off it,” says Leonard. “He’d go down and
back off the throttle and just let the car
float in the corner and take a set, then pick
the throttle up at exactly the right place.
No going in wide open, jamming on the
brakes and getting the car all out of shape
and about to spin out – that wasn’t him.”
By going easy into the corner, Pearson
could get back on the gas a lot sooner
than most of his competition.
“He’d come off the corner way faster
than the other guys,” says Leonard. “He’d
blow you away down the straightaways.
The faster you come off the corner, the
faster you’ll run down the straightaway.”
Plus, he didn’t crash – the last lap of the
’ 76 Daytona 500 being a notable exception
– which endeared Pearson to the team.
“He drove with us for seven years and
he just didn’t tear up equipment,” says
Len Wood. “I don’t recall putting a front
clip on that thing more than once or
twice in seven years.”
In those days, there were plenty of
practical jokes, which Pearson delighted
in. Often, he’d get Leonard agitated by
hiding just before he was supposed to
qualify. Leonard would dispatch Eddie and
“He’s right at the top.
We’ve had the best drivers
in the world in our cars and
he’s one of them, for sure”
Len to find him, usually chuckling behind
a tire wall or a truck somewhere.
Then there was Washington, D.C. in
1978, when President Jimmy Carter
invited a cadre of NASCAR drivers to the
White House. Pearson rolled up in the iconic
No. 21 Wood Bros. Mercury, which he was
supposed to park out back. Instead, he
pulled onto the White House front lawn,
shut off the motor, hopped out and gave a
surprised First Lady Rosalynn Carter a hug.
Branham likes to tell the story of an
incident at Darlington, long after Pearson
had retired as a driver. Pearson and Cale
Yarborough were supposed to do a couple
of parade laps in street cars when the
pastor and the National Anthem singer
were getting ready to kick off the event
festivities. Instead, the two began racing
each other. “Asked why, David replied, ‘I
wasn’t going to let Cale outrun me, plus
the preacher wouldn’t let anything bad
happen,’” Branham says Pearson told him.
So how good was Pearson in his prime?
The numbers speak for themselves.
Pearson and Petty finished 1-2 63 times,
with Pearson winning 33 of those battles.
“We had the most success with him, so
our family’s going to say David Pearson is
the best,” says Eddie Wood. “If you go talk
to Dale Inman (Petty’s cousin and former
crew chief), or some of those guys, they’re
going to say Richard Petty. But they’ll
probably say David Pearson second...”
“He’s right at the top,” adds Leonard.
“We’ve had the best drivers in the world in
our cars and he’s one of them, for sure.”
Pearson peers under
the hood of his
during practice for the
1969 Daytona 500.
(LEFT) “The Silver
Fox” is interviewed
by Ned Jarrett in
1980. His win in that
year’s Rebel 500 at
Darlington for Hoss
Ellington was the last
of his NASCAR career.