NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony: David Pearson
May 23, 2011
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
MIKE JOY: David Pearson won over a hundred races, all those poles, including a dozen in a row up the street, but he only ran perhaps what you'd call five full-time seasons. Obviously he maximized and concentrated his efforts. He was fast. He was tough. Boy, was he ever crafty. After all, he was the 'Silver Fox'.
MIKE JOY: Here to induct David Pearson are two of his long time associates and closest friends, including a Hall of Fame nominee. First, please welcome the long time public relations director at Darlington Raceway and a great PR professional in our sport, Russell Branham.
RUSSELL BRANHAM: Good evening. I'd like to tell you a little story about David Pearson, the best NASCAR driver that the sport has ever seen, and also the man whose inspiration on a little kid nearly 40 years ago helped lead to a career in the sport.
About the time that David joined the Wood Brothers, the boy just seven, met the 'Silver Fox' and it marked the beginning of a journey that would be dear to him. For years when David would fly to Darlington, he would land at the kid's uncle's airport. David spent genuine time with the boy, put a smile on his face that the strongest of soaps couldn't remove. David was larger-than-life, had that Hollywood swagger and was the coolest of cool.
Traveling to many races, the boy lived and breathed every lap with that red and white No. 21. If something happened to David, the kid was ready to leave. He could care less about seeing someone else win the race.
After retirement, David won two Nationwide Series titles in '86 and '87 as an owner, which his sons Larry, Ricky and Eddie were the nucleus of the team.
Unbelievably, the kid, now a young man, was hired as the team's PR rep and learned the Pearsons were good, humble, down home people, much like his own family.
During that time, David made sure that there was never a dull moment. He was funny, passionate, blunt, in control, and had the same desire to win as he did when he was driving. The young man then went to work for Darlington Raceway where his friendship with David grew.
Although the Fox almost got him fired one year. In what he was supposed to be a slow ceremonial prerace lap in street cars, David and Cale Yarborough decided to go wide open, rocketing past the anthem singer and the pastor who were a few feet away from the track's start/finish line. Asked why, David replied, I wasn't going to let Cale outrun me, plus the preacher wouldn't let anything bad happen.
Never tell an old racecar driver to go slow.
Over the last 12 years, the young man, now somewhat middle-aged has worked with a class-act driver in Jeff Burton and at the same time has become very close friends with David Pearson. What he and many have learned is that David Pearson is the same man he was in his driving days and as a youngster. He never left his roots, never forgot where he grew up in the mill village of Whitney, South Carolina. Back then he was just David, millworker, service station attendant and body shop specialist. He was a self-made man who through hard work turned into a superstar, but he's always been the same guy at heart.
He loves being at home, feeding his farm animals, goats and donkeys, just outside the shop where he now has a passion for restoring old classic cars. He still loves getting his hands greasy, just like he did working as a teenager. He lives a simple life. That's the way he wants it.
Some of you have seen the caring side of David donating his money and time to local churches and charities. Last year at Bristol when David's son Larry had a hard racing accident, he pulled the family together, showing emotion that hadn't been seen before.
Although we know David as an icon, he doesn't understand what all the hoopla is about, why someone would want his autograph. That's what makes him special.
He doesn't care to be in the spotlight. You won't find any of his trophies in his home. They're all stowed away in an old building on his property. His ego doesn't feed off the hardware.
You know, that kid 40 years ago, he was right. David Pearson was the best. A mountain of a hero to many, including NASCAR. After all, he brought a pure natural driving talent that hadn't been seen prior to his arrival nor since. He set the bar and, win or lose, he handled himself with class and dignity, helping bring new national attention to the sport.
He made the teams that he drove for winners and made the drivers he competed against better. He's been an inspiration to many of us.
I know all of you have a tremendous amount of respect for David, as does my 11-year-old son Pearson, who is at home watching tonight. The Hall of Fame, it's for heroes. Mine enters the hall tonight. By the way, I'm that little kid from 40 years ago.
