WINNING AT WILL
many drivers are. He was born in the
South Carolina mill town of Whitney, near
Spartanburg, and worked in the mills and
at an Esso gas station before his racing
career took off in the early 1960s.
Today, he still lives near Spartanburg in
a modest red brick ranch house on a
former peach farm that he bought in
1977. He turned 80 last December and
has recently battled a variety of health
issues, including an abdominal aneurysm
in October and a mild stroke in December.
His circle of friends and family remains
largely as it’s been for decades, and his
leisure time activities including feeding
his goats and mules, and restoring old
cars. Simple pleasures.
For Pearson, racing was a way to make
a living, not a way to become famous.
“It doesn’t take a lot of things to make
him happy,” says Russell Branham, the
Talladega Superspeedway public relations
director who used to work for Pearson and
is one of his staunchest supporters. “It sort
of correlates with the way he was at a race
track. He’d come to the track, meet with
the race team, jump behind the wheel of
the racecar, compete, give everything he
had, show the talent that he had on the
race track – and then, when the checkered
flag fell, he was ready to go home.
“Some other drivers over the years had
a different stance on that. They wanted to
sign autographs,” says Branham. “And
maybe they saw some of the bigger
picture for themselves – to have fans, to
sell t-shirts and hats, etc. That really never
appealed to David. He just wanted to go
and race and then go home. He didn’t
really like the limelight, didn’t want to be
the center of everyone’s attention.”
Pearson broke into NASCAR’s top
ranks in 1960, winning for the first time
a year later in a big way, capturing the
World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It was the first of three victories in just
17 starts that year. He would go on to
win a championship with Spartanburg car
owner Cotton Owens in 1966 and two
more with Holman-Moody in 1968-’ 69.
When Pearson and the Wood Brothers
hooked up, it was magic from the start.
David Pearson didn’t
quite make it into the
NASCAR Hall of Fame’s
inaugural class of 2010.
The five places went
to Dale Earnhardt, Bill
France, Sr. and Jr.,
Junior Johnson and
Richard Petty. But
“The Silver Fox” was
a shoo-in for the
second draft in 2011,
receiving votes from
50 of the 53-member
HoF voting panel.
Although he prefers
to live a quiet life at his
modest home outside
of Spartanburg, S.C.,
Pearson is an occasional
visitor to Cup races,
where his legend and
legacy is duly noted
by the current stars
of NASCAR (BELOW).
“[Pearson] always made the
comment, ‘If you run as hard
as you can go all day, you’re
going to make a mistake’”
Pearson (No. 6) on
his way to a win for
Cotton Owens at the
Stadium in 1966.
but victorious at the
1976 Daytona 500.