14INDY1rl4793If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the one Amy Swindell recently posted on her Facebook page cannot be calculated.

It showed her son, Kevin, getting ready to walk again only 10 months after being paralyzed in a sprint car crash in Knoxville, Iowa.

"Better than any Victory Lane photo I've got," said the wife of sprint car legend Sammy Swindell.

swindellSteadied by therapists Cassidy and Derrick at Frazier Rehab Institute (left), young Swindell was standing with the aid of walking canes and about to embark on an achievement that made winning four straight Chili Bowls look pedestrian.

"We walked 370 feet without a break today," he revealed to RACER on Thursday evening. "I never would have thought that walking the length of a football field in 15 minutes would be so hard.

"But it's so nice to be standing up again. I got so use to looking at things from such a low point of view that it felt like I was 7 feet tall."

It looked plenty bleak on Aug. 13, 2015, when his car slammed down on the frame rails after a flip during a heat race at the Knoxville Nationals.

One of the best all-around racers in the country broke the L1 and T7 vertebrae in his back. The damage was so bad to his L1 that doctors removed a rib and used it to build a new vertebra during a pair of eight-hour surgeries at Des Moines Mercy Hospital.

"They told me after the first surgery that I was paralyzed from the belly button down and I'd never have feelings again and probably never walk again," Swindell said from his apartment in Louisville, just a few minutes away from the Frazier Rehab Institute where he's been since September.

"So considering my prognosis, I think we're making good progress."

Amazing is more like it. Thanks to his youth, physical condition, fiancée Jordan Armstrong, friends, family, the therapists in Louisville and some of that good 'ol Swindell spunk, the 26-year-old second-generation racing star is beating the odds.

"I think it helped that I was in pretty good shape and had some good doctors in Iowa so when I got here they handled me a little different," he continued. "I got more treatment earlier and we just kept plugging away.

"I got a little more hope with each movement."

Even though his age and condition was a big assist, the inactivity still took its toll, and he was noticeably frail during our visit last October.

"Things atrophy when you lay there for a few weeks and I lost all my strength," he said, "so it's been a matter of rebuilding it, and I feel stronger every day."

Swindell was operating a three-wheeler and pushing the car he owns a couple weeks ago, so the natural question is, when does he think he might be able to start racing again?

"I'm not interested in driving if I can't be as competitive as I was," he responded. "Winning is why I raced and I'm not interested in just driving around. I want to get healthy and healed as much as I can and then I'll take a look at everything.

"I was a crew chief at the Chili Bowl and I enjoyed that. I think I'd be pretty good at it and I'm not opposed to doing it."

For now, Swindell is literally taking life a step at a time, and that's a wonderful sight.

"The hardest part is that you can't feel much so balance is difficult and knowing your feet are under you. I feel a little more here and there and sometimes in places I didn't feel before.

"But you can't make it come back; all you can do is keep working and pushing yourself and hope you keep improving. They've never given me a timeline here. They just said they'd keep working with me until I reached a plateau.

"I got around decent with a walker and now I'm using these walking canes and hopefully I'll get down to a single cane. And maybe someday I'll be walking around again on my own."

LAT BJN31048It started with a majority of IndyCar team owners expressing their interest in a world free of aero kits. Citing high costs and a lingering competitive imbalance between Chevy and Honda, most team owners told RACER they would welcome a return to a common set of bodywork and wings to clothe the Dallara DW12 chassis 

IndyCar has listened to the feedback from its teams and aero kit manufacturers, and appears to be headed towards a single kit in 2017.

"We have agreements between Chevy and Honda where the competition will continue," IndyCar CEO Mark Miles told RACER. "But there are conversations about whether or not we are at a place where we have learned a lot and we should at least consider ending that competition and finding a way forward where we have a kit which is the best of both."

Provided it happens, we're left to ponder the 'best of both' solutions for the paddock and the series as it jettisons the custom (and costly) bodywork made by its engine manufacturers.

The first question is whether IndyCar should revert to the stock DW12 bodywork and wings teams used from 2012-2014 (and still have in inventory), or if the series should commission something new. Let's start with the age of the vehicle that will carry IndyCar's final decision.

lat ge 14son3318Introduced in 2012, the DW12 will be entering its sixth season of duty in 2017, and while most team owners aren't in a position to purchase new cars, it wouldn't be a surprise if IndyCar announced a timeline to replace the ageing chassis with a DW18 or DW19. With a new car on the horizon—sometime before the end of the decade, I would imagine—the expense to dress the DW12 in something new could be a waste of money for a chassis heading towards retirement.

