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David Pearson taught me how to drive Darlington

David Pearson - 1979 NASCAR Wood Brothers
Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media Group

By Geoff Bodine
Driver Analyst

I can’t recall the first time I met David Pearson, but he had been racing in NASCAR long before me. He was a legend, I was just a kid.

Back in 1982, a lot of Cup guys drove the Sportsman Late Model Series, the modern day Xfinity Series.

In the Trans South 200 at Darlington Raceway, I competed against David, along with the late Dale Earnhardt and Harry Gant.

I qualified right behind David for that race, and it couldn’t have been a better place to start. He was one of the best at Darlington.

I didn’t have a lot of experience and I recognized how difficult the track was.

I said to myself that I was just going to follow him, learn how to race the track, manage traffic and not hit the wall.

I followed him around, and he was really careful passing cars.

He showed me the groove, but most of all, he showed me the patience you need to have at Darlington. The track is so narrow and fast, one mistake can earn you a Darlington Stripe or even more.

I can’t recall specifics from the race, but I took the lead and won the race.

That day, and every time I talk about it, I give David credit to showing me how to run Darlington. Two days after the victory, I got a call from Cliff Stewart, who owned the No. 50 car in the Cup Series.

“I saw what you did at Darlington,” Cliff told me. “If you can win Darlington, you can anywhere. Come on down to the shop and let’s talk.”

I ultimately ran the rest of the season in Cup, taking over for Joe Millikan, and won Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 1982.

Thank you, David, for the education and how to manage the track, Too Tough To Tame.

Because of the replays and air time, when his name is mentioned, I remember the 1976 Daytona 500 where he crashed with Richard Petty on the final lap but still won the race.

As for us, there were no on-track incidents when we raced together that I can recall, so that’s good too.

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