Archive for November 13, 2018

At the finish line at last, R.I.P Silver Fox

Posted in Journalism, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2018 by macmystery

 

David Pearson

David Pearson

Born and raised in Georgia, I reside now in Beaufort, S.C., in the Lowcountry of the Palmetto State. But for roughly 15 years, Spartanburg County in the state’s upcountry was my home. My two children were born there.

Working for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, I immersed myself in the area’s sports history, if not its history in general. And that included learning all about David Pearson.

Pearson died Monday (David Pearson’s New York Times obituary). He was to the Hub City what Hank Aaron is to Atlanta. Or, in an even better analogy, what Rocky Balboa is to Philadelphia.

What he is to stock car racing is the greatest driver to ever slide behind the wheel.

I am no longer a NASCAR fan for myriad reasons, too many to count or run down here. But I respect it. And there was a time the sport mattered more to me.

My parents, particularly my mother’s family, had roots in rural South Carolina, and there was a knowledge of stock car racing passed down. I heard tales of Fireball Roberts. There was disdain, but respect, for Richard Petty and the Petty clan. Cale Yarborough was a good ole South Carolina boy I heard good things about.

But there was nary a mention of Pearson, born in Whitney, a textile mill village in Spartanburg. And in a lot of ways, that is symbolic of Pearson’s career.

I have never fallen for the fool’s gold that is the Cup, be it the Winston, Sprint or Monster Energy. Auto racing championships are misleading. They are disingenuous. They lie to you.

There is one thing and one thing only that matters in racing. Winning. At the end of the day, you either won or your didn’t.

Richard Petty, a winner 200 times over, is nicknamed The King. Rightfully so. He is the all-time NASCAR leader in wins, and his mark will never be broken.

Richard Petty’s statement on the death of David Pearson

And if you care about such things, he won seven championships, tied with Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson for the all-time record.

If Richard Petty was NASCAR’s Joe DiMaggio, David Pearson was almost certainly its Ted Williams.

And like Williams, Pearson was better.

He won 105 times, 95 times fewer than Petty. Also a number no other driver has sniffed. But Pearson did it in less than half as many races than King Richard.

Contemporaries, Petty and Pearson clashed often, finishing 1-2 in a race 63 times. Pearson won 33 of those.

Essentially a part-time driver, Pearson picked and chose the races he ran, rarely ever coming even close to a full schedule. In fact, the only years Pearson competed in close to a full slate — 1966, 1968 and 1969 — he won NASCAR’s top championship.

From 1972 to 1978, Pearson raced in just 143 races. Roughly 20 races a season over seven years. He won 43 times, averaging six wins a year. That number alone is only one fewer than Bill Elliott, one of the sport’s all-time greats, won in his entire career.

Petty was big. He was brash. He was public.

Pearson was quiet. Friendly. But he was private.

The Silver Fox, as he was nicknamed for his driving acumen, was overshadowed while he was still winning. And he was somewhat, though not in Spartanburg, forgotten when he retired.

Until 1999.

As so many publications did for so many sports when the new millennium approached, Sports Illustrated named its driver of the century.

This time, Richard Petty didn’t win. It was David Pearson.

A panel of 40 of the greatest drivers, owners, executives and crew chiefs in the sports history gave Pearson the narrow victory. (Actually over Earnhardt. Petty was third.)

It happened again in 2011. This time the accolade came from the Sporting News.

Pearson’s peers knew.

Despite my long tenure in Spartanburg, I didn’t get to know Pearson. I was a copy editor and a page designer, rarely getting out to cover, report or write. I met him only a couple of times.

(It was my pleasure, however, on several occasions early in my tenure at the SHJ to pull a fax off the machine in the sports department in the wee early hours of a Saturday morning to find Pearson’s name in that Friday night’s results for one of the handful of dirt tracks in the area. He was in his 60s at the time.)

Two of my friends and co-workers got to know Pearson a little better. I am jealous of them both.

Chris Winston and Todd Shanesy have both spent time as the keeper of the stock car racing flame on the SHJ staff.

Winston, like me, no longer working for a newspaper, put together a book on stock car racing in South Carolina that included an entire chapter dedicated to Pearson.

I expect him, in the near future, to put his thoughts about Pearson together. When he does, I’ll share a link.

Shanesy still works for the Herald-Journal and wrote Pearson’s hometown obit on Monday night.

For Shanesy’s 1999 story on Pearson’s Sports Illustrated honor, he talked to Cotton Owens. Owens, whose given name was Everett, is a NASCAR Hall of Famer for his time as both a driver and a team owner.

Also a Spartanburg native, Owens owned the Dodge team that Pearson drove to the 1966 Grand National Championship and voted him No. 1 in that Sports Illustrated poll.

Owens wrapped Pearson up best.

“He was just the best ever. It didn’t matter what kind of track it was. Short track, speedway, dirt track, whatever. Pearson could win anywhere, any time.”

“There’s never been anybody like him.”

 

 

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