CONCORD, N.C. – When the events of the recent campus shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte shooting took place, many in the racing industry felt the impact, including Stefan Parsons.
The second-generation driver, a business student who just completed his junior year at the school, quickly reacted and put together a deal to run a special tribute scheme honoring the two victims – Ellis “Reed” Parlier and Riley Howell – who tragically lost their lives while protecting their fellow students.
Friday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Parsons offered a ray of sunlight amid the darkness of the recent events, locking his No. 49 #CharlotteStrong Chevrolet Silverado into the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 with a stellar qualifying effort in front of his home fans.
The 20-year-old from Cornelius, N.C., turned the 16th-fastest lap of the 36 drivers attempting to qualify, touring the 1.5-mile quad-oval in 30.588 seconds (176.540 mph) to earn an eighth-row starting spot.
It marked Parsons’ best-ever Truck Series qualifying effort and came with marked importance, as he likely had to qualify among the top 27 on speed to be able to race on Friday night.
Parsons did that and then some, setting himself up for a solid showing and taking “the weight of the world” off of his and his team’s shoulders.
“This day, this run … it’s all an absolutely-huge relief,” Parsons said. “I can’t thank everyone involved in this deal enough. Ray Ciccarelli, Ron Herbert, Joe Falk, my dad – everybody banded together to make this truck fast and it’s an honor to be able to carry Riley Howell’s name onboard tonight, in honor of what he sacrificed during the tragedy that happened a few weeks ago.
“It hit close to home and still does,” Parsons added. “The campus is 10 minutes from here and I’m there every day. It was just really important to me to honor the school, honor those we lost and show everyone watching that we’re 49er strong.”
Friday night marks Parsons’ first start at Charlotte in one of NASCAR’s three national series, an appearance years in the making following his history at the track in Bojangles’ Summer Shootout competition during his younger years.
“It’s special. I grew up racing on the quarter-mile here,” Parsons noted. “When you add that past history to the UNCC scheme we have on the truck … it’s a dream come true to finally be able to race here on the big track and I hope we can make a lot of people smile at the end of this race.”