I cannot recall a time where more teams have struggled to assemble a full budget that, today, stands at approximately $6 million per season. IndyCar hands out just over $1 million to most entries through its Leaders Circle program every year, which accounts for roughly 17 percent of an annual budget, leaving teams to find the other 83 percent on their own. Driving that figure up with the need to buy the third unique set of bodywork for the DW12 in 2017 could be met with heavy resistance.

The other option, and the easiest fallback position, would be to dust off the original DW12 body and use it until the entire car is replaced. It would take time and labor, and paint (or a wrap), but reinstalling the old pieces would come at a minimal cost.

When I spoke with Miles, he suggested that the 2012-2014 Dallara bodywork, above left, will not return, which suggests a new, universal aero kit is where IndyCar has focused its energies.

"I don't see us going back to 2014," he said, adding that a final answer is still a few weeks away. "Whatever anybody thinks about aero kits, there have been real performance enhancements, and I don't see [us] giving that up."

Although it might not be the news some team owners wanted to hear, there are few who would argue the looks and performance attributes offered by the stock DW12 bodywork can be improved.

If a bodywork change is going to happen, why not take everything Chevy and Honda have learned with their aero kits, and apply the knowledge to freshen IndyCar's look? And with all the gains that have been found in drag reduction and overall efficiency, it's clear Chevy's aero team at Pratt & Miller, and the Honda Performance Development aerodynamicists, are capable of advancing Dallara's original design from 2011.

 lat lepage 160424 bhm 4283

The next question is who would design the 2017 aero kit. Both brands have different preferences and needs to feed and cool their 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engines, which means adopting the current Chevy or Honda aero kit as the spec solution won't work. Something new would be required, and while Dallara is the obvious and neutral party to consider, I've had more than one Honda team admit they'd welcome having Pratt & Miller handle the project on IndyCar's behalf.

"I'm not telling you that [a new aero kit] is going to happen, and whatever happens we would expect that Honda and Chevy would both have to be comfortable with it," Miles said .

"Is the opportunity there to make changes to the look of the car without going to a new chassis? How that gets answered would eventually affect your attitude about how soon a whole new car might or might not be top priority."

lat lepage 150521 IMS 07133My guess is that IndyCar has already decided to move to a single kit and that the real dilemma facing Miles, right, and his competition department involves selecting an acceptable vendor for all parties involved. But who will pay for the design, testing, and mass production for the kit? And how much will it cost?

The answer could be found within the companies supplying the current kits. Chevy and Honda have committed untold millions to bring their kits to market, gone on expensive hiring sprees to fill out their aerodynamic departments, and pour frightening sums into continual computer and wind tunnel testing to find advantages.

If IndyCar turns off the need for those sizeable annual expenses, it would, in theory, require much smaller investments from the two companies to assist the series in a joint aero kit project for 2017. Whatever the costs happen to be, it will be a fraction of what they'll spend this year.

And with Chevy and Honda teams bracing for another long offseason of searching for money, I've heard a new single aero kit deal could include a clause where both brands would agree to supply their teams with the first kit for free. Assuming all of these plans are adopted, a free kit would ease the financial burden for each entry to some degree.

I've also heard the 2017 aero kit would ditch rear wheel guards—the 'Kardashians' - except for the superspeedways, and if that's true, the DW12's visual appeal would increase at most rounds. With the new beam wing flaps in place for Indy, Texas, and Pocono, IndyCar would need to use the rear wheel guards because they are part of the beam wing structure, but at road and street courses, fans would have a more traditional IndyCar shape to enjoy.

It would make sense for IndyCar to hold a press conference during the month of May to announce its future aero kit strategies, which would also be tied to the timing of the DW12's successor, but Miles says a public decision might have to wait until after the 100th Indy 500 is complete.

"[A May announcement] would be good, but I don't know that we are going to be able to do that," he said. "If we can, we will. I would like an answer sooner or later, because we don't want people spending money on next year and ending up changing directions after that, so the sooner the better."

If we're lucky, the countdown to a day where we're free from grousing over aero kits, Rule 9.3, and all of the other bodywork-based distractions isn't far away.

