Known as the “Silver Fox” for his slyness on the race track, Pearson would end up going head-to-head against “The King” Petty on February 15, 1976, making for an intense installment of the Great American Race that no one would ever forget.
1976 Daytona 500
It was a wreck involving Johnny Ray and Skip Manning on lap 112 (which unfortunately ended Ray’s racing career) that would serve as the precursor to the final-lap drama that was to follow. As soon as that green flag was back out, history was in the making.
While A.J. Foyt held the distinction with most laps led at 66, Pearson (who was a driver for Wood Brothers Racing at the time) and Petty were two laps ahead of anyone else when they came down the stretch.
With Petty ahead of Pearson by a nose, the Silver Fox pulled some last-lap trickery by passing the King on the backstretch. Driving the No. 43 Dodge for Petty Enterprises, Petty tried to return the favor, but instead of completely clearing Pearson’s car, the two made contact, and eventually ended up on the infield grass.
They were only yards aways from the finish line.
Pearson was somehow able to get his car to restart and slug across the finish line at only 30 MPH, while his ride was hardly in racing condition.
“For a minute, I thought I was going to become the first driver to win the Dayton 500 backwards,” said Pearson immediately following the race.
Rounding out the top 15 was Benny Parsons, Lennie Pond, Neil Bonnett, Terry Ryan, J.D. McDuffie, Terry Bivins, Richard Childress, Frank Warren, Buddy Arrington, Salt Walther, Ed Negre, Joe Frasson, and Jackie Rogers, respectively.
Ten of the top 15 cars were Chevrolets. Only two Fords were on the track that day: Buddy Baker’s No. 15 finished 33rd and Dick Brooks’ No. 90 finished 41st.
But, the only car on the track that mattered that fateful day at Daytona International Speedway was David Pearson’s No. 21 Mercury. What an incredible NASCAR moment!
This post was originally published on November 13, 2018.