Remembering David Pearson

Spartanburg, SC — David Pearson, a three-time champion in NASCAR’s premier series and widely regarded as one of the sport’s finest drivers, died Monday (Nov. 12) at the age of 83.
Photo © Hal Crocker

Nicknamed “The Silver Fox” for both his late-race guile and prematurely gray hair, Pearson won 105 races in NASCAR’s top division, placing him second only to Richard Petty’s 200 victories on the all-time list. Remarkably, Pearson never competed in a full season and his win total came in 574 starts — less than half of Petty’s 1,184.

In a Sports Illustrated poll in 1999, a panel of 40 longtime experts in the sport voted Pearson as the magazine’s NASCAR Driver of the Century. He was also named one of the sport’s 50 Greatest Drivers during NASCAR’s 50th anniversary season in 1998, and was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011 as the top vote-getter in the shrine’s second induction class.
After his first racing experiences on dirt tracks in his native South Carolina, Pearson’s career in NASCAR’s premier series began in 1960. Though he ran just half of the 44 races, he netted the first of his 113 career pole positions and was named Rookie of the Year.
Pearson drove for a succession of powerhouse teams with Hall of Fame credentials — Cotton Owens, Holman-Moody and the Wood Brothers. He also raced for Hall of Famer Bud Moore in Mustangs prepared for the Trans-Am Series in its glory years.
In Vintage Motorsport’s 14.5 issue, Pearson talked about his favorite race, the 1961 Charlotte World 600 driving a Pontiac for car owner Ray fox, his first win in NASCAR’s big class.
He will forever be linked with Petty, a seven-time champion and one of his biggest rivals. The two drivers finished 1-2 in the premier series 63 times, with Pearson winning 33.
They were never more closely intertwined than the 1976 Daytona 500, one of NASCAR’s most memorable finishes. After some feverish dicing in the final lap, Pearson and Petty crashed exiting the final turn within sight of the checkered flag. Both cars absorbed heavy damage against the outside retaining wall, but Pearson was able to keep his Mercury running as both slid to the tri-oval grass.
“Seems like everywhere we go, when it comes down to the last lap, it’s me and Richard,” Pearson told the Associated Press after he crept across the start-finish line at low speed for his only victory in The Great American Race. “Of all those times, I’ll guarantee you this was the strangest.”