NASCAR Hall of Fame driver David Pearson dies at age 83

David Pearson was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011. (NASCAR)

One of NASCAR’s greatest legends the “Silver Fox” David Pearson passed away Monday. He was 83.

Pearson started his NASCAR career in 1960, winning Rookie of the Year honors in his first season.  He would win his three Cup titles in the three seasons he competed for a full schedule, 1996, 1968 and 1969.

Pearson ended his career in 1986, and currently holds second on NASCAR’s all-time win list with 105 victories in 574 starts; as well as earning 113 pole positions. His winning percentage is18.29 still second only to Ricard Petty.  He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2011.

Born David Gene Pearson in Whitney, S.C., on Dec. 22, 1934, he is best known as a constant competitor to Richard Petty, NASCAR’s all-time winning driver.  The two were fierce competitors and always tried to beat each other.

Together Pearson and Petty accounted for 63 1-2 finishes with the edge going to Pearson.

“Pearson could beat you on a short track, he could beat you on a superspeedway, he could beat you on a road course, he could beat you on a dirt track,” Petty once said. “It didn’t hurt as bad to lose to Pearson as it did to some of the others, because I knew how good he was.”

Cotton Owens fielded Dodges for Pearson in 1966; Pearson won two more championships in Fords owned by Holman-Moody.

“He could drive almost anything he wanted to drive and at any track,” said Owens. “He had a certain feel for a car that really buffaloed a lot of people.

“You never knew how fast David Pearson could actually run until (the) time came to run.”

That earned Pearson the nickname “The Fox” – as in sly as – then later, as his hair began to grey, he became “The Silver Fox.”

He outfoxed Petty in the 1974 Firecracker 400 at Daytona. Fearing Petty’s last-lap slingshot pass, Pearson slowed on the backstretch, simulating engine failure. Then he latched onto Petty’s rear bumper and pulled off the slingshot maneuver himself.

Pearson later moved to the Wood Brothers who – like their driver – ran partial seasons, concentrating on the biggest races. Between 1972 and 1979, Pearson and the Woods 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.

“He was good to start with, but he could drive his own race,” said Glen Wood, a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee. “If somebody was up front and outrunning him, he would settle back and run behind them for a little while.

“Later, when the chips were down, he could run with anybody.”

The South Carolina naïve won 10 times at Darlington SC, the track “Too Tough To Tame,” including three Southern 500s. His 12 poles are double the number – six – of the track’s second-best qualifiers, Fred Lorenzen and Fireball Roberts.

He used the “Darlington Stripe” to his advantage, sliding through what was then Turn 2 before tapping his bumper on the old guardrail with an audible “clank” that could actually be heard in the covered Brasington Grandstand.

He also won 11 consecutive poles (and 14 overall) at Charlotte Motor Speedway between the fall of 1973 and 1978. That record for consecutive poles at one track still stands.

His last Cup race came at Michigan in August of 1986. He started 15th and finished 10th.  In 1989 after three years away he announced plans to sub for the injured Neil Bonnett. After testing at Charlotte however he decided his racing days were over and retired.

He suffered a stroke in December of 2014. His wife Helen passed away in 1991. He is survived by his three sons: Larry, Ricky and Eddie.

Greg Engle