61 percent. Unless you’re talking about free throw percentage in basketball, 61 percent is pretty good. As a winning percentage in professional auto racing, it’s unheard of! What if I told you David Pearson had a season where he won 61 percent of the races he entered? It happened in 1973.
As we pause to remember the Silver Fox in the days following his passing this week, we dig a little deeper to understand his greatness as a racer. David Pearson was a distant second on the all-time Cup Series win list to Richard Petty 200 to 105. He was really nowhere near the top of the leaderboard in championships. Spartanburg, South Carolina’s own won three, but nowhere near the seven won by Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson’s seven. Jeff Gordon had four. It bears noting, however, Pearson only ran a full schedule a few times. He opted more the big money races, and those closer to home generally speaking. While you don’t see him topping the leaderboard in too many categories, there was one magical season where his greatness was on full display.
In 1973, David Pearson won 11 races. He entered 18. He won twice at Rockingham, twice at Atlanta, twice at Dover and he also picked off victories at Daytona in July, Talladega, Martinsville, Darlington, and Michigan- a track that was his personal playground in the mid-70s. In the first Rockingham race, he only gave up the lead for one lap- because of a pit stop. Not only do you have a nice list of wins, but they come at a variety of places. Because he didn’t run a full schedule, Benny Parson- who had just one win- won the Cup that year. It also bears noting that four DNFs among his final seven races didn’t help much either. I don’t think he really cared that much. Pearson was about winning races- and he did that- lots of times.
That’s true to David Pearson’s character. He just wanted to race, and he did so in his own way. He was the cool one. Legend has it that in his early days, Pearson kept a pack of cigarettes, a lighter and a pack of gum in his car. Drivers recount being passed by Pearson, looking every bit the part of a country boy on a Sunday drive.
It is also said they once hooked up equipment to the Silver Fox to read his blood pressure when he raced. The story goes that it was lower under racing conditions than it was normally. Think about that.
There’s plenty of other great stories about Pearson, but he just wasn’t one to tell them. Without question, the rivalry with Petty was the greatest of all time. The duo finish 1-2 63 times. The King won 33, the Silver Fox 31.
Please….fellow fan…..let’s not forget David Pearson. Short tracks, dirt tracks, superspeedways, intermediates, road courses- he could win them all. If ever there was a racer’s racer, it was David Pearson.