Dodge Then & Now, David Pearson
David Pearson Had Fun Winning Races With Dodge LONG POND, Pa., June 13, 2001 - David Pearson was NASCAR's Rookie of the Year in 1960. He started 574 Grand National races over three decades, winning 105 times and capturing three Grand National ...
David Pearson Had Fun Winning Races With Dodge
LONG POND, Pa., June 13, 2001 - David Pearson was NASCAR's Rookie of the Year in 1960. He started 574 Grand National races over three decades, winning 105 times and capturing three Grand National championships. By the time he retired in April 1986, his prematurely gray hair and wily tactics had prompted the world of stock car racing to know him as The Silver Fox.
Having won many races during the middle of his career while driving for the Wood Brothers and Holman and Moody, Pearson is often linked solely with the Ford and Mercury brands. What that conclusion overlooks are Pearson's 27 wins and 22 poles while driving Dodge Chargers prepared by Cotton Owens. He won his first championship in 1966 driving a Dodge.
"They were all good," said Pearson recently, reflecting on his Dodge wins, which started at Richmond, Va. in March 1964, and continued through Greenville, S.C. in March 1967.
"I really enjoyed driving for Dodge, if you want to know the truth," continued Pearson. "I told people after I went with Ford, 'If I had done in Dodges what I had done in Fords, they (Dodge) never would have quit paying me.' They were such nice people; they really were. I would have to say they were the nicest people I ever drove for."
While Pearson caught the eye of stock car racing fans by wining some of the most memorable superspeedway races, his 27 Dodge wins were mostly on short tracks. Only two of his 27 Dodge wins were on tracks of one mile or more in length - a one-mile track near Richmond, and the 2.85-mile Bridgehampton, N.Y. road course.
That was no surprise to people who followed the early part of his career, considering Pearson moved up to the Grand National Series from the Sportsman Class, a dirt-track forerunner of today's Busch Series. In 1959, Pearson won 30 of 42 races in the Sportsman Series.
"When I started with Dodge they were just getting back into racing again with Cotton Owens," said Pearson. "That was in 1964, I believe. We were doing a lot of experimenting and stuff like that, the first couple of years.
"We had a lot of problems," he continued. "We had never run anything with sway bars, or torsion bars, whatever you want to call them. The cars didn't have springs in the front; they had those torsion bars. All that stuff was new to us, and we had to figure out what torsion bar to use, or whatever. It was quite a bit different than a spring.
"Now, everybody uses the same thing. Everything underneath the car is the same now. Back when we first started to run, we used regular Dodge front-ends. Everything was Dodge. Of course, I won a championship with them in 1966."
One of the toughest races Pearson had in a Dodge was the Asheville 300, June 6, 1966 at New Asheville Speedway in North Carolina. Pearson's throttle hung open with 120 laps to go but he still managed to win. He pressed on by turning the ignition switch off entering each turn of the one-third mile track, then flipped it back on to pick up speed on the straightaways. Newspaper reports at the time said the experience left him worn out.
"I expect I was," said Pearson, "having to drive with one hand and cut the switch on and off with the other. Of course, I was way out in front anyway, so I just cut the switch off and cut it back on, you know, off and on like that."
Unfortunately for Dodge, two of Pearson's most memorable wins came at the expense of Dodge - the Daytona 500 in 1976, and the Firecracker 400 in 1974. Both were classic battles with archrival Richard Petty.
In 1976, Pearson and Petty crashed during the last lap of the first Daytona 500 to be televised live. Their cars made hard contact coming out of the fourth turn and wound up badly damaged and in the grass about 100 feet short of the flag stand. As Petty worked to get his Dodge restarted, Pearson got his Mercury moving and angled across the grass to take the checkered flag.
In 1974, Pearson added to his Silver Fox reputation by making an especially slick move to edge Petty in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona. As the two started the final lap with Pearson in front, Pearson suddenly took his foot off the gas and pulled to the left.
"I threw up my hand and cut to the inside like something was wrong," said Pearson. The move prompted Petty to take the lead, thinking Pearson was out of gas or had a mechanical problem. Pearson then got back on the gas, tucked in behind Petty and followed him around the track. Coming out of the fourth turn, Pearson made a slingshot pass and took the checkered flag.
