SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion David Pearson, who won 105 races in the series, has died. He was 83 years old.
Pearson, known as “The Silver Fox,” is considered one of the best drivers to compete in NASCAR. His 105 victories rank him second in NASCAR Cup Series competition behind only seven-time series champion Richard Petty’s 200.
“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.”
Pearson made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in 1960 when he was 25, competing in 22 of 44 events and earning the rookie-of-the-year award. The following season he broke through for his first Cup Series victory, winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a car prepared by Ray Fox.
He collected two more victories in cars prepared by Fox that year, but it proved to be the tip of the iceberg for Pearson.
It wasn’t until 1964 that Pearson won again. That year he won eight times while driving for the legendary Cotton Owens, finishing third in the standings. He competed in 14 races the next year for Owens, but still won twice.
In 1966, Pearson was a force to be reckoned with, entering 42 of the 49 races. Pearson won 15 times en route to his first series championship while driving for Owens. He won twice while racing a limited schedule in 1967.
Driving for Holman-Moody in 1968, Pearson won a career-best 16 races en route to his second series championship in three seasons. Not to be outdone, Pearson returned in 1969 and won 11 times to earn his third series title.
Pearson never competed in a full season of NASCAR Cup Series competition despite winning three titles. Following his three championship seasons, Pearson continued to win races despite running limited schedules.
In 1972, Pearson teamed with the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team and proceeded to win 43 races between ’72 and ’78. One of his most well-known victories came in the 1976 Daytona 500, when Pearson crashed while battling Richard Petty on the final lap.
Both crashed to a stop 100 yards from the finish line, but Pearson got his car started and crossed the finish line first to win his only Daytona 500. He went on to win 10 races that season despite racing in only 22 of 30 events. It was his final double-digit victory campaign.
“I want to thank Richard Petty, too,” Pearson said when he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011. “He’s probably the one that made me win as many as I did. I run hard because he’d make me run hard. Sometimes he would make a mistake and I’d pass him. Of course, I didn’t ever make mistakes … I’ve had more fun running with him than anybody I ever run with ’cause I knew if I ever went to a race track and he was there, if I could beat him, I’d win the race.”
Petty, in a statement Monday evening, called Pearson his “toughest competitor.”
“I have always been asked who my toughest competitor in my career was. The answer has always been David Pearson,” said Petty. “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.
“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.
“We have always been close to the Pearson family because they were in the racing business, just like us. We stayed close, and I enjoyed visits to see David when going through South Carolina. We will miss those trips.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Pearson family and friends.”
He departed the Wood Brothers after the eighth race of the 1979 season and drove for several different teams in the following years, earning two more victories while driving for Rod Osterlund in ’79 and Hoss Ellington in 1980, both at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
“Darlington Raceway expresses its deepest condolences and sympathies to the family and friends of David Pearson,” said Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp. “His record 10 wins at Darlington put him in a league of his own. His fierce competitiveness and passion for the sport endeared him to the NASCAR faithful. 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.”
Pearson made his last NASCAR Cup Series start in 1986 driving his own No. 21 Chattanooga Chew Chevrolet at Michigan Int’l Speedway, finishing 10th. He later went on to field a car in the NASCAR Cup Series for his son, Larry Pearson, but shut down the team in 1990.
In addition to his 105 victories and three championships, Pearson earned 301 top-five finishes, 366 top-10 results and 113 poles. He won the Daytona 500 once, the Southern 500 three times and the Coca-Cola 600 three times. He also earned one victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
The native of Spartanburg, S.C., was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1993 and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011.