Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In the Rearview Mirror: David Pearson “The Silver Fox”

Concluding the look back at the careers of the 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductees, this week I look back In the Rearview Mirror with David Pearson.

2011 Charlotte May NHOF Portraits David Pearson
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR
David Pearson, born near Spartanburg, South Carolina, in December 1934, is without a doubt one of the greatest drivers to have ever raced in the NASCAR circuit. Having both the stats and the reputation to back this, David Pearson’s career is full of many achievements and highlights.

David had an interest in racing as a young boy, once even climbing a tree to see into the races at Spartanburg Fairgrounds. That was all it took and as Pearson once said, “I'd always been interested in cars, and I decided right then that was what I wanted to do with my life.”

After running local races and doing quite well, Pearson made the jump to NASCAR in 1960. Driving a self-owned car, Pearson made his NASCAR debut at the 1960 Daytona qualifying races. He drove his 1959 No. 67 Chevrolet to a 17th place finish and made his way into the Daytona 500. Pearson finished 28th in the Daytona 500 and on the lead lap. The standout moment of the season came at Gamecock Speedway (Sumter, S.C.) where Pearson earned his first pole award and finished his highest race to date: second place. In the 1960 season Pearson earned the Rookie of the Year honor after finishing 23rd in points. (He only competed in 22 of the 44 races throughout the season.)

Luck feel into Pearson’s lap in 1961 after he was recommended for a ride with Ray Fox’s team. (Fox was a renowned engine builder but the car was owned by John Masoni.) Fox was unsure of handing his car owner to a young Pearson and tested was given the ride at the World 600 as a test. Pearson won that race, outdueling veterans Richard Petty (who left the race with a blown engine) and won with a two-lap lead over Glenn “Fireball” Roberts. Pearson won the race driving on a tire rim after hitting debris and blowing his tire; he decreased his speed and even with that factor he still managed to win the race. That was the first of his three wins in 1961; Pearson also won the Firecracker 250 (July 4th Daytona race) and the Dixie 400 from Atlanta. Concluding the 1961 season David Pearson was 13th in the Grand National Points and had only competed in 19 of the 52 races.

Cottons Owens (a Hall of Fame nominee for the class of 2012) was the next car owner to take notice to Pearson’s talents and sign him. Together from 1963-mid 1967 they won 27 races; more remarkable is that 15 of those races came in the 1966 season alone.

Looking at the magical season of 1966 the stats alone are amazing. Pearson competed in 42 of the 49 races, winning 15 and receiving top 10 finishes in 33 races (that is 78 percent of the races for the season). In comparison, last season the reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson had 6 wins and 23 top 10s (63 percent of the races). David Pearson outraced his toughest rival Richard Petty to win the 1966 Grand National Championship by a large points gap of 1,950. Rookie James Hylton finished second and Richard Petty finished third.

Reflecting on his partnership with Pearson, Owens said, “I learned a lot from him, he learned a lot from me.” Owens and Pearson had a great run while it lasted but ultimately parted ways due to a misunderstanding. To this day, neither have elaborated on this.

It was Cotton Owens who secured Pearson’s next ride for him as the two remained friends after parting ways professionally. Pearson joined Holman Moody (a joint venture between John Holman and Ralph Moody) and drove their No. 17 Ford. They first raced the Rebel 400 at Darlington in which Pearson claimed the pole and brought home a second place finish.

It was with Holman Moody that David Pearson claimed his second and third NASCAR Grand National Series Championships (1968 and 1969).

Winning the championship would not secure his future though; Holman Moody had to reduce their schedule in 1970, competing in only 19 of the 48 scheduled events. Financial issues caused the relationship to dissolve midway into 1971.

David Pearson found his final full-time ride with the famous No. 21 team of Wood Brothers Racing. That seat had featured such drivers as Junior Johnson, Curtis Turner, Cale Yarborough and after him would make many more stars that we know today Neil Bonnett, Buddy Baker, Kyle Petty and Elliott Sadler.

In his years with the No. 21 team, Pearson competed in 143 races and winning 43 of those races; that is the most wins for any driver at Wood Brothers Racing. One track in particular suited Pearson’s driving style: Darlington Raceway, also known as “The Track too Tough to Tame,” but the best analogy I can come up with is that if Darlington were a lion, David was the lion tamer. He earned the moniker “Mr. Darlington” after winning there 10 times in his career (6 of those were in the No. 21).

Of the many memorable race in David Pearson’s career, I have to mention his win at the 1976 Daytona 500. To recap: the race came down to a final lap battle between Richard Petty (leading the race) and Pearson. Pearson attempted to use the slingshot move to get passed Petty for the lead but got pushed high into the wall while passing another car. Petty managed his way under Pearson but the cars collided and landed in the front stretch just before to the start/finish line. Petty was unable to restart his car but Pearson was. Pearson went onto roll across the finish line in his tattered car.
1976 daytona 500 petty pearson crash
Petty and Pearson crash in the Daytona 500, Pearson went onto win
Credit: RacingOne Multimedia
After a few bad races early on in the 1979 season, David parted ways with the Wood Brothers team and this was the end to his full-time career. He ran a couple races per season up until his final race in 1986. Pearson’s focus became his son Larry, who would drive in the Busch series and become a Busch Series champion.

In his career Pearson collected a total of 105 victories and finished in a combination first and second place finish with Richard Petty 63 times. (Petty is the career-leading winner in NASCAR with 200 victories.)

David Pearson has amassed numerous awards and recognitions for his career including these highlights:
  • 1960 NASCAR Rookie of the Year
  • 1966, 1968 and 1968 NASCAR Grand National Champion
  • 1990 International Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductee
  • 1993 Motorsports Hall of Fame of America Inductee
  • 1998 named as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers
  • 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee
David Pearson was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last week, just one of the few NASCAR pioneers who have received this honor.
2011_HallofHonor_May_PearsonNo17
David Pearson's No. 17 car (Holman Moody team) in the NASCAR Hall of Fame
Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR



Amanda takes NASCAR seriously and is willing to pass up other activities to watch the boys have at it. NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two main focuses with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also frequently writes the post-race recaps for Skirts and Scuffs. Feel free to contact Amanda via Twitter.

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