David, thanks for being my friend and thanks for asking me to be a part of this special night.
It's now my honor to also introduce a man who helped David become that legend that he is today. Let's give a round of applause for Mr. Leonard Wood.
LEONARD WOOD: Good evening. I am very proud to be standing up here. I want to thank NASCAR for what an awesome facility they got to recognize these guys. The staff I think has done a wonderful job recognizing all the competitors in the past and present. It would certainly be worth a tour to go see all that's in this Hall of Fame.
It was a great honor to me when David called me and asked me if I would introduce him into the Hall of Fame. I told him I would be more than happy to do so. I want to congratulate all the other inductees, which are very worthy of being in here.
This next inductee is all you ever want in a racecar driver. He had so much talent, takes the perfect line, knows when to back off, knows when to get on the accelerator to bring him off the corner with the most speed and carry him down the straightaway. He had such a great feel for what the car was doing. Always qualified faster than he practiced, I mean 30- to 50-hundredths every race he ever drove for us.
He had more self-confidence than anybody I've ever seen, extremely determined, looked, almost could sense danger, raced smart, easy on the brakes, never gave out, always had his competitors guessing, not letting them know what to expect until it was too late.
If the car wasn't running, you better work on it because it sure wasn't the driver.
Every time we ever had the time equal, we knew we had a shot at winning, no question. I had people come up to me and tell me, say, Man, David can really get around Darlington.
I would say, He gets around all of 'em. He don't have a bad track.
I would also like to mention the fact that he had great success with car owners, especially Ray Fox, Cotton Owens, Holman-Moody, Bud Moore. My brother Glen, my two nephews Eddie and Len, who work right by my side, and myself, had so much fun working with this guy. First race he drove for the Wood Brothers, he sat on pole, won the race, then went on to win six out of a total of 17 that year.
1973, he won 11 out of 18 starts. 1976, he won 10 out of 22 starts, including the famous Daytona 500, plus the Triple Crown that year. He won a total of 43 races. Nice number (laughter).
51 pole positions. We all had fun. He made it fun. We have fun every time we get together yet. Every time he comes to visit. It's so much fun having him. Eddie and Len decided they would paint the car, this Daytona 500 car, this year, the same paint scheme as used in the famous 1976 Daytona 500. They came to the media tour. Wait a minute. Back up here. I got to tell you this story.
He likes to pick. He used to hide from me when we got ready to qualify. Then he'd get behind the car and watch me look for him. Usually after he did that he would always sit on pole.
This time we was at Darlington. Of course, we had a cigarette lighter in the car. So he gets a good run off of four, breezes by Buddy Baker to the start/finish line lighting a cigarette as he passes, which is just one of many things he used to do (laughter).
So he's still very competitive today. Ed and Len wanted to paint this year's Daytona 500 car the same as the '76 winner honoring David going into the Hall of Fame. He came to the media tour to see it uncovered. Edsel Ford was there. I told Edsel, I said, David won 14 straight races in a 1937 Ford. So Edsel is thinking, you know, Is this in his early days of racing?
I said, no, that was two years ago (laughter). Showing how competitive he still is.
So, David, on behalf of the Wood Brothers Racing team, my brother Glen, my two nephews, and myself, I want you to know how proud we were having you as our driver, and also to tell you you were the best thing that ever happened to the Wood Brothers.
Now it is my great pleasure to introduce to you the greatest driver in the history of NASCAR, Mr. David Pearson.
On this day, the 23rd day of May, 2011, it is my honor to formally induct David Pearson into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and present him this inductee ring.
DAVID PEARSON: Thank you. Appreciate that.
What can I say after all they said? But anyway, I want to thank the good Lord, the family for putting up with me while I was racing and everything. It was good. Especially the fans. I got quite a few from the wife. Got a bus coming up today. Of course, I appreciate all of it.
