huge accomplishment. But also switches right back to a lot of work in front of us to make the most of this opportunity and take the next step.”
Parsons never considered giving up on his dream, which began when he started racing bandoleros at the Charlotte Motor Speedway quarter-mile track at 12 years old.
Deep down, he knew if being a racecar driver was in his cards, it would happen one day.
“I tell people, if God put me on this earth to drive racecars, somehow, someway it will work out,” he said. “That drove me through some times where I didn’t have a lot going on to keep the faith and keep trying.”
Parsons also used Josh Berry’s recent success and the underdog story of Ross Chastain as motivation. And now that it’s a done deal, he believes he’s ready for the full-time grind.
He added, “I feel like I have a lot of people around me that I can lean on to prepare myself for that. I’m very fortunate to have a great group of friends who are also racing that I can lean on and go to for advice and preparation.
“But next year, we’ll have 33 Xfinity races and that will be the most races I’ve ever ran in one year since I started racing. It’s crazy to think about.”
And if nothing else, he’s made his father proud. As a family that wasn’t able to “buy a ride,” seeing his son earn a full-time ride was encouraging.
“He’s done so much of it on his own with hard work and relationships,” Phil said. “I’m really excited for him because this is the next step. This is his opportunity. It’s a really tough sport to break into, and this is his opportunity to get out and gain some experience and have some people see him. It’s not that he necessarily wants to go out and have people see him so he can go somewhere else; BJ is committed to building this team and elevating this program.”
After finishing 24th last weekend at the Charlotte ROVAL, Parsons has just the season finale at Phoenix Raceway left on his 2021 calendar. But he will use that as a test for next year, hoping to build some momentum for the offseason.
Nonetheless, Parsons’ grind-it-out work ethic will continue next year, as he hopes to work on his racecars as much as he can, knowing he’ll be a tad busier.
Reflecting back on more than a decade of competing, the grind has certainly been worth it.
“From coming [to Charlotte] and running the shootout and thinking, ‘Man, I really hope I get to race on the big track here one day,'” an emotional Parsons, said. “There have been a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of times where I didn’t know if I was going to drive a racecar again. It’s crazy to think that 12-year-old kid is here now running in the Xfinity Series.”
Sokal is slated to be one of Parsons’ sponsors for the duration of the 2022 season.