David Pearson, known as the Silver Fox, has passed away at the age of 83.
In a career that spanned 27 years, Pearson won three NASCAR premier series championships (1966, ’68, ’69) and a total of 105 races, second all-time to Richard Petty. The two were longtime rivals, and during his NASCAR Hall of Fame induction speech in 2011, Pearson said of Petty, “He’s probably the one that made me win as many as I did.
“I’d run hard because he made me run hard,” Pearson continued. “Sometimes he’d make a mistake, and I’d pass him. Of course, I didn’t ever make no mistakes. Always accused him of having big engines when he passed me. … I had more fun running with him than anybody I ever run with.”
That same night, Petty responded, “I’m not going to tell you that David Pearson was the best driver in NASCAR. But I am going to tell you that he’s the best driver I ever raced against.”
In a statement Monday, Petty offered high praise for his rival, friend and his “toughest competitor.”
“I have always been asked who my toughest competitor was. The answer has always been David Pearson. David and I raced together throughout our careers and battled each other for wins – most of the time finishing first or second to each other. It wasn’t a rivalry, but more mutual respect. David is a Hall of Fame driver who made me better. He pushed me just as much as I pushed him on the track. We both became better for it.
“We have always been close to the Pearson family because they were in the racing business, just like us. We stayed close, and I enjoyed visits to see David when going through South Carolina. We will miss those trips. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Pearson family and friends.”
In his career, Pearson competed in 574 races — starting with the 1960 Daytona 500 — but did not run a single full season. The 1973 season was one of the most remarkable in Pearson’s career as he ran just 18 races, winning 11 of them.
Between 1972 and 1979, Pearson and the Wood Brothers – 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 retired from racing in 1989. He was the top vote-getter in the 2011 Hall of Fame class, which was only the second class to be inducted. Leonard Wood inducted Pearson and called him “the greatest driver in the history of NASCAR.”
The “Silver Fox” nickname came from his ability to always be around at the end of a race – as well as his gray hair.
“He was the craftiest of all the drivers,” the late Buddy Baker once said.
Condolences flooded in Monday night.
“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,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement. “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.”
“I am so sad to hear about the passing of my hero and the guy I consider the greatest stock car driver of all time,” Darrell Waltrip said in a statement. “There was no one like the Silver Fox. RIP, my dear old friend.”
“Unbelievably sad day today after hearing of the passing of (one of) the absolute greatest NASCAR drivers,” Wood Brothers Racing wrote on Twitter. “We wouldn’t be here today without him and we’re thinking of the entire David Pearson family tonight.”
“David Pearson was one of the all time greats,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “Anyone who raced him will tell you he was the best. The Silver Fox lived up to his persona on and off the track. What a badass.”
“Darlington Raceway expresses its deepest condolences and sympathies to the family and friends of David Pearson,” said track president Kerry Tharp in a statement. “His record 10 wins at Darlington Raceway put him in a league of his own. His fierce competitiveness and passion for the sport endeared him to the NASCAR faithful. His Hall of Fame career will go down as one of the most prolific in the history of the sport.
“A native South Carolinian, he was a wonderful ambassador for our sport and for the Palmetto State. He will be missed and will always be remembered.”