|David Pearson, 1966. Pearson won 15 races driving for Cotton Owens en route to his first championship|
David Pearson, winner of three NASCAR premier series championships despite never running a complete schedule, has died at the age of 83.
Winner of 105 races in just 574 starts – second most to fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty – the Whitney, S.C.-born Pearson won titles in 1966 and 1968-69.
"David Pearson’s 105 NASCAR premier series victories and his classic rivalry in the 1960s and ’70s with Richard Petty helped set the stage for NASCAR’s transformation into a mainstream sport with national appeal," said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France. "When he retired, he had three championships – and millions of fans. Petty called him the greatest driver he ever raced against. We were lucky to be able to call him one of our champions.
"The man they called the ‘Silver Fox’ was the gold standard for NASCAR excellence.
"On behalf of the France Family and everyone at NASCAR, I want to offer sincere condolences to the family and friends of David Pearson, a true giant of our sport."
|David Pearson with the iconic Wood Brothers No. 21 car in 1976|
Pearson was most identified with the legendary Wood Brothers despite never winning a championship in their Ford and Mercury cars. Between 1972 and 1979, Pearson and the Virginia-based Woods – led by NASCAR Hall of Famers Glen and Leonard – won 43 times including the 1976 Daytona 500, a race that saw Pearson limp to the finish after colliding with rival Petty coming down to take the checkered flag.
In a statement released late today, Petty called Pearson "the toughest competitor in my career."
"I have always been asked who my toughest competitor in my career was. The answer has always been David Pearson," Petty said. "David and I raced together throughout our careers and battled each other for wins- most of the time finishing first or second to each other.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"] It wasn't a rivalry, but more mutual respect. David is a Hall of Fame driver who made me better. He pushed me just as much as I pushed him on the track. We both became better for it."
Pearson was a ferocious qualifier, once fashioning 11 consecutive pole positions at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a NASCAR premier series record that still stands. Yet, he was willing to run long – 500 and 600 mile – races at a pace fast enough to maintain track position while saving speed for the finish.
It earned him the nickname as "The Fox" – as in sly – that later, as his hair began to grey, became "The Silver Fox."
Perhaps the greatest measure of Pearson’s talents was his mastery of Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, not far from where the driver grew up in Spartanburg – once the hub of NASCAR stock car racing.
|David Pearson during his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. in 2011|
Pearson, inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011, won 10 times at the track dubbed "Too Tough To Tame," a 1.366-mile, egg-shaped track that ushered in NASCAR’s paved, superspeedway era in 1950. He won three Southern 500s, run during the heat and humidity of Labor Day week that ranked as the sport’s greatest test of endurance for both driver and car.
Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said of Pearson "His Hall of Fame career will go down as one of the most prolific in the history of the sport.
"A native South Carolinian, he was a wonderful ambassador for our sport and for the Palmetto State. He will be missed and will always be remembered."
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