Cotton Owens – A competitor, a pioneer and a friend by Buz McKim
On Thursday June 7, 2012 a legend in the sport of auto racing left this earth. Everett “Cotton” Owens, age 88, passed away. He was a born competitor, a friend and an eyewitness to much of stock car racing’s history. To say that Owens was a pioneer would be an understatement. His racing career began just after World War II and before the formation of NASCAR. Nearly all the speedways of the day had dirt surfaces and Owens caught on quickly to the fast way around the track. His patented broadsliding wowed the fans and brought many wins. He gained the nickname “King of the Modifieds”, a moniker gained for his large number of victories in the popular pre-war coupes. One of his greatest achievements was winning the 1953 modified-sportsman race on Daytona Beach which featured 136 cars, the biggest field in history. “Ol’ Cotton whooped ‘em all,” his childhood friend and NASCAR competitor Bud Moore once said.
Owens soon got involved in a new type of racing known as “Strictly Stock” featuring modern passenger cars. Among his nine victories was his 1957 win on Daytona Beach which was the first time a Pontiac won a NASCAR premier series event. Owens nearly won the 1959 NASCAR championship, finishing second to Lee Petty. In the early 1960s, Owens became a full-time car owner. He teamed up with fellow Spartanburg resident David Pearson and together they garnered 27 victories and the 1966 NASCAR title. Owens picked up 38 wins as an owner with the major races of the sport being included in that number. He also supplied and maintained cars for drivers, including country-music legend Marty Robbins.
In 1998, Cotton Owens was named one the “50 Greatest Drivers of NASCAR,” and this past May he was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 2013 Class of Inductees. Although he found fame in the sport he loved, Owens never lost his down-home, small-town values and demeanor. He always was ready to help anyone at any time regardless of whether the person in need was a friend, rival or stranger. There only was one Cotton Owens. And he will be missed terribly.