David Pearson: A Great Career That Might Have Been Even Greater

Dean HyblAnalyst IAugust 16, 2009

The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Week was the hottest racer in NASCAR 40 years ago.

Between 1966 and 1969, David Pearson won three Grand National (now Sprint Cup) Championships and 44 total races.

Interestingly, those three seasons were the last during a 27-year career that spanned from 1960 through 1986 in which Pearson, known as the “Silver Fox” completed a full NASCAR schedule.

For most of his career, Pearson ran in 60 percent or fewer of the NASCAR races in a season, but when he was in the field he was always in contention.

Pearson’s total of 105 victories ranks behind only Richard Petty in the all-time NASCAR win total as they are the only two drivers with 100 or more victories.

Pearson and Petty were famous for their on-the-track duels.

Between 1963 and 1977, the duo finished one/two in races a total of 63 times. Pearson held the slim advantage winning 33 of those encounters.

Perhaps their most famous battle was at the 1976 Daytona 500 when they were running bumper-to-bumper on the final lap. They slammed against each other and both hit the wall.

Petty’s car spun off the track less than 50 yards from the finish line, but would not restart. Pearson was able to keep his car running and limped across the finish line for his only victory in the Daytona 500.

Given that Pearson achieved his tremendous success as a racer, despite competing in less than half the number of races as Petty, there are many “what if’s” about just what Pearson may have been able to achieve had he raced a full schedule each season.

In 1973 he won 11 of the 18 races he entered, but was 13th overall in the point standings. Between 1972 and 1978 he won 43 of the 141 races in which he participated (30.5 winning percentage) and was in the top 5 87 times (61.7 percent).

For his career, Pearson made it to victory lane in 18.3% of all races he entered (compared to 16.9% for Petty). He also exceeded Petty in percentage of races in the top five (52.4% to 46.9%) and top 10 (63.8% to 60.1%).

Pearson’s final victory came at Darlington in 1980. He continued to make occasional starts through the 1986 season.

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