By Bob Barney
Three-time NASCAR Champion David Pearson, who won 105 races in the series, which rank him second in NASCAR Cup Series competition behind only seven-time series champion Richard Petty’s 200, has died. He was 83 years old. Pearson, known as “The Silver Fox,” and is one of the best drivers to compete in NASCAR.
David Pearson’s 105 NASCAR victories and his rivalry in the 1960s and ’70s with Richard Petty helped set the stage for NASCAR’s rise into a mainstream sport with national appeal. When he retired, he had three championships – and millions of fans.
Richard Petty called him the greatest driver he ever raced against, and said in a 1970's interview that he had so much respect for Pearson that if he were following him and David turned right into the wall, he would follow him. Petty also said that the famous crash that they had during the Daytona 500 (which Pearson won) was probably one of the only time the two touched each other in 20 years of racing. Both men were clean racers, that didn't push and ram their way into victory lane. “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.”
In a personal note, Pearson was one of my childhood favorites, and I often believed that if he had raced as often as Petty, he too would have had 200 victories or more. Pearson rarely drove all the races back in the 60's, when NASCAR raced many times at small unprofitable tracks.
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.