David Pearson would have been great in any era of NASCAR racing, because great drivers have the sixth sense ability to discover and resolve a vehicle and a track's limits, much quicker than most. "The answer has always been David Pearson", Petty said Monday night in a statement.
Pearson won 43 races for the Wood Brothers from 1972-79 and was involved in one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR history when he and Petty were battling for the win on the final corner of the 1976 Daytona 500.
In a career that spanned 27 years, Pearson never once ran every single race in a given season. Pearson touched on the storied rivalry during his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011. His career paralleled Petty's and the two combined for 63 finishes in which the two were first and second to each other. He finished third that year behind Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough - but raced only 19 of 30 races.
Wood Brothers team owner Glen Wood and his former championship driver David Pearson share a laugh in the garage area at Darlington raceway, the site of many of their wins. Pearson also won three championships - in 1966, 1968, and 1969 - compared with rival Petty's seven.
Other Pearson career feats include 11-consecutive poles at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Through their intense and epic battles, they maintained huge respect for one another during their driver days and beyond.
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"It wasn't a rivalry, but more mutual respect. We both became better for it", he added. Pearson was the second-winningest driver in NASCAR history and helped take the sport to a national level. It's a safe bet that Pearson would be more than a three-time champion had he competed full-time for more seasons.
"Pearson could beat you on a short track, he could beat you on a superspeedway", Petty told Ed Hinton in 2009, "he could beat you on a road course, he could beat you on a dirt track".
A panel of 40 longtime experts in the sport voted Pearson, in 1999, as Sports Illustrated's NASCAR Driver of the Century. We were lucky to be able to call him one of our champions.
Ford driver Brad Keselowski tweeted, "I'd have to say if their [sic] was one driver who inspired me the most on the race track it was you". However, Pearson's wins came in 574 starts, less than half of Petty's 1,184. He became the youngest victor of the Daytona 500 and gave the Wood ownership its first Daytona victory since the Silver Fox, Bayne's newly found mentor, outlasted Richard Petty, Nascar's "King", 35 winters before.
Pearson last raced in the Cup series in 1986 but didn't officially retire until 1989, when recurrent back problems forced the issue.