March 18 in NASCAR History: David Pearson begins epic 1973 run at Rockingham

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David Pearson never competed in a full NASCAR Cup Series season. The closest he came was making 48 of 49 starts in 1968.

Despite this, he ended his career with three titles and 105 wins.

Even in a regular part-time role, he still beat up on the competition.

And in 1973 when Pearson made only 18 of 28 Cup events, he really beat up on them. He won 11 times, including a stretch of nine wins in 10 races.

It started on March 18 at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham.

For Pearson, it was his third start of the year after missing the Feb. 25 race at Richmond. Driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Mercury, Pearson started on the pole alongside eventual season champion Benny Parsons.

David Pearson drives into victory lane after winning the Carolina 500 (YouTube).

For 492 laps, the competition chased the “Silver Fox” as Pearson led every lap but the 73rd while he pitted under caution (the Wood Brothers’ crew could get Pearson out of the pits in 20 seconds!).

Oh, and he lapped the field.

In the closing laps, Cale Yarborough ran in second one lap down. He did this after his seat broke away from the roll cage, forcing him to hold on with one hand and drive with the other.

Then misfortune struck Pearson with five laps to go when he ran over an exhaust pipe and cut his right-front tire.

With the caution out for debris, Pearson pitted for fresh tires as Yarborough made up his lap.

But Yarborough didn’t have enough for Pearson, who dashed out to win by 3.8 seconds in a three-lap shootout.

“I just knew I was a goner when I hit the metal,” Pearson said after the race according to the book “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era: 1972-1989.” “I didn’t see it in time to dodge it. It would have been a shame to have led all those laps then lose. I sure was glad to see that caution flag come out.”

Fifth place in the race, Dick Brooks, finished six laps down. 10th place, Bill Dennis, was 19 laps down.

The only time Pearson wouldn’t win in his next nine starts would be the World 600, when he placed second to Buddy Baker. They were the only cars on the lead lap.

Pearson would finish third or better in his next 12 starts. He’d cap off the year by completing a sweep of the Rockingham races, winning the season finale over Baker as the only driver on the lead lap.