How could they leave out the Best?
October 2009 Dale Wilkerson
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article speculating about the first class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In the first paragraph I stated that for the first class, five inductee’s may not be enough. Well, I was right.
When the final votes were counted, the greatest driver in the history of automobile racing was excluded from the list.
Yes I am partial. David Pearson is still my favorite driver. I would hope each Saturday, growing up in the seventies, that the ABC network would have a race on the Wide World of Sports, so I could see the Purolator Mercury driving by the field.
Being born in the mid-sixties, I missed his years in Cotton Owens Dodge and his time with Holman and Moody. I know he won three championships between those two teams, and that he NEVER competed in EVERY race during any season of his career. In 1964, he ran 61 of 62 events, but that season a championship was not the goal. In 1966, his first championship season, Pearson competed in 42 of 49 events. During his two championship seasons with Holman and Moody, he missed four races between the two years.
In 1973, I thought to win a race your name needed to be Pearson or Secretariat. That was the thing with the Wide World of Sports and a kid that wanted to watch a race. Some Saturday’s ABC would air a stock car race, sometimes a drag race, and sometimes a horse race. As I watched those events, I grew to respect what David Pearson could do with a car and how fast the horse known as ‘Big Red’ could run.
I remember watching the final laps of the 1976 Daytona 500, as Pearson and the man called The King, Richard Petty crashed coming off turn four on the final lap. Petty’s car stalled in the infield while Pearson, who engaged his clutch to keep his engine running, drove by Petty’s car to take the win.
Back when the Southern 500 was run on Labor Day Monday, I was very happy when the local school district’s made it a school holiday, so I could listen to the race on the radio because after all, Darlington was Pearson’s track. He has more wins there than any other driver, and it was a lot of fun to listen to him wearing out the field.
In 1986, Pearson only raced twice. The crowd erupted on Pole Day for the World 600 in Charlotte. Pearson did not win the pole that day, but his lap, which was seventh fastest, bumped Darrell Waltrip, who was driving a Junior Johnson Chevrolet, from the top 20. Back then, if you were bumped from the top 20, you would need to qualify in the second round, so ‘DW’ had to try again.
His second race in 1986 was at another of his best tracks, the Michigan International Speedway. Living out in the country, and miles from the cable television lines, I would have to listen to this race on the radio, the way I had become a fan of David Pearson.
The race had a lot of green flag racing, and Bill Elliott was turning some very fast laps. Pearson finished ninth, though no announcements had been made, I had a feeling that this would be his last NASCAR race. Looking back now, I am glad I only listened to the race, because in my mind’s eye with the help of Barney Hall and Eli Gold from MRN-Radio, I once again, had the best seat in the house.
When a local group attempted to build the South Carolina Racing Hall of Fame in Spartanburg, Pearson and many other local legends were back out at the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds, racing to raise money for the project. Attending those races was a real treat for me. Pearson didn’t win the first one, but the second race was his, as his car was on a rail. But just like the Spartanburg Super-Speedway, the track that the Spartanburg County Council would not allow to be built here in the sixties, was built in Talladega, our Hall of Fame did not have the needed backing and the project faded away.
As I attended the fair a few weeks ago on Saturday afternoon, the old race track could barely be seen, but in my mind’s eye, I could see Pearson taking that checkered flag.
I know when I go to the NASCAR Hall of Fame next spring, I will be impressed with all that I see, and the depression that I feel because David Pearson is not among the first five inductee’s will leave me, because in my mind’s eye, I will see his spot already there.
When I walk out for the return trip to Spartanburg, I am sure I will be driving one of my Mercury’s, but I am not sure which one it will be. The silver one that I call The Purolator Mercury or the red one that I call Big Red.