Already the winner of three...
Already the winner of three Winston Cups-1966, 1968, and 1969-Pearson was Ray Nichels' first choice to test a '71 GTO (shown here) for NASCAR competition. photo courtesy of conversations with a winner-the ray nichels story
HPP: What do you remember about the 1961 Firecracker 250?
DP: If I remember correctly, Fireball ran Second to me. I knew I drafted him toward the end of the race. I caught Fred Lorenzen and after I did that, I went on to pass Fireball, then Fred, at the end of the race. I won that one.
HPP: Of your three major victories in 1961, which was your favorite?
DP: Naturally, the first one. People ask me to this day, "What was your favorite race?" and, of course, the first one always pops into my mind.
HPP: In 1962, you ran Owens' No. 6 Pontiac Catalina for the very first time at Bristol, Darlington, and Charlotte. Did you have to quit your job at the body shop to race for him?
DP: When I went to drive for Cotton, I was already working for him every day at his shop. I did most of the welding on the cars.
HPP: Do you remember how you met Ray Nichels?
DP: The first time I met Ray Nichels, he was in Spartanburg at a Christmas party in 1961. He was there signing up Cotton and other drivers to run Pontiacs in 1962. Somebody invited me to the party.
HPP: Ray Nichels approached you in 1971 to run his GTO in the Winston Cup Series. What do you remember of the GTO?
DP: It was Nichels' and Paul Goldsmith's car. They came down to Spartanburg and asked me to do some testing in the '71 GTO. We ran fairly well, but we had a lot of problems with that engine. They'd build the Pontiac, run it, take it off the engine stand, put it on the dyno, and it would always show pretty good horsepower. But when they took it out and put it in the GTO and we'd go to a racetrack, it would always blow a head gasket.
HPP: What was your favorite Pontiac?
DP: The '61 Bonneville convertible I earned for winning the Charlotte World 600 was really nice and I enjoyed it.
HPP: What do you think of Pontiacs, looking back 47 years?
DP: The Pontiacs were good to me, no doubt about it, and I enjoyed running with them. Pontiac's the car that put me on the map when I got started. I think the world of Pontiacs-I really do.
HPP: Is there anything else you want HPP readers to know about your career?
DP: I can't complain about nothin'. Racing was good to me. Throughout my whole career, I was never hurt and I never rode in an ambulance. Now I've been roped up quite a bit, but I've never had a bone broken. My whole career was really good. I don't know of a thing I would change if I had to do it over.
Pearson and the Ram Air V GTO
Driver David Pearson at Texas World Speedway in 1971. The Nichels Engineering GTO was introduced as a No. 33 car (not shown). Shortly thereafter, for the final race of 1971, the GTO gained STP sponsorship, a red paint job, and was renumbered to 17. photo courtesy of conversations with