Cotton Owens Makes Three of a Kind for Spartanburg

By Eric Boynton,

February 8, 2013


His health failing and having endured the disappointment of being overlooked for the initial three NASCAR Hall of Fame classes, Everett "Cotton" Owens received news of his induction only two weeks before dying from cancer in June.

"It was the last time he smiled and we take a lot of comfort in that," Owens' grandson Brandon Davis said. "I think he realized a life of fulfillment at that point."

The Union native and Spartanburg resident posthumously officially joined longtime friends and Spartanburg residents Bud Moore and David Pearson, both 2011 inductees, Friday as three of now 20 members in the hall of fame. The legendary Spartanburg trio has been reunited, at least in spirit, at a place where they were destined to end up together for major contributions to the world of racing.

"For my whole family it just means the world," Owens' granddaughter Cari Spanton said. "This is the culmination of everything he's done over his entire career and life. It's the icing on the cake and truly wraps up his career. Even though he's gone like some of the other pioneers and legends, they will always be remembered in the hall of fame."

Longtime peers, pals and frequent dining companions Moore and Pearson were in attendance Friday, with Pearson enjoying the honor of handling duties on stage with Owens' grandson Kyle Davis accepting on his behalf.

"It would've been good to have him here, but of course he did know about it before he passed away and I'm glad he got in and glad they picked me to put him in," Pearson said. "It seemed like it just tickled him when he got the news and I wish he could've gotten in before he did pass away."

Long after he'd retired from the sport as a legendary and innovative driver, owner, mechanic and crew chief, Owens remained close to Pearson and Moore, who were fixtures around Spartanburg and became regulars at several local restaurants.

Back in their prime the three could've just as easily become rivals and later gone their separate ways, but instead formed a lifetime bond.

"Those three and many others, including Rex White and Dick Brooks and so many other owners and drivers in Spartanburg, put it on the map," Brandon Davis said. "My grandfather's relationship with David and Bud … it's a blue-collar town and they are blue-collar folks and they're heroes of Spartanburg and sons of Spartanburg and so it's a big deal for our little city to be represented so well here in the big town of Charlotte."

Moore and Pearson not only lobbied tirelessly for their friend Cotton to be included in the hall of fame, but the trio also put an effort into the actual venue being housed in Spartanburg.

"Bud and David have just always continued to be great supporters of our entire family," Spanton said.

Owens took pride that when NASCAR selected its 50 greatest drivers in history back in 1998 not only was he one of them, but 13 others drove for him at some point.

"He will tell you to this day the greatest driver he ever saw was David Pearson," Brandon Davis said. "As humble as he was, the only driver he ever thought might have been better than Pearson was himself. (Owens) stats are not as robust compared to other members of this hall, but it's his body of work as an owner and driver that sets him apart."

Owens won nine times as a driver on the NASCAR premier series and 38 times as an owner. Owens, a pioneer in safety and engine work, teamed with driver Pearson to win the 1966 championship after finishing third in points in 1964, and 27 of Pearson's 105 NASCAR premier series victories came in an Owens' car.

"He did it all in racing," Pearson said. "When he first started he ran the big Hemi and had 150 horsepower more than anybody else at the time, so he had a good chance to win a lot of races and of course took advantage of it. We were more friends than me just being a driver for him and we stayed friends for a long time. I was his friend before I ever drove for him. I learned a lot from him."

Owens' nephew, Mike Wood, recalled the glory days of Spartanburg and how proud the family was of Cotton's achievements and those of his local brethren.

"I grew up around those guys and Spartanburg was the hub of the racing community in its heyday," Wood said. "It's so great that three of 20 members of this hall of fame come from my hometown of Spartanburg and that's something for all of us to be proud of.

"Anybody in town knew you could find those three at the Peach Blossom every day for lunch and it's a special bond between them they all had and it's really good that in their later life they all became the best of friends. They really became like brothers with a true spirit of family."