In loving memory of our "Papa"

Everett "Cotton" Owens

05.21.24 - 06.07.12

Pioneer. Leader. Winner. Champion. Mentor. Hero. Legend. Friend. Father.

by Ryan Owens

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'.
- Erma Bombeck

There can be no doubt that God is smiling proudly upon Cotton right now, nodding in affirmation that indeed he did give everything he had within him.

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"The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it."
- William James

Can you know a man by his creations? I believe that you can.

Among my most cherished memories is my time spent behind the wheel driving for my grandfather and carrying on the family racing tradition. It was on the track and watching him at work where I grew to know my grandfather in ways that I had never known before. I came to understand the man and the love for a machine that he poured his heart and soul into.

Cotton was nothing short of an Artist. A true mechanical wizard who, like any great Artist, was completely self-taught and rightly proud of that fact.

Whether behind the wheel or under the hood, Cotton Owens was a wonder to watch. His Passion equaled his Energy, and that made for a powerful combination that may never be seen again. If the Grinch's heart was 10 sizes too small, Cotton's heart was 10 sizes too big.

Anyone who had the pleasure of driving a Cotton Owens prepared car could know that he was driving the best equipment that could be made. And it was made by two of the strongest hands you've ever seen. "The arm they put on the sodabox," he used to say to us when we were kids.

His cars were the safest. The most reliable. The best handling. The best looking. And usually the fastest. If they weren't, it was probably your fault.

Whenever we would win a race, and were outrunning the other guys who were either cheating, spending a boatload of money -- or both -- and they would protest us afterwards. Completely tear down our motor and walk away $300 poorer and shaking their heads in disgust, wondering how we could possibly be outrunning them. Because we were always legal. And they hardly ever were.

We were taught by the best to always race fair. To always take care of your equipment. Drive it like you stole it.

When you arrived at the race track with a Cotton Owens car, you could be sure that you were the car to beat. If you were driving - it was all up to you. You never had to worry about the car. He was so confident in them, as we three grandsons can attest, he didn't even put a full set of gauges in them. Just get in and drive. Cotton always took care of the rest.

You could feel his passion in every thing he did. His regard for you and your safety was more important than anything to him.

I never had the chance to see Cotton in his prime as a driver. His Legend was already secure before my time. Through the eyes of a grandson I simply saw a man, our "Papa," who always did things for others.

That was frustrating sometimes when we were racing, because that meant that whatever he did for me, he did for Brandon and Kyle too. So usually your biggest competition was on the trailer with your car and riding to the track with you. I don't think I've ever seen him prouder than when we finished First, Second and Third. The pictures from those days will show you that he was always in the background, never one to take any of the credit. Racing brought us closer together as a family and taught us to cherish the time we spend with each other.

Only by standing on his shoulders could we ever have reached the success that we did. He turned all of us into Winners.

If you read some of the comments from friends and family and folks he has known over the course of his life, one thing that keeps coming up is how good he was to everyone he knew. He took care of his family and both Cotton and Dot treated everyone like family.

One thing our family can all remember is that we all always had cars to drive, Dodge of course, and a top-flight mechanic on call who could always take care of them. He really did have an awesome set of tools, and he could fix anything. More than a few of us here were probably pulled out of a ditch somewhere or rescued by Cotton and his skid truck.

They were the most generous, giving people you will ever meet. It was a rare occasion if you ate with Cotton or Dot when you had to pay. Money was never important to Cotton or Dot. Although they never wanted or lacked for anything, their riches were measured by the breadth of their friendships and the people they knew and loved. Everyone was a friend. And everyone was loved.

What a role model they both are. We are all truly blessed and richer for having known them and getting to spend time with them.

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Be a Driver. Drivers make things happen. Cotton was a man of action.

Be a Leader. Never follow. Life is too short to live for someone else or trying to be something you're not.

Run your own race. Follow your own path.

Always be Humble. No matter how far in life you go, never forget where you came from.

Be an Individual. Be yourself. Don't let fame or fortune or anything ever change you. You are already perfect, just as God made you.

If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Do great work. Be honest and hard working. Put your Heart into everything you do.

The only way to really learn something, is by doing.

It's not someone else's job to teach you anything; It's your job to learn it for yourself.

Keep it Real. In this modern age of celebrity, and "bling" and pretense and attention-seekers… Cotton Owens always kept it real.

