Winner of 105 races in just 574 starts – second most to fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty – the Whitney, S.C.-born Pearson won titles in 1966 and 1968-69.
“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,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France. “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.”
Pearson was most identified with the legendary Wood Brothers despite never winning a championship in their Ford and Mercury cars. Between 1972 and 1979, Pearson and the Virginia-based Woods – led by NASCAR Hall of Famers Glen and Leonard – won 43 times including the 1976 Daytona 500, a race that saw Pearson limp to the finish after colliding with rival Petty coming down to take the checkered flag.
Pearson was a ferocious qualifier, once fashioning 11 consecutive pole positions at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a NASCAR premier series record that still stands. Yet, he was willing to run long – 500 and 600 mile – races at a pace fast enough to maintain track position while saving speed for the finish.
It earned him the nickname as “The Fox” – as in sly – that later, as his hair began to grey, became “The Silver Fox.”
Perhaps the greatest measure of Pearson’s talents was his mastery of Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, not far from where the driver grew up in Spartanburg – once the hub of NASCAR stock car racing.
Pearson, inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011, won 10 times at the track dubbed “Too Tough To Tame,” a 1.366-mile, egg-shaped track that ushered in NASCAR’s paved, superspeedway era in 1950. He won three Southern 500s, run during the heat and humidity of Labor Day week that ranked as the sport’s greatest test of endurance for both driver and car.