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David Pearson

Full Name:
David Gene Pearson
22nd December 1934
Whitney, Spartanburg, South Carolina
12th November 2018 (Aged 83)
Spartanburg, South Carolina
Most recent race (in database):

If Richard Petty was NASCAR’s king, then David Pearson was his fiercest rival. A three-time champion before Petty reached that mark – his 105 wins from 574 starts remains second in the all-time list. Nicknamed "The Silver Fox" – that reflected his prematurely greying hair and cunning race craft.

Early racing career and NASCAR debut

Pearson first raced at Woodruff in his native South Carolina on September 19 1953 – winning the princely sum of $13 in prize money that day. Over the next eight years he honed his skills in the minor leagues with great success. Borrowing to pay for a drive in a year-old Chevrolet, he graduated to NASCAR’s top flight in 1960. Poor reliability hampered Pearson but he still ended the year with three top-five finishes and Rookie of the Year honours.

That promise led to the offer of a works Pontiac Catalina prepared by the respected Ray Fox for 1961. Pearson repaid by winning Charlotte’s World 600 despite puncturing a tyre with two laps to go. He then won Daytona’s Firecracker 250 and the Dixie 400 at Atlanta to become the first driver to win on three of NASCAR’s big four tracks in a single campaign.

Three-time NASCAR champion

He moved to the Cotton Owens Dodge team for 1963 and Pearson won eight times during the following season to finish third in the championship. He finally won the Grand National (now Sprint Cup) title for the first time in 1966 after taking 10 of his 15 victories on dirt ovals.

He defected to Holman-Moody’s Ford in the middle of 1967 and back-to-back titles followed in 1968 and 1969 – 27 victories in two years testament to his domination at the time and undisputed star status. He was the first driver to exceed 190mph in qualifying at Daytona in 1969 but that third title-winning season was interrupted by a frightening barrel-role during the World 600 when his tyre punctured.

Pearson did not complete a full NASCAR schedule again but remained a race winner in each year of the 1970s. He joined the Wood Brothers in 1972 and his Purolator Mercury Montego won 11 of the 18 races he entered in 1973. Pearson then finished third in the 1974 championship despite starting only 19 of the 30 races.

Dramatic Daytona 500 victory

His only Daytona 500 victory – in 1976 – was pure NASCAR theatre. Wheel-to-wheel with Petty out of the final turn the two rivals clashed and speared into the wall. The heavily damaged cars rebounded into the infield with Pearson the first to select a gear. He limped across the line to victory with Petty watching in his wreck just 25 metres from the finish.

Pearson left Wood Brothers during 1979 and won that year’s Southern 500 at Darlington while replacing the injured Dale Earnhardt in Rod Osterlund’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The 1980 Rebel 500, also at Darlington, was Pearson’s 105th and final NASCAR victory. His place as a stock car racing legend was ensured when he finally retired in 1986. He only ever completed five full championship seasons of which he won three.

He ran his son Larry Pearson in the second-tier Busch Series (now Nationwide) at the time – a title they won in 1986 and 1987. The combination progressed to the Winston Cup in 1989 but a lack of sponsorship forced the team to disband after just two seasons.