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Thoughts on the passing of an auto racing legend

I was pleased that the Hall of fame nominating committee chose four of the early pioneers of the sport for the upcoming class to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The early stars of the sport were of the World War II generation. A lot of them have already passed from the scene. 

This year the committee chose drivers Herb Thomas and Buck Baker, Crew Chief Leonard Wood, and team owner Cotton Owens who were at their peak during the sport’s early years.

Rusty Wallace was the lone representative from the so-called modern era. Baker and Thomas will be inducted posthumously, as both passed several years ago. Sadly, Cotton Owens also did not live to enjoy his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. He passed away last Thursday.

Everett “Cotton” Owens, passed away in his Spartanburg, S.C., home, June 7, at the age of 88.

Born May 21, 1924 in Union, S.C., Owens combined three unique skill sets – that of driver, mechanic and owner – and turned them into a NASCAR Hall of Fame career. Owens won nine times as a driver in NASCAR’s premier series competition, including the 1957 Daytona Beach road course which marked Pontiac’s first NASCAR victory. He nearly won the 1959 championship, finishing second to NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty. 

But as an owner, Owens stood out as one of the greats of NASCAR’s early years. His eye for talent was among the best. He hired NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson to drive in 1962, the same season in which he began a future championship relationship with another NASCAR Hall of Famer, David Pearson. 

Twenty-seven of Pearson’s 105 NASCAR premier series victories were recorded in Owens’ car. The pair teamed to win the 1966 championship. In 1998 Owens was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers. 

He was elected to the 2013 Class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame on May 23, and will be inducted on Feb. 8, 2013. 

Statement from NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France: “NASCAR has lost one of its true pioneers, with the passing of Cotton Owens. On behalf of the France Family and everyone at NASCAR, I offer heartfelt condolences to Cotton’s family and friends.

“This is a sad day for the NASCAR industry, but we are all consoled by the fact that Cotton was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame before his death. Today we have lost a portion of our past. But people like Cotton Owens are the reason our sport thrives today - and can look forward to a promising future.”

Statement from Winston Kelley, executive director, NASCAR Hall of Fame: “We lost one of NASCAR’s greats today. Our hearts go out to Cotton’s family, and we hope they find strength in the memories of his remarkable life and career. That career was topped off just a few weeks ago with his selection for the Class of 2013. In speaking to his grandson, Brandon Davis, he reiterated how much being an Inductee meant to Cotton and how much it lifted his spirit.

“I vividly remember when I first started following NASCAR in the early to mid-60’s, watching his white and red No. 6 Dodge run up front with David Pearson and later Buddy Baker. I was just a child, but I still remember his car being a contender all the time. It was one of the ones to beat. 

“In more recent years I remember how supportive he was of our initiatives. NASCAR recognized his knowledge and insights by inviting him to be an original member of our Voting Panel. You could always count on Cotton to be here for Voting Day and other hall events. He will be dearly missed.” 

Statement from Buz McKim, historian NASCAR Hall of Fame: “Cotton Owens was one of the first heroes of NASCAR. He was exciting to watch, as he thrilled early-day fans with his patented broadsliding on dirt tracks. Not only a gifted driver, he was a fine mechanic and was a championship car owner. He also mentored many drivers, among them David Pearson. Another chapter of history closes today as the racing world has lost a great friend and pioneer, Everett “Cotton” Owens.”

You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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