Max Verstappen's promotion to Red Bull was done to ease "the considerable unrest" at Toro Rosso between the teenager and Formula 1 teammate Carlos Sainz Jr, according to Helmut Marko. Marko has also claimed Daniil Kvyat's return to Toro Rosso to make way for Verstappen was in order to ease the growing pressure on him following his poor start to the year.

In light of the unrest between Verstappen and Sainz at Toro Rosso, and with Kvyat's collisions with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel in Russia on Sunday, Marko felt the time was right for the duo to swap seats. Explaining the switch, Marko told "It was primarily a measure to take away the pressure off Daniil."

"This year he has not been near the same performance as last year," he said. "He has been on average three to five tenths [of a second per lap] slower than [teammate Daniel] Ricciardo. Last year he was at eye level. He has been very inconsistent, had many ups and downs, and the crash in Sochi was as a consequence of the internal pressure he had built himself. It did not come from us.

"Romain Grosjean was once in a similar situation when he had crash after crash. We wanted to avoid that, and our luxury is we have the ability to set him up for Toro Rosso again. On the other hand there has been considerable unrest at Toro Rosso between Verstappen and Sainz, so we have solved several internal problems. And we have not removed Kvyat. He is still with us in the squad, and Toro Rosso is a good midfield team."

Suggested to Marko Verstappen's move was a timely one given Ferrari has long been interested in the 18-year-old, he replied: "As you know we have long-term contracts so there was no need for action. But now we have Ricciardo and Verstappen side by side, and we can accurately assess how the two perform, and we have Kvyat against Sainz. This makes future decisions easier, but as mentioned, all four drivers have long-term contracts."

Originally on

Max Verstappen will replace Danill Kvyat at Red Bull from the Spanish Grand Prix with the Russian taking the Dutchman's seat at Toro Rosso.

Kvyat collided with Sebastian Vettel twice at the start of the Russian GP last weekend, with the second contact resulting in the Ferrari ending up in the wall. After the race, Red Bull boss Horner said Kvyat "accepts he made a mistake" and apologized to the team. But following talks, Red Bull has taken the decision to drop Kvyat in favor of Verstappen from the Barcelona race nward.

"Max has proven to be an outstanding young talent," said Red Bull boss Christian Horner. "His performance at Toro Rosso has been impressive so far and we are pleased to give him the opportunity to drive for Red Bull Racing.

"We are in the unique position to have all four drivers across Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso under long-term contracts with Red Bull, so we have the flexibility to move them between the two teams. Dany will be able to continue his development at Toro Rosso, in a team that he is familiar with, giving him the chance to regain his form and show his potential."

Verstappen is believed to have a three-year contract with the Red Bull family, which runs until the end of 2017. It is understood this move is seen as an opportunity to evaluate him sooner with a view to sign him longer term if he delivers.


Originally on

IndyCar could return to Watkins Glen or the Gateway oval in place of its canceled Boston race, with a decision due next week.

The inaugural Boston street race, scheduled for the Labor Day weekend on Sept. 2-4, was cancelled by the promoter last Friday because of difficulty gaining the proper local authority approval. Hulman and Company CEO Mark Miles is "very confident" a replacement race for the same date will be finalized in the coming days.

Though he stopped short of confirming a venue, Miles spoke highly of Watkins Glen – the famed road course that last hosted IndyCar in 2010 (pictured) and was once America's Formula 1 home – and Gateway International Raceway, which was last on the calendar in 2003 but has been pushing for a return.

"We've had an ongoing conversation for many months with Gateway, we think very highly of them," Miles told Autosport. "If we looked at that as a possible replacement for Labor Day weekend this year we would want to make sure they have ample time to do it right.

"You only get one chance to make a first impression and that consideration would be foremost in our mind of possibilities. It's much more likely an existing circuit with an existing staff and fanbase can do it right."

Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup visited the Phoenix IndyCar race in April to assess whether to invite the series back to his track.

"Michael has checked in with us annually the last few years to check the level of interest," Miles said. "That was probably not reciprocated by us because we didn't see a great opportunity."

Miles ruled out three other mooted possibilities – a return to Monterey or Fontana, or a new street race in Providence, R.I.

"It's simply too late to be starting from scratch trying to develop a street race in Providence so we aren't going to do that," Miles said. "As for Fontana, no for the same reasons it came off the schedule. It's not that we don't think it's a great track and appreciate the events that have been there but you have to allow for the temperature out there. That pushes them for a night race – and a night race on the West Coast is difficult for us as we are building for the climax of the championship and a finale."

