David Pearson’s Wild Rides
by Tom Jensen November 08, 2021
Known for his stints with the Wood Brothers, Holman-Moody Racing and Cotton Owens, David Pearson drove an eclectic assortment of race cars during his Hall of Fame career
When one thinks of NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2011 inductee David Pearson, three of his rides come immediately to mind: The iconic Mo. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Mercury Cyclones that he dominated with in the mid-1970s, his championship-winning No. 17 Holman-Moody Fords from 1968 and ’69, and the No.6 Cotton Owens Dodge he won his first title with in 1966.
But in a career that began in 1960 and continued until 1986, Pearson piloted some unusual vehicles. Here are a dozen well-known, lesser known and downright unknown cars that “The Silver Fox” raced.
In his premier series rookie season of 1960, David Pearson drove his own No. 67 Chevrolet to an 18th-place finish in the July 4th Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. For the season, Pearson competed in 22 of 44 races, posting three top-fives and ending the year 23rd in points.
Although he entered just 12 premier series races in 1962, Davis Pearson finished in the top 10 in both the Daytona 500 and the Firecracker 250, both times driving Ray Fox-owned Pontiacs. Despite his limited schedule, Pearson finished 10th in points on the season.
The 1966 NASCAR season was a huge one for David Pearson, as the Spartanburg, South Carolina, driver won his first of three premier series championships. Driving the No. 6 Dodge Charger for fellow Spartanburg resident Cotton Owens, Pearson won 15 races in 42 starts, posting 26 top-five and 33 top-10 finishes.
Despite winning the 1966 championship, David Pearson departed Cotton Owens’ team to join Holman-Moody Racing in the spring of 1967. At North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, Pearson qualified on the pole for the American 500 and finished second in the No. 17 Holman-Moody Racing Ford behind teammate Bobby Allison (2011)
In 1968, his first full season behind the wheel of the powerhouse No. 17 Holman-Moody Ford Torino, David Pearson won a career-high 16 races and his second premier series championship. Pearson’s 1968 Ford, which was meticulously restored by Ray Evernham, is on display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame exhibit, “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions.”
One of the most bizarre cars David Pearson every drove was this Pontiac GTO owned by Chris Vallo and prepared by Ray Nichels, who Vallo had hired with the promise that the owner would invest millions of dollars into the teams. Pearson drove the Pontiac muscle car in five races late in the 1971 season and failed to finish any of them because of a variety of engine issues. Nichels sued Vallo for $7 million for allegedly failing to pay for contracted services. In October 1975, Vallo pled guilty to 17 different federal crimes, including income tax and bank fraud, as well as firearms charges.
An historically oddity connecting David Pearson with another Spartanburg, racer and fellow NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2011 inductee: Bud Moore brought this Ford Torino to Daytona International Speedway for Pearson to drive in the 1972 Daytona 500 but withdrew the car before qualifying.
Believe it or not, David Pearson raced a Porsche 911 during Daytona Speedweeks in 1974 during the final race of the inaugural season of the International Race of Champions (IROC), a series that pitted drivers from different disciplines in identically prepared cars. Pearson finished fourth in the race, and for his career had one victory in 17 IROC starts.
In mid-1972, David Pearson joined forces with the Wood Brothers Racing, the team owned by Glen Wood (2012), with cars prepared by brother Leonard Wood (2013). From 1973 to ’78, Pearson won 43 races with the team, including the 1974 Firecracker 400 shown here.
No, this is not David Pearson in a Wood Brothers Racing Mercury. This is Pearson in the 1976 24 Hours of Daytona, driving a Ford Torino owned by Jack Bowsher. Pearson, his son Larry and Bowsher’s sons Gary and Jim shared driving duties in the race, finishing first in the Grand International class and coming home 16th overall.
In the 1979 Talladega 500, David Pearson filled in for an injured premier series rookie driver name Dale Earnhardt (2010) in the No. 2 Oldsmobile owned by Rod Osterlund. Pearson qualified second and finished second in the race behind Darrell Waltrip (2012).
In 1986, David Pearson ran the final two NASCAR premier series races of his career in this Chevrolet Monte Carlo sponsored by Chattanooga Chew. His last two races were the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he finished 36th, and a 10th-place finish in the Champion Spark Plug 400 at Michigan International Speedway.