News & Media

Caraviello: Thankfully, Pearson remains the same

January 27, 2011, David Caraviello,

CONCORD, N.C. -- Eddie Wood called David Pearson about a month ago asking him to come to Charlotte for a day, and of course the great old race car driver gave him the runaround for 10 minutes about how he was busy and had other things to do. When Pearson finally relented and came over from his home in Spartanburg, S.C., Wood drove him to a media event not at the Wood Brothers race shop, but a hangar owned by Jack Roush at the Concord Regional Airport.

"He cussed me all the way from our shop to here," Wood said Thursday during the NASCAR preseason media tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. "'You lied to me! You lied to me!' I said, 'No, I didn't. I didn't tell you everything.'"

"I'm sure that it's hurt me, because a lot of times I say things that I shouldn't. But why shouldn't I, if I believe that? Say it. "


What Wood didn't tell Pearson was that Wood Brothers Racing was using the occasion to unveil a 2011 paint scheme that pays homage to the Silver Fox's glory days with the storied organization, a run of success in the 1970s that produced 46 race wins (but no championships, since the Woods ran a limited schedule). It's not an exact replica -- Pearson's vehicle back then didn't have a red hood -- but it's close enough, right down to the colors, the sponsor, and the gold No. 21 that sparkles from the beneath the window opening.

"I could sit there and look at it all day," Wood said. Pearson, no doubt, thinks he can win in it. That objective will instead fall to Trevor Bayne, a 19-year-old member of the affiliated Roush Fenway organization, who will make 17 starts for the Woods in addition to his regular Nationwide duties. But the heart and soul of that car remains Pearson, who even at 76 can steal attention away from a room full of Sprint Cup drivers, and let loose with unfiltered opinions that can smack you upside the head. He has no handlers, no public relations team, nobody to shut down the conversation if it gets a little frank. Ask him about anything -- say, the recent struggles of star Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- and stand back.

"If I was him and had as much money as he had, I'd retire," Pearson said Thursday. "He don't need to be running. Of course, he's done good and everything, and he's made a good living out of it. He's got plenty of money. There ain't no need to keep it going. In fact, I told his dad that before he got killed. He said he had too many toys. Them toys don't mean really that much. Of course, I've had airplanes, helicopters, and everything else. Of course, I ain't got none of it now, because I can't write it off. No need to have it if you can't write it off."

That's not him being mean, that's not him trying to stir the pot, that's not him trying to cut anybody down. That's just Pearson, a man who won 105 races and thinks he could still win a few more, who retains the confidence of a three-time championship driver, who was successful before the really big money came into NASCAR and still knows the value of a dollar. He lives a quiet life in his hometown and has absolutely no pretentions. He once showed up at Darlington Raceway wearing a T-shirt with the face of TV junkman Fred Sanford on the front.

And his bluntness? It's always been there. Spartanburg was a tough mill town, and NASCAR was a tough man's calling back in his day. Those are not factors that breed a delicate constitution.

"He will tell you what he thinks and how it should be, and there's nothing wrong with that," said Wood, who co-owns the race team his father Glen and uncle Leonard founded. "I think we may need a little more of that nowadays. He's been perfect for us. He fits our family. He fits the way we raced. He's low-key. You won't see him out there doing a lot of commercials and things like that, because that's not him. David is just very low-key, and wants to be with his family."

These days, Pearson gets up early; Thursday, he said he was at Spartanburg's YMCA before 6 a.m. He goes to the post office to check his mail, answering most of it on Sunday, "because then I ain't doing nothing," he said. He checks in on friends, maybe shares some coffee. He follows the same routine about five days a week. He doesn't watch as much NASCAR on television as he used to -- the Woods have run only a partial schedule the past two years, and Pearson said the events don't seem the same without his old team on the race track. Of course, he has some other issues, too.

"I don't like [any] rules," he said. "Of course, [former NASCAR vice president Jim] Hunter always told me I didn't like them to start with. It's different right now, it is."

He's aware of the downturn in ticket sales that afflicted the sport last season. "I guess that they out-priced themselves, or something," said Pearson, whose three championships came with Cotton Owens (in 1966) and Holman-Moody (in 1968 and '69). "A poor man can't hardly take his family to a race now, it costs too much. And they're the ones who got it started. I do know that they have lowered the price at times. I'm sure that's the only thing that's going to help get the crowd back."

The Wood Brothers are used to it. "He's the same right now as he was when he was driving our race car," said Eddie Wood, who along with brother Len took the reins of the family business in 1985. "He's just David. He probably is the best race car driver of all time. Look at him over there, he's just normal. I rode over here with him, and we talked about things that happened back in the '70s and stuff like that. We talk every now and then. He and Leonard are still best friends, and they were the pair. What they did was really phenomenal."

Recapturing those glory days has proven difficult for an organization that last won in 2001. Hampered by the top 35 rule, the Woods failed to make six races in 2008, including the Daytona 500. At the suggestion of Edsel Ford II, a member of Ford Motor Company's board of directors, the Woods scaled down to a limited schedule the next season, and continued that practice in 2010. The move helped the team regain some its footing, to the point where it's expanding its schedule by four races this year.

"It really helped us," Eddie Wood said. "Because what we did was, we looked at the race tracks, and we picked out the races we thought we could run well at, and we fixed the schedule so we could race every two or three weeks. This year, we're racing a little more. Don't get me wrong -- we're chasing money every day. If we can find enough funding to run more races, we will. We're set up to do that. In our world right now, it's all good."

It's all good for Pearson, too, whose old paint scheme will take to the race track in the same season when he's enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Did his brusque style ever hurt him in his career? Maybe so, he surmises. But in true Pearson style, he has no regrets.

"I'm sure that it's hurt me, because a lot of times I say things that I shouldn't," he said. "But why shouldn't I, if I believe that? Say it."

And if he were a driver in today's NASCAR, with that army of handlers and managers and sponsor reps trying to ensure he doesn't cross the line? "I couldn't do it," he said. "They'd probably throw me out."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.