Let me tell you about the guy that really got me started into Cup racing, the Sprint racing. A guy by the name of Ralph Sawyer. He was a policeman on Spartanburg police force and he rode a three-wheel motorcycle. I was working at an Esso station, Exxon now, Roger's Esso, and we had a remote radio out there.
So Ralph came in one day and said, Let's go out here and get on the radar and say we're going to start a fan club for you to raise some money and buy a Jack Smith car. They had one for sale, it was a dirt car.
I can't do that. There's no way. I was winning quite a few races on the dirt then, back in the early days. I didn't want to do that. But he did.
Anyway, he went out there and started getting what money he could. He come by the station. He would give me quarters, nickels, dimes, anything he could get at the end of the day. He kept doing that.
I said, This ain't gonna work.
He said, Oh, yeah, it will. They done the same thing for Cotton Owens and got him a car.
Anyway, that's what he done. He forced me to go buy that car, which I didn't have enough money to buy it. I bought it from my dad, all this stuff. My brother ran a body shop. Carried it over there, straightened the dents out on it, got ready to go to Daytona.
Edmond Rogers, the guy who owned the service station at the time, he gave me the credit card to buy the gas to go to Daytona and come back. What was I going to do when I got down there? I didn't have no money. When I get there, maybe my dad will send me enough money to buy me some tires. I got there knowing I didn't have enough money to buy tires when I got there. I called him, told him I needed money to buy tires. He sent me some money. I bought I think it was a set of tires. I might have got two. I doubt it, but I got two of 'em anyway.
I run the race, got the car ready. I was running. I was running pretty good. The car quit. When I come in the pits, Bud Moore changed the distributor for me. Got it going. So I went ahead and finished that race. I don't know where I finished. But it was decent, I think. Getting the car ready to run some of the short tracks.
I won Hickory, I think, with it. I outrun Junior Johnson. That tickled me to death when I done that. Anyway, it was dirt back then at Hickory.
After that, Ray Fox come to Charlotte here, didn't have nobody to drive his car. A few people, Bud, Cotton --
He run five or six a year, I guess it was. Anyway, he didn't want to run no more. Right before that, Cotton had signed up with Chrysler Corporation to run Dodges. He called me and wanted to know if I wanted to run with him, run more races. That suited me fine. I said, Sure, I'll do that.
Anyway, I went with Cotton. We had some success. I won the championship with him in '66. Of course, I won about 20-something races, I think it was with Cotton.
Let me tell you what happened to us. We broke up. We still the best of friends. In fact, I go get him every Sunday after church, we take him out to eat and everything. Anyway, like I say, we are the best of friends there are.
We was going to Columbia to run on a dirt track. I went by Cotton's. The truck was sitting there with the car up on it. I said, "Where is Cotton?"
They said, "He's gone home to take a shower."
That's good. We done already took our shower. We didn't know whether we needed anything or not.
They said, "Yeah, we need some ice for the cooler."
I said, "We'll just go get them. They got in the car with me and we took off and went to the icehouse, got a 50-cent bag of ice. Come back and the truck was gone and the car was gone."
I said, "He done run off and left us."
What happened, when he come back, he thought we had run off and left him. So it made him mad. He just pulled the car, truck and everything back in the garage. Got to Columbia, wasn't for Cotton. We didn't know where he was at. Anyway, I didn't get to run Columbia (laughter).
Next day, I went up to the garage to see what happened. All the guys were standing on the outside. What are y'all doing out here?
They said, "He fired us."
I went in there, "What are you doing, firing everybody?"
He said, "Yeah". He said, "If you don't like it, you can go, too."
I said, "I don't like it." Anyway, I turned around and walked out. I told them, I just quit, too. I don't even know who he got to drive after that.
Anyway, between him and Moody, where I went next, every once in a while I would run for Bud Moore when Parnelli couldn't run. Bud said I run five times for him and won four of them and ran second in the other one. I had good success with Bud, too.
After that I went to Hall & Moody. We ran good. I won a couple of championships with them, '68 and '69. That lasted a couple years.
