David Pearson’s Unbelievable Feat
by Tom Jensen May 24, 2021
When it came to qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway, no one put it all together like “The Silver Fox” did.
You don’t get inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame without accomplishing something remarkable during your career.
David Pearson (2011) certainly did plenty of remarkable things, winning three premier series championships between 1966 and ’69. Pearson earned 105 premier series race victories, second only to the 200 won by Richard Petty (2010). Pearson also ranks second to Petty for career poles, 113 to 123.
In terms of winning percentage, Pearson won 18.3 percent of his career starts to Petty’s 16.9 percent, and in the 63 races when the two stars finished 1-2, Pearson won 33 times.
There’s more to the story.
In his driving days, Pearson’s nickname was “The Silver Fox.” Throughout his prime years during the 1960s and 70s, race cars suffered mechanical attrition much more often than today. As a result, Pearson would usually hang back during the first half of races and then charge hard at the end. That’s where his nickname came from.
“Back in those days, the cars would fall out a lot more. And he’d wait until about halfway, when a lot of the cars had already fallen out,” said Hall of Famer Leonard Wood (2013), Pearson’s crew chief during his glory days with Wood Brothers Racing. “At the halfway mark, he’d start going to the front if he wasn’t already in front.”
At the halfway mark, he’d start going to the front if he wasn’t already in front.
— Leonard Wood
When Pearson and the Wood Brothers hooked up, it was magic from the start. Although the team never ran full-time, when they did show up they posted phenomenal numbers, with Pearson winning 46 times in 143 starts with the team from 1972-79.
Included in those numbers was one of the most famous NASCAR races of all time, the 1976 Daytona 500, which saw Pearson win after he and Petty crashed coming to the checkered flag. “David just eased up through the grass, didn’t spin his tires and came across the finish line,” said Wood.
Pearson had plenty of high-profile race victories, in addition to his three championships.
He also set a little-known record that, nearly half a century after the fact, is even more remarkable in hindsight: From Oct. 7, 1973 to Oct. 8, 1978, Pearson won 11 consecutive poles at Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.
All of those poles came behind the wheel of the iconic Wood Brothers No. 21 Mercury. Pearson captured five of the 11 poles in what is now the Coca-Cola 600 and claimed six in the fall race. Eleven consecutive poles is an incredible streak and it’s even more impressive when you consider that from May 28, 1972, to May 25, 1980, Pearson qualified on the front row at Charlotte for a total of 15 races in a row.
“He had such a great sense of how to get into a corner and how to get off,” Leonard Wood said of Pearson. “He’d go down and back off the throttle and just let the car float in the corner and take a set. And he’d pick the throttle up at the right place, where some people like to go down there wide open and jam on the brakes and get the car all out of shape, about to spin out.”
Together the Wood Brothers and Pearson were tough to beat.
“We had the most success with him, so our family’s going to say David Pearson is the best,” said team co-owner Eddie Wood. “If you go talk to Dale Inman (Petty’s cousin, former crew chief and 2012 Hall of Fame inductee), some of those guys, they’re going to say Richard Petty. But they’re probably going to say David Pearson second.”
“Right at the top,” adds Leonard. “We’ve had the best drivers in the world and he’s one of them, for sure.”