Cotton Owens Selected for National Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame
By Gene Granger
Herald-Journal Sports Writer
August 30, 1970
"He's never told a lie to anyone. He's honest and has never cheated. He believes in church and doing the right thing."
The description is of Everett "Cotton" Owens, a pioneer in stock car racing and one of the giants in the garage area today at every major event.
The individual who speaks so highly of Owens knows him better than anyone - Mrs. Dollie (Dot) Moore Owens, Cotton's wife and companion for almost 25 years.
Owens, who as a driver, mechanic and car owner has put a quarter of a century into the sport, has been voted into the National Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame at Darlington Raceway by members of the National Motorsports Press Association.
The announcement was made Saturday by Frank Vehorn, president of the NMPA, who said Owens would be inducted into the shrine of stock car racing next Saturday night in ceremonies at the Country Club of South Carolina at Florence.
Owens is recognized as racing's "Mr. Nice Guy." Despite a 5-foot-4, 155-pound frame, Cotton stands tall among his colleagues and is regarded as one of the sport's most knowledgeable men.
His road to becoming the 13th member of the Hall of Fame is one marked with many successes. He also has known many setbacks. And once he nearly lost his life driving a stock car.
The 46-year-old dynamo from Spartanburg has no idea how many races he won in a stock car. Although he has had little success in building winners in super speedway races, he has had more than his share of Owens-engineered champions on the South's short tracks.
He is credited with getting another of Spartanburg's favorite sons, David Pearson, started toward stardom. Under Owens' tutelage, Pearson won 15 races and his first of three NASCAR Grand National championships in 1966. He also was the first man to put Chargin' Charlie Glotzbach in victory lane. Glotzbach won the 1968 National 500 at Charlotte.
Life began for Everett Owens on May 21, 1924, at Union. In 1926 he came to Spartanburg to stay. The Owenses have resided at 7065 White Ave. for the past 21 years.
As a skinny, white-haired boy he had dreams of becoming a race driver. He climbed trees outside the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds here to watch the jalopy races. "I once quit my job to see a race at the Fairgrounds," he said.
World War II interrupted his plans. He served three years with the U.S. Navy, returning to Spartanburg in 1946. Upon his return he accepted a job with a wrecker company. Shortly thereafter he got his first break.
"Four or five of us built a Ford. Bud Moore was one of them. We didn't have any idea who would drive it. Three or four of the guys tried to drive it. They then wanted to get a professional driver. I told them nothing doing…not until I had a shot at it," Owens recalled.
Owens got his chance later in 1946 at Hendersonville, N.C. He won the pole and finished second. His "partners" agreed that Owens was the man for the job. That was only the beginning. Much hard work and frustrations awaited him.
"When we first started," said Dot Owens, who became Cotton's wife on Jan. 26, 1946, "we didn't stay at motels as we do today. We drove to and from every race track, running as many as four and five races a week. And we didn't eat in many restaurants. We sure ate a lot of crackers and drank a lot of Cokes though."
Driving machines he built, Owens became known as "Kind of the Modifieds." He won every championship race in sight, including the U.S. modified championship race three times and the modified-sportsman feature on the old beach and road course at Daytona Beach, Fla., twice.
Campaigning in a souped-up Dodge in 1950, Owens won 54 main events on tracks throughout the South. He put together a string of 24 consecutive wins twice. "I must have won nine-tenths of all the races I entered that year," Owens said.
The affable Owens wrote his name into the record book at Darlington in 1960. He set a track record in a 1960 Pontiac and became only the second driver to receive a white coat as a member of the exclusive Darliington-Union Oil Club. "For several years only (the late) Fireball Roberts and I wore white coats," he said proudly.
Owens almost didn't make it back to Darlington. After his banner season in 1950, Cotton looked for even brighter things in 1951. He got off to a good start by winning the Gulf Coast championship
. Then a near-fatal wreck put him out of action for three months.
The accident occurred at Charlotte, N.C. He had started in the rear of the field and in seven laps had taken the lead. But he came up on a wrecked car in the turn which was blocking the track. It was either hit the car or take a chance on hitting some spectators who had rushed toward the scene. He smashed into the wreckage, suffering a badly crushed cheekbone and an eye injury.
While lying in the hospital for 15 days, not knowing whether he would regain use of the injured eye, Owens planned his future. He would concentrate on the mechanical end of the sport if he could not longer drive. Three months later he was back on the race track, running as hard as ever.
He went from modified racing to late-model competition. He didn't make a serious bid in a new stock car until 1957 when he accepted a ride in a new Pontiac in the Daytona Beach Speed Weeks Classic, a 160-mile race over sand and asphalt. He won easily, averaging a record 101.60 miles an hour.
Two years later he helped open the new 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway with a world record qualifying speed of 143 miles an hour in a 1958 Pontiac
. It was then that Owens decided he would give up the driving on the big tracks and concentrate on the mechanical end of the sport. But his retirement as a driver was still a few years away.
The following year, 1960, he averaged 149.6 m.p.h. to win a nationally televised pole-position race for the second annual Daytona 500. He was second to Fireball Roberts in the first Atlanta race - the Dixie 300 - and built the Pontiac Bobby Johns drove to victory in the Atlanta 500 later in 1960.
The mechanical wizard retired as a driver with nine Grand National wins in 1962. In December of 1962, Owens opened his new garage on Glenn Road. Until then he had worried in the backyard of his home on White Ave. His two-story house, which was remodeled in 1964, and garage are back to back, with a fenced off area housing four German Shepherd watchdogs connecting the two.
He became a member of the Dodge factory team in 1963 and has been with that manufacturer since. His first driver was David Pearson, who drove No. 6 Dodges until early in 1967. The famous team parted and it was a year later before Cotton Owens Enterprises found the "right" driver.
Charlie Glotzbach signed on with Owens and in October of 1968 the team won the National 500. Glotzbach lost the 1969 Daytona 500 by a mere hundredth of a second.
After the Atlanta 500 of March 1969, Glotzbach "retired" from Grand National racing.
Owens then selected rugged Buddy Baker
of Charlotte to pilot the factory-backed car, and he's been in the driver's seat since.
Owens feels safety has improved more than any other single thing in stock car racing. Much of this can be attributed directly to Cotton, who, if he had to make a choice, would sacrifice an edge in speed for more safety.
He was the first man, for instance, to install a heavy row of protective bars between the driver's door on the automobile and the driver's seat.
The whole Owens family is involved in racing. Dot scores and their daughter, Deborah, 18, usually goes with her. A 1970 graduate of Dorman high school, Deborah will attend Spartanburg Junior College this fall.
Their son, Don, 23, is a member of the pit crew. He and Sara Joan Matthews, daughter of Banjo Matthews, were married Saturday at the Owenses' home.
"This is an honor we can all appreciate," Dot Owens said of Cotton's induction into the National Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame. "We came up the hard way."