We was at California testing. Anyway, we went to lunch, come back. They changed heads on the car, stuff like that, trying to make it faster. Anyway, Tyler from Ford Motor Company was out there with us. After lunch, he said, You might as well just pull out and go home because Ford just pulled out of racing. We did, loaded up, come on back home.
When we got back, next two or three days, I went to Holman-Moody, of course, they had all kind of parts. They had all kinds of parts to last three or four years.
Anyway, I asked, John, what are you going to do?
He said, We got to cut down some way or another. Ford has just pulled out. I think you need to drive cheaper.
I said, What do you mean?
He said, You need to drive for 40%. I said, John, I ain't never drove for anybody for 40%, I always got half of whatever you win. Another dime ain't going to keep you in business (laughter).
Anyway, he said, Well, that's what we're going to have to do. I said, I can't drive for you no more. If I can't get that, I might as well go somewhere else. So that ended that. I left there. Like I said, every once in a while I would drive for different people. Hoss, he called me once or twice. I drove at Darlington for him, ended up winning the race for him for Hoss, so I made him happy. Then I would drive some for Bud in between time.
After that, I took and went with the Woods. A.J. drove for them. They called me about running Daytona. He was going to run two cars. That was good. I rode with him, with A.J. it worked out good there. Of course, I think I outrun A.J. It made them happy.
The next year they wanted to know if I wanted to run for them the next year. I said, Sure. They said, You want A.J. to run? I said, No, I want to run by myself (laughter).
Anyway, that's the way it happened. I ended up running for them. I tell you. I can't say enough good about them boys.
Leonard Wood, I would have to say that is the smartest man in the world right there. In there's anything that car needed, if they couldn't find it or couldn't buy it, he made it. That's just how he was. In fact, you ought to see the lawnmower he made. He made a four-wheel drive lawnmower. You can make 3-2 wheels pull, any one of them to pull you want to pull. It looks better than the one you would buy at a store, it's that nice.
He don't want me to tell all that, but that's true. In fact, he made me a car that he built, every piece of it. You ought to see it. It's just like a factory car. He made it all but the body. It was plastic, the body. All the rest of it he made. Just like a regular car. It's something else.
But anyway, I appreciate him. Hardest working, best people I could think of to drive for. If I was going to run a race tomorrow, I'd want Leonard Wood on it. He'd be the one, and I appreciate it. I appreciate Leonard, Eddie, they're the nicest family you could ever drive for. I really mean that, appreciate it, sure do.
I want to thank Richard Petty, too. 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 never make no mistakes (laughter). Always accused him of having big engines when he passed me.
But he's a good sport. Like I say, I've had more fun running with him than anybody I ever run with 'cause I know if I ever went to a racetrack and he was there, if I could beat him, I'd win the race. So I appreciate it, sure do, everything you've done, Richard.
I thank all the fans. I appreciate it. I thank all the fans who are here tonight. You don't know how much I enjoyed it. Thank all the women that carried us around to all the places we done. I enjoyed that. I'm talking about the ones that works here (laughter). It's true.
Ann said she wanted to come up here and say something. She wanted to tell everybody to pray for her because she has to put up with me (laughter).
I appreciate it all and thank all of you. I want to thank NASCAR. I had some good friends in NASCAR. Had close relationship with them, especially Jim Hunter and Jimmy France and Brian. I enjoyed them. Thank you very much. I'll see you later. Thank you.
MIKE JOY: The storytelling continues up here. What a wonderful night.
Next, tomorrow, their spires will be in the hall of honor and will be displayed for all to see in the Hall of Fame until the next class is inducted, just eight months from now. Going forward, this induction ceremony will be held each January. Mark your calendars for the weekend of January 20th when we'll induct a third class into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
On this stage, represent 356 wins in what's now called the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, 224 poles, 12 championships, millions of great memories. Congratulations to the class of 2011 of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Thank you for being part of tonight's ceremony and good evening.
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