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca has been ruled out due to its proximity to Sonoma, which hosts the final round later in September.

"We have not been able to find a time when it would work without giving us concerns about Sonoma," Miles explained. "We have looked at both ends of the calendar for that and have not found an opportunity."


Originally on

lat nelson lb 04174985IndyCar points leader Simon Pagenaud believes that being better settled within Team Penske has contributed to his excellent early season form.

The Frenchman finished a career-low 11th in the points in his first year with Penske in 2015, following on from three consecutive years in the top five with the smaller Schmidt Peterson Motorsport team. While he says that the dynamic between himself and teammates Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya is the same as it was last year, his early-season tally of two wins is the product of him having a better understanding of how the team works.

pags2"It's interesting to complete yourself as a driver by watching what the others do, what they do better, how you can do something better than them, can you use their strengths," he said.

"I think that's what makes us [at Penske] so strong, and I think we all understand there's an advantage to be friendly off-track to each other and try to help each other. We don't hide anything. I think it makes for a great dynamic. Compared to last year, it hasn't really changed. There are years where you have luck on your side, years where you don't have any luck. That's just the way it is.

"But I certainly am 'better' in the system this year. I have a better relationship with everybody. Everybody knows me better. Things are going very smoothly. It's the best it can be right now."

Pagenaud heads into the Month of May optimistic about his chances of extending his current 48-point lead over Scott Dixon. He won the inaugural race on Indy's road course layout, and says that he now feels like a regular threat on ovals as well.

"In [testing at] Texas yesterday I really focused on race running," he said. "I feel like I've got enough experience now to know which way the tire is going to go during the stint.

"OK, it's not as much experience as [Tony] Kanaan, for example, but it's enough. It's what I have for now. I just need to use people like Rick Mears, Helio, on my side, Juan Pablo, they have so much experience on these kinds of tracks, they can be a great help.

"Last year was so strong, I don't see any reason why we couldn't reproduce. I think we'll be strong. It will just be a matter of preparing well during the month of May. I'm quite excited about it."

Checkered flagOnly in the bizarre world of sports car racing can we accurately credit a broken gearbox in January at Daytona for Ford's breakthrough win in May at Monterey. More on that in a moment.

Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook made history on Sunday when they drove the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT to Victory Lane at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

The Blue Oval's win was delivered in its fifth race (four IMSA rounds and one in the WEC) during the brand's high-profile return to sports car racing, and for the American side of Ford's GT program, it serves as the perfect primer for their next race: The 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Briscoe and 'Westy' used the craftiest of strategies to beat factory teams from BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, and Porsche in Northern California, and it's fair to say their success in the two-hour Continental Monterey Grand Prix was due to miserly fuel-saving instead of overwhelming speed.

In fact, it looked exactly like something taken from Chip Ganassi Racing's IndyCar playbook. Ganassi's four-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon - the king of fuel saving - is famous for using his otherworldly ability to lead while avoiding the gas pedal, and I actually sent him a text after the race to ask for proof he wasn't hidden in the No. 67 working the throttle while Westy turned the steering wheel ...

wdmp 160415 00274Speaking with FCGR's Brad Goldberg (right) after the race, the engineer of the No. 67 Ford GT let me in on the secret of how Briscoe and Westy completed the race with a single fuel stop and, amazingly, how Westy stretched that tank to last 52 laps while maintaining a race-winning pace.

"We knew that it was going to be a tight fuel-saving race, so we actually went out in the third practice session on Saturday and practiced exactly what we did on Sunday," Goldberg told RACER.

Interesting. As the sister No. 66 driven by Joey Hand and Dirk Muller worked on their own session plan, the No. 67 team dedicated their session to finding the limits of lapping quickly while sipping fuel.

"We wanted to see what we could do because we knew that dilemma of trying to do the race on one stop instead of two might happen," he said. "And, of course, there's multiple variables because you have a new tire from Michelin, so what is that tire going to do when you extend that period of time running on it if you only make one tire change?

"And then I sat down with Ryan Van Klompenburg, the 67's assistant engineer, and we just went over the numbers before the race to see what kind of mileage you would need to get to the end if a caution came out with an hour and 30 minutes go. And we also did a strategy for an hour and 20 minutes to go. Lo and behold, the hour and 20 minutes' yellow comes out and our mind was decided at that point on what we need to do to make it to the end on one stop. We had already done a lot of our homework in practice."

