Cup Champion: 1966, 1968, 1969
Born: December 22, 1934
Hometown: Spartanburg, South Carolina
Career: 1960 – 1986
Premier Series Stats:
David Pearson was not only fast in a race car, he was also quick on his feet. NASCAR’s “Silver Fox,” could outrun and outthink most of his competitors on any given day.
Pearson made the most out of each opportunity. He never ran every single race in any season during a career that spanned 27 years, making his three Cup championship titles even more impressive.
He won his first championship in 1966, competing in 42 of 49 races. Pearson’s second championship was earned in 1968 after running 48 of 49 events. His third and final title came in 1969 when he ran 51 of 54 races.
Over the course of his career, Pearson raced his way to 105 victories and 113 poles in only 574 starts which ranks second all-time in both categories. His winning percentage of 18.293 is the third highest all-time. Only Herb Thomas (21.053) and Tim Flock (20.856) were more productive on the track. Any time he showed up to race, Pearson was a threat to win.
Richard Petty once said of his rival, “If anybody asks, who is the best driver you ever drove against? I don’t hesitate. It was David Pearson.”
Pearson drove for fellow Spartanburg, South Carolina native Cotton Owens from 1962 to 1967 and won his first championship in 1966 with Owens. Their partnership produced 27 wins and fostered a lifelong friendship.
“He meant more to the sport than a lot of people thought,” said Pearson. “He won a ton of races in modifieds. He built the cars himself. He built the motors himself. He drove them. He won at Daytona on the beach. And he was just a good, honest fella.”
His second and third titles came as a driver for Holman-Moody in 1968 and 1969. The two championship years included 27 wins (16 in 1968 and 11 in 1969), 26 poles and 78 top-fives in 99 starts.
In 1968 while driving for Holman-Moody, Pearson began his rule of “The Track Too Tough To Tame,” capturing his first win, followed by another victory in 1970. His domination continued throughout the 1970s with Wood Brothers Racing as he collected six more checkered flags at Darlington Raceway between 1972 and 1977. Two more first place finishes in 1979 and 1980 gave him a grand total of 10 wins and 12 poles, securing his place as the all-time wins leader at one of the most difficult tracks on the NASCAR circuit.
Pearson’s 10 Darlington victories included wins with three different manufactures between 1968 and 1980.
Ford – 1968, 1970 – Holman-Moody
Mercury – 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976 (twice), 1977 – Wood Brothers
Chevrolet – 1979 – Rod Osterlund
Chevrolet – 1980 – Hoss Ellington
Parson joined Wood Brothers Racing in 1972 for one of the most potent combinations of driver and team in NASCAR history. Although he didn’t compete in enough races to contend for a championship while with the team, he was always a formidable opponent wherever he raced.
Pearson’s dominance on the track was never more evident than in 1973 when he won 11 of the 18 races he entered. “It was just enjoyable to go to a race track, he said, “knowing you had a chance of winning that race before you ever got there.”
His career with the Wood Brothers also included a dramatic win of the Daytona 500 in 1976 in a car built by renowned car builder Banjo Matthews. Richard Petty was leading as the race wound down when Pearson made his move to the inside for the pass. At the same time Petty dove to the bottom of the track and the two collided as they were racing off of turn four. Pearson managed to keep his car running and inched across the finish line for his lone Daytona 500 win.
Pearson also had an affinity for Charlotte Motor Speedway. In 46 starts, he earned a record 14 poles, including 11 consecutive poles from 1973 to 1978. Three of those poles translated into wins for Pearson.
In 2011 he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame by Leonard Wood. Pearson called Wood, “the smartest man in the world,” in his acceptance speech. “If they needed something for that car and they couldn’t find it or couldn’t buy it, he made it.”
He went on to thank Richard Petty. “He’s probably the one who made me win as many as I did. I’d run hard because he’d make me run hard. Sometimes he’d even make a mistake and I’d pass him. Of course I didn’t ever make no mistakes,” he said laughing.”I always accused him of having big engines when he passed me.”
Pearson concluded by saying, “I knew if I ever went to a race track and he was there, if I could beat him, I’d win the race.”
Pearson’s natural talent plus the ability to outwit his competitors made him one of NASCAR’s most successful and influential drivers both on and off the track.
1960 Rookie of the Year
1966, 1968, 1969 Sprint Cup Champion
1979 and 1980 Most Popular Driver Award
1990 International Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductee
1991 National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame Inductee
1993 Motorsports Hall of Fame of America Inductee
1998 Named One of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers
1998 Charlotte Motor Speedway Court of Legends
2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee