Will They Pick Cotton??

Dale Wilkerson                               April 2011

Five names were added to the ballot for the Class of 2012 for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Race fans in the Spartanburg area now have one question in regards to the upcoming vote: Will they pick Cotton?

Cotton Owens joins Leonard Wood, Les Richter, Clay Earles, and Bobby Isaac as first time nominees. These five men, plus the 20 names already on the ballot from last year will be eligible when the balloting committee meets in June to cast their votes.

Race fans in the Spartanburg area will be hoping to see Owens join fellow Spartanburg County residents David Pearson and Bud Moore as members of the Hall of Fame.

Owens began racing in the modified ranks shortly after World War II. Not long afterwards, competitors, fans, and officials began to call Owens the King of Modifieds as he began to pick up win after win.
“We raced against each other a lot,” said Bud Moore who built modified cars for Joe Eubanks, “Cotton won about 90% of the races when we were at the track together back in the modified days, he was hard to handle.”
Owens drove a 1937 Plymouth, for many of those races, which quickly became the most feared racecar in the pits. During the 1950 season, Owens wheeled his legendary MOPAR to 54 wins, including 24 in a row at tracks across the south. Owens was crowned US National Modified Champion three times.

As Owens made the switch to the Grand National circuit, what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series, he continued to set records.
Pontiac had never scored a victory in Grand National racing until Cotton Owens teamed with Ray Nichels. Not only did Owens score the first win for Pontiac, he won one of the biggest races of the year, by capturing the checkered flag at Daytona Beach. Not the Daytona International Speedway, but Daytona Beach on the old beach and road course.

“Driving on the Beach was a lot of fun but it could be tricky,” said Owens. “The salt would accumulate on the windshield and I would ease over toward the water to catch a little spray off the waves to help wash it off.” Owens averaged 101.541 mph, to establish the record for the first NASCAR race completed at an average speed over 100mph, which was also the fastest race ever ran on the Daytona Beach Course.
Owens picked nine top level NASCAR wins, and he placed second to Lee Petty in the season points standings in 1959. Owens finished inside the top-10 in 22 of his 37 starts.
Owens garnered even more success after retiring from driving. After fielding cars for drivers Bobby Johns, Ralph Earnhardt, and Junior Johnson, Owens teamed with David Pearson, and in 1964 this team became a force to be reckoned with each week.

Pearson scored eight wins, 29 top-fives, and 42 top-tens along with earning 12 poles. Due to the 426-HEMI engine being banned from NASCAR for most of 1965, Owens and Pearson only competed in 14 races. In those 14 starts, the team picked up two wins and eight top five finishes.
1966 was a banner year for Owens and Pearson. Behind the success of a 15-win season, this duo scored their first NASCAR Championship. Pearson placed the Cotton Owens Enterprises Dodge inside the top five 26 times and won seven poles in 42 starts.
The duo went their separate ways in 1967, and Owens and his team continued to set records. Buddy Baker ran the first official 200mph lap recorded in a NASCAR vehicle at Talladega in speed runs. Baker also drove an Owens prepared Dodge Daytona to victory in the 1970 Southern 500. This win was the last for the famous ‘Winged Dodges.’

Several drivers competed in Cotton Owens prepared cars over the years including; David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, Ralph Earnhardt, Bobby Johns, Al Unser, Charlie Glotzbach, Pete Hamilton, Dick Brooks, Sam Posey, James Hylton, Sam McQuagg, Ray Hendrick, Darel Dieringer, Bobby Isaac, Mario Andretti, Larry Thomas, Billy Wade, Earl Balmer, GC Spenser, Jim Paschal, Fireball Roberts, Marvin Panch, and part-time driver and Country Music Legend Marty Robbins.
Cotton Owens is currently the only member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame to be inducted twice. First, Owens was honored for his accomplishments as a driver, and then for his accomplishments and innovations as a mechanic.

Along with being a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Owens was voted one of the 50 Greatest Drivers in NASCAR History in 1998. He is a member of the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame, and he has been awarded the Order of the Palmetto by the Governor of South Carolina.

NASCAR was made a stronger and safer sport by Cotton Owens. His cars made the competition work harder and his safety innovations have helped to save drivers from injuries. I am not sure what car is going to be on display for David Pearson beginning on May 23rd, but if it is the #6 Dodge that Pearson drove to the 1966 Championship, it would be nice to see Owens voted in with the Class of 2012, so that Dodge could spend some more time in the Room of Honor at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.