To be accurate, the fuel-saving test run performed by Briscoe and Westy at Monterey wasn't so much homework as it was preparing for a final exam. The real homework, Goldberg reveals, was done in Florida.

wdmp 160128 5658"It goes back even further than Laguna; this all really came about at the Daytona 24," he said. "We had a problem in the race and had to change the 67's gearbox (left). You always hope you have a chance to win the race, but if you spend three hours in the garage changing the gearbox, chances are it's not going to happen.

"So it becomes like when people say the race then turns into a test. We have the gearbox problem, we need to go out and run to the finish, but what are we going to do? What can we learn from here on out besides just running laps? Then Ryan [Briscoe] came up with an idea.

"He said, 'I'm just going to go out and I'm going to do what I can to save fuel and see how to drive this Ford and save fuel - see what it needs for a driving style.' Did it need an IndyCar style, or a different style? He wanted to find the driving style that would make for the best fuel economy with the Ford GT."

With plenty of time left in the race and a brand-new race car to learn, the former IndyCar pilot began exploring from inside the No. 67.

"So he goes out and does it and he is out there and trying and trying and trying to see what he could do," Goldberg said. "And he's trying different methods. And then the next guy in is Westbrook and he comes up to the top of the timing stand and says, 'how is Ryan getting on?' Richard had never really done anything like that kind of fuel-saving before. He'd never really had time to practice it.

"So I said, 'here's what Ryan is doing. If we do this, it will pay off down the road. I know we don't need to [save fuel] right now, but this is a test session. We need to figure out what we can do mileage-wise.' And then he sat there and studied the telemetry on how Ryan was doing it for 20, 25 minutes before he got out of the car. And he said, what was Ryan's best [fuel usage per lap] number? And what was Ryan's best lap time?"

With a challenge presented by Briscoe and the team, Westy became engrossed with learning a new driving technique.

Ford GT First Win

"Ryan had done the fuel-saving game in IndyCar for a long time, so he knew how to apply the same type of things in the Ford," Goldberg said. "It was more Richard learning than Ryan, but he was definitely analyzing telemetry and analyzing numbers and analyzing lap times that Ryan was doing. He could see how he was doing it, and had an idea of what to try when it was his turn."

And leave it to Westy - in the middle of IMSA's longest race - to turn fuel-saving into a personal competition with his teammate.

"Ryan pits, Richard gets in the car, and right away, you can see he's working and working and working," Goldberg said. "He's like, 'this is pretty difficult.' And then they started challenging each other on how to do it better. After the race he said, 'I went out there with the mentality of, I'm going to learn how to beat that guy'. And then he goes out there and did it. That really impressed everyone."

With time to kill and an internecine duel to win, Goldberg says his drivers rose to the challenge and put some valuable knowledge in their toolkit for future use. Little did they know it would pay off so soon.

"After the Daytona race, I very distinctly remember telling Richard, 'look, this is going to pay off. I can't tell you when it will happen. I can't tell you if it will happen next year, but at some point that work that you guys did is going to be winning us a race'," he said. "That is where everything we did at Laguna really came from."

Faced with the same kind of challenge - one that would take Daytona's lessons and push them to the extreme— Westy found a way to survive each lap on an impossibly small amount of fuel. Taking it easy on the throttle also helped the Ford GT to preserve its Michelin tires as their rivals used copious amounts of fuel and rubber to keep pace.

"Fast-forward to Laguna, and the fuel number we asked Richard to hit ... I mean, he's going to tell you he thought we were drunk when we told him," Goldberg said.

"It was going to be really hard to get, but we thought it was an achievable number. And because we weren't punishing the tires to produce our lap time, we knew their fall-off rate was going to be better than the other cars.

"It ended up that those guys were pushing really hard and they struggled to keep tires underneath them. And with 20 minutes to go, we just gave Richard a lap time target and a fuel mileage number, and said, 'hit that and you'll win the race.' And that is exactly what he did."

Coming off of three punishing races to start Ford's return to sports car competition, Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull sees the result in Monterey as a turning point for the young program.

"What winning does is, it is a motivator, but more important it is a validator," he said. "It validates what the team does as a group of people together. It proves to each of those people that being a part of an organization and how hard they work together within that organization makes a difference. And I think that is what winning at Laguna Seca did."

If Hull has any trepidation after last weekend, it's centered on the timing of their first win. The team's greatest challenge arrives in six weeks when it spearheads Ford's 24 Hours of Le Mans program, where it will face most of the GTLM teams it races against in IMSA, and a few more featured in the WEC's GTE-Pro category.

