BY KEITH WALTZ
Forced to park his own race car due to financial difficulties, David Pearson, a 26-year-old driver from Spartanburg, South Carolina, picked up a last-minute ride and shocked the racing world by winning the second running of the World 600 on May 28, 1961, at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It was the first NASCAR Cup Series victory for the tour’s 1960 rookie of the year – and it came in dramatic fashion.
Driving the No. 3 Pontiac entered by John Masoni and prepared by Ray Fox, Pearson had a commanding lead when he blew a tire with two laps remaining in the 600-mile endurance contest. Pearson completed the race on three tires and crossed the finish line in a shower of sparks.
The driver who became known as the “Silver Fox” started third in the 55-car field and led 225 of the 400 laps, including the final 129 trips around the 1.5-mile superspeedway. He took the lead for the final time on lap 272 and, despite the late-race drama, was more than two laps ahead of Fireball Roberts when the checkered flag waved.
The lead changed hands 17 times among seven different drivers and there were seven caution flags for 57 laps. Pearson completed the race in 5 hours, 22 minutes and 29 seconds at an average speed of 111.633 mph.
As it turned out, his 1961 World 600 triumph was a preview of things to come as Pearson visited Victory Lane 105 times during a storied 28-year NASCAR Cup Series career. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011.
Pearson died on Nov. 12, 2018, at the age of 83.