By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
NASCAR and the motorsports world in general has lost a legend as David Pearson passed away Monday at the age of 83.
The Spartanburg, South Carolina native, nicknamed the “Silver Fox”, first entered the sport in 1960 and though he never ran a full-time season during his time in NASCAR’s Premier Series, he still claimed 105 wins in 574 starts.
Pearson is mostly associated with the Wood Brothers Racing team, who he drove for between 1972 and 1979, but he also climbed behind the wheel for other notable car owners Cotton Owens and Holman-Moody en route to his three championships at NASCAR’s highest level.
The wins mark places him second on the all-time wins list behind Richard Petty with half as many starts to his name.
Both Pearson and Petty were fierce rivals throughout their careers, finishing 1-2 a total of 63 times, with the edge going to Pearson with 33 of those victories.
One battle between the two that stands out among the rest is the 1976 Daytona 500, which remains as one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR history.
Petty, who was looking for his fifth Daytona 500 at that time, seemed to have the advantage over Pearson, who was still looking for his first Daytona 500 win, but when the white flag flew, everything changed.
Heading down the backstretch on the final lap, Pearson took his Mercury past Petty’s Dodge, taking the lead into Turns 3 and 4. Pearson’s momentum into Turn 3 carried him high, which allowed Petty to pull alongside on the low side heading off of Turn 4. As the two drivers barreled onto the frontstretch, they touched, sending both cars spinning wildly toward the finish line.
Both cars nosed into the outside wall and ended up in the infield grass between the track and pit road, but neither had made it across the finish line yet. Just as it looked like the Daytona 500 was lost for both drivers, Pearson radioed his crew and said, “I’m coming.”
Pearson had managed to keep his car running by clutching the car after it hit the wall and spun through the grass, allowing him to creep across the finish line, just 50 yards ahead of Petty’s car that would not restart after the contact with the wall.
Petty’s crew ran out to push his battered No. 43 across the finish line, but it was too late, as Pearson had scored his first, and only, Daytona 500 win.
In 2011, Pearson was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, allowing him to take his rightful place alongside the best of the best in the sport, forever enshrined to be remembered as one of the greatest ever.
“(Pearson) is all you ever want in a racecar driver,” Leonard Wood said at the induction ceremony. “He had so much talent, takes the perfect line, knows when to back off, knows when to get on the accelerator to bring him off the corner with the most speed and carry him down the straightaway. He had such a great feel for what the car was doing. Always qualified faster than he practiced, I mean 30- to 50-hundredths every race he ever drove for us.
“He had more self-confidence than anybody I’ve ever seen, extremely determined, looked, almost could sense danger, raced smart, easy on the brakes, never gave out, always had his competitors guessing, not letting them know what to expect until it was too late.
“If the car wasn’t running, you better work on it because it sure wasn’t the driver. Every time we ever had the time equal, we knew we had a shot at winning, no question.”