Podium"That's what really worries me a lot, because it's not just the race teams; it's who the race teams represent," he said. "And, so it's not like in IndyCar racing where it's Ganassi versus Andretti, or Ganassi versus Penske. That's not what this is all about in the category we are now in. This is Chevrolet versus Ford, Ford versus Porsche, and other major auto manufacturers. These are big people. They are big organizations. They have huge resource.

"And what scares me about winning is how these people come back stronger the next race because they have massive resources. We also have resources, but we are in the infancy as a team. We're trying to utilize the resources that we do have and we're trying to learn how to race at the same time. Winning this early might not be a good thing - you're poking the gorilla."

After securing the victory, the best part for Hull, Goldberg, and I suspect most of the team came when Henry Ford III, whose presence in Monterey came as a surprise, was invited to join Briscoe and Westy on the podium (above, far left) to receive the Entrants' trophy.

"We didn't know Mr. Ford would be there, and with Chip [Ganassi] in Talladega for the NASCAR race, we asked him to receive the trophy, which made the day more special than it had already become," Hull said. Goldberg was also moved by the achievement.

"To be part of it, and to welcome Ford back to victory in GT racing, with Henry Ford there, and the EcoBoost engine - it's the fuel efficient engine, right?" he said. "I couldn't be happier for all the men and women who've put in the work to make this program grow so quickly. I can only hope and pray we carry and continue this momentum forward. This was a two-hour race. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a whole different story."

The funniest part of the win belongs to Hull's reaction after Westy took the checkered flag.

"I was a little bit upset!" he said. "Richard was able to complete the cooldown lap, which tells me we saved too much fuel. He could have gone faster!"

2016MarshallPruett IMSALaguna51 1517

Silver Fox 5Is David Pearson NASCAR’s best ever? Had he raced the full schedule during his potent partnership with the Wood Bros., chances are he’d be up with Petty and Earnhardt on championships earned. As it is, his win rate is without equal.

It was April 1976 and Buddy Baker’s Ford was dominating at Darlington Raceway, leading 205 of 367 laps in the Rebel 500. But as the laps wound down, car owner Bud Moore was on the radio, urgently warning Baker that David Pearson was in his rearview mirror and closing fast in his all-conquering Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Mercury.

“He’d been telling Buddy all along, ‘He’s coming, he’s coming,’” says Wood Brothers co-owner Eddie Wood about the messages Moore was sending his driver. “And Buddy was, ‘Naw, I think I’ve got him. I’m OK today. I got it covered.’”

Silver Fox 2Baker, unfortunately, was guilty of a little bit of irrational exuberance. Not only did Pearson catch Baker on the frontstretch on lap 356, but as he pulled alongside him, Pearson lit a cigarette, blew smoke out the window at Baker and pulled away to victory by leading the final 12 laps. “The Silver Fox” had struck again...

It was vintage Pearson – messing with another driver in the heat of battle and, more importantly, waiting until the right time in the race to strike. Leonard Wood, Eddie’s uncle and Pearson’s chief mechanic during the team’s glory years, saw it often.

“He always made the comment, ‘If you run as hard as you can go all day, you’re going to make a mistake,’” recalls Leonard. “Back in those days, the cars would fall out a lot more, so he would bide his time and wait until about half-distance, when a lot of the cars had already fallen out. That’s when he’d start going to the front – if he wasn’t already in front, that is.”

And Pearson went to the front an awful lot in a career that saw him win 105 NASCAR premier series races and three championships in just 574 starts. Pearson’s 18.3 percent win average is better than that of chief rival Richard Petty, whose 200 victories in 1,184 starts gave him a 16.9 win percentage.

Silver Fox 1As smart and successful as Pearson was on the track, he never was wowed by the trappings of stardom and fame like so many drivers are. He was born in the South Carolina mill town of Whitney, near Spartanburg, and worked in the mills and at an Esso gas station before his racing career took off in the early 1960s.

Today, he still lives near Spartanburg in a modest red brick ranch house on a former peach farm that he bought in 1977. He turned 80 last December and has recently battled a variety of health issues, including an abdominal aneurysm in October and a mild stroke in December.

His circle of friends and family remains largely as it’s been for decades, and his leisure time activities including feeding his goats and mules, and restoring old cars. Simple pleasures.

For Pearson, racing was a way to make a living, not a way to become famous.

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