"That was the only way I could get him to pass me," explained Pearson. "I knew I had to be running second that last lap. He was going to beat me anyway if I hadn't done something," he continued. "He had me 'out horse powered' bad that day. I always accused him of having a big engine in the car, as fast as he was running."
"We had some great races together, Richard and myself, especially on dirt, back when I was running Dodge and he was running Dodge, too, or Plymouth."
Pocono Raceway figures into Pearson's career, not only as a track where he raced many times and won once, but also as a place that played a role in giving him a chance to redeem himself. Pearson parted company with the Wood Brothers in 1979 after a communication foul-up in the Rebel 500 had Pearson leaving the pits before all the lug nuts were tightened. He made it to the end of pit road before two of the wheels came off. It was not a very satisfying way to end things at a South Carolina track not far from his home in Spartanburg.
Without a ride, the potential for changing that ending looked dim. Then a young driver named Dale Earnhardt was injured at Pocono and his team owner, Rod Osterlund, tapped Pearson as a replacement.
"They called me and asked if I would drive his car," said Pearson, who took advantage of the opportunity to win the 1979 Southern 500 at Darlington. "At that time, he (Earnhardt) had only won one race (in the Grand National series) and I won the race in his car."
Despite all the wins in his career - second most among Grand National/Winston Cup drivers - Pearson's fondest recollections are the good times he had while racing.
"We had fun," said Pearson. 'We'd go to the motels and stay together, and at night we would wrestle, you know, do things like that.
"I never will forget (one trip with Cotton Owens). I believe we were in California; we got to wrestling on the bed and fell off in behind the bed and we were stuck there. We were all tangled up and we couldn't get out. We finally did get the bed pushed back enough to where we could get up out of there. But we stayed there a long time trying to figure out how to get out from between the wall and the bed.
"We had a good time back then, everywhere we went," continued Pearson. "Today, it's gotten so big with the money and all that stuff, the drivers don't even have time to talk to each other. We used to sit around at night at the motels and get together. Somebody would have an old guitar and we would try to sing. You know; do things like that. We had fun; we really did."
Pearson says the quality of the singing improved substantially when recording star Marty Robbins tried his hand at stock car racing. "He would sing for us," explained Pearson. He recalls a time when several of the drivers decided to perform together under the theme "NASCAR Goes Country." "Robbins said, 'Now look here. I promise you I will not try to win the race if ya'all will not try to sing.'"
Pearson said he is pleased to see Dodge return to Winston Cup. "It's good to have them back," he said. "They're doing good. They'll get it together. In fact, I'd like to see them win some races."
As for the Dodge drivers, Pearson says he has no favorites, except for one driver who was competing when Pearson was driving race cars. "Of course, I like Bill Elliott," he admitted. "But really, I like them all."
Pearson also got to know Buckshot Jones, driver of the No. 44 Georgia-Pacific Dodge Intrepid R/T, when the young driver rented a shop from him. "I tried to work with him," said Pearson, laughing. "Buckshot is a little hard-headed. Of course, we all are when we first start. I'd like to see him do well. He needs to do well. I pull for him."
Pearson will be watching this weekend as the NASCAR Series returns to Pocono. He'll be pulling for Jones and Elliott, and hoping Dodge gets that first victory in its 2001 return to Winston Cup Series racing.
This week in Dodge history:
* 6/19/64 - David Pearson passed Richard Petty with 140 laps to go and went on to win the Confederate 300 at Chattanooga International Raceway in Tennessee. It was the fourth win of the season and seventh career victory for the Spartanburg, S.C., Dodge driver. Petty finished second, two laps behind on the .333-mile paved track. Buck Baker was third and Ned Jarrett finished fourth.
* 6/20/70 - Bobby Isaac started on the pole and led the whole way in winning the Hickory 276 (100 miles on a .363-mile track) at Hickory Speedway in North Carolina. Isaac's K&K Insurance Dodge finished two laps ahead of runner-up Dick Brooks in a Plymouth. Dave Marcis was third in another Dodge.
* 6/18/72 - When mechanical problems knocked the factory-backed Bobby Isaac Dodge and Richard Petty Plymouth out of contention, Ray Elder, the "Racing Farmer" from Caruthers, Calif., won the Golden State 400 at Riverside driving a family-owned and -operated Dodge. The win was Elder's second Winston Cup Grand National victory, the other coming in January of the previous year at Riverside.