David Pearson, the second-winningest NASCAR Cup Series driver in history, died Monday at the age of 83. Wood Brothers Racing, Pearson’s former team, confirmed the news on social media.
Throughout his Hall of Fame racing career, which spanned nearly 30 years, Pearson amassed an incredible 105 victories in NASCAR’s top division. That mark stands as the second-most of any driver in history, behind only Richard Petty’s 200 career Cup wins. Pearson also won three championships — in 1966, 1968, and 1969 — compared with rival Petty’s seven.
Behind Pearson on the all-time wins list are Jeff Gordon (93), Darrell Waltrip (84), Bobby Allison (84), Jimmie Johnson (83), and Cale Yarborough (83).
Pearson’s racing career truly took off in 1960 when he completed his first season in NASCAR’s top series. He wouldn’t win until the next year, when he captured his first three career victories, but still established a foundation for three decades of excellence.
Many NASCAR drivers and fans took to social media Monday night to express their condolences for Pearson’s family.
In addition to his countless NASCAR records and longevity, Pearson was also well known for being racing’s coolest driver. Aptly nicknamed the Silver Fox for his prematurely graying hair, Pearson had a dashboard cigarette lighter in his car and could sometimes be seen driving down the backstretch with a lit cigarette.
Pearson also had a particular history with Charlotte Motor Speedway and former track promoter Humpy Wheeler. After Pearson won 11 straight poles at CMS, driving away fans who wanted to bet on the pole-sitter, Wheeler decided to try and figure out what Pearson’s secret was.
When told it had something to do with a hump in Turn 1, Wheeler sent a bulldozer out to smooth over the hump...
And not only did Pearson win his 12th straight pole, but he set a track record while he was at it.
Then Pearson got out of his car, called Wheeler, and said:
“You got the wrong spot.”
Petty released a statement on Pearson’s passing Monday night.
“I have always been asked who my toughest competitor in my career was. The answer has always been David Pearson,” Petty said. “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.”
NASCAR CEO and chairman Jim France also released a statement on behalf of the racing body.
“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,” France said in a statement. “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.”