Be Independent. Make your own way in life using nothing but your head, your hands, and your wit. Cotton loved to tell the story of how he went one day in the 9th grade. He was truly a self-made man.

Honor your parents. Love and cherish those that came before you, and those that come after. Pay tribute to them and to God by dedicating yourself to being the best that you can be in everything that you do.

Chocolate really is one of life's great pleasures.

Lunch is at 12 o'clock noon. Dinner is at 6 o'clock sharp. No exceptions.

There is no such thing as Blue Collar or White Collar. There is only people.

Be unwavering in your Loyalty. There never was a man more Loyal than Cotton Owens.

Nothing is more important than Faith, Family, and Friends.

Be a Good Guy. Nice guys really do finish first. In the rough and tumble business of auto racing, where not everybody is your friend, Cotton showed us all how to not only Win but to win with class and with integrity. Good always wins over Bad.

Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. No matter where or what you come from, we are all God's children and His greatness lives within all of us. We glorify God by making the most of our one life that we have been blessed with by living our life to its fullest; breathing in and enjoying each moment -- making every lap count.

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"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile"
- Albert Einstein

We must not feel sorrow over the fact that Cotton won't be here to celebrate his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

For what could be a more fitting end, then to face the checkered flag of your life and know that you have finally reached the pinnacle of your life here on earth and have left nothing more to give, because you have given everything you had within. Your tank has run dry. But you've already won the Ultimate Race.

When I think of the tremendous hole that will be left on February 8, 2013, I can't help but think of how this can only be yet another blessing.

And yet like most of God's blessings, they are not always immediately obvious to us or their mysteries easily explained or even understood.

A blessing that remains yet to be fully revealed, because today it is only a seed that has been planted within each and every one of us who knew Cotton Owens, and his wife Dot, who as we can all now surely attest, was very much a part of him too.

Rather, I think it is really the way that Cotton would have wanted. Now I know he would have wanted Dot to be there with him to acknowledge and remember all that they had achieved together in their great lives.

But Cotton was never one to seek the spotlight, or revel in his celebrity. Anyone who knew him knows him to be the most humble man they had ever met. Words ascribed to him by our very own Governor of this state when presenting Cotton with the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest honor.

He was not a man for many words. Nor for acceptance speeches. Like NASCAR President Mike Helton said, like the other fellow Hall of Famers from Spartanburg, Cotton Owens let his actions speak for him.

Cotton was world-famous - but he never sought fame. In fact, he mostly preferred to be out of the spotlight. He was at his best when he put those he knew on a pedestal.

So it is fitting that a man of such great character, so humble, so modest, yet so larger-than-life in everything he did, it is perhaps fitting that it is God's will to use the life of Cotton Owens as an example to us all.

Perhaps, through Cotton's absence from the grand stage that awaits him next February, just maybe that tremendous void will shine a light that is brighter than any star and bigger than any one man.

May it force all those who knew Cotton or knew of his Legend to stop and pause for a minute.

Let this hole.. his tremendous absence that will most certainly be felt.. may it serve as a reminder to us all.

To learn from Cotton's example and to always remember what is important in life:

God. Family. Friends. Country. Honesty. Integrity. Hard Work. Love. Passion. Courage. Loyalty. Humility.

Let Cotton's legacy be that our goal in life must never be to seek fame, or fortune, or shortcuts to greener pastures or false happiness.

A real Hero lives to serve others.

To serve a purpose bigger than oneself.

Through hard work, determination, and an unending spirit to never give in and to never give up - Cotton Owens showed us all what it means to make the most of every fiber that we are made of.

Live life to the fullest. Make every lap count.

One man can make a difference.

At every turn, Cotton put everyone else first. But in doing so, he himself became the Ultimate winner.

So in that way, Cotton Owens will leave behind a legacy that will live on within each of us forever. His legacy for posterity will keep alive the true meaning of what it means to be a success, not just in racing, but in the race of Life. The most precious of God's gifts.

For his success as a man must not be measured by merely his feats on the race track. For those are all well known and stand on their own, for all to see.

With his memory kept alive we are given hope for the eternal spirit of Jesus Christ that dwells within each of us. May we follow his example to live a life well lived and to follow in the footsteps of a Hero and a Legend. To honor God and all those that have come before us or ever after, to leave behind a legacy of Selfless Giving and Love that is larger than life and lives eternally in the hearts and minds of mankind.

Godspeed Cotton Owens, you will never be forgotten.

“A man travels the world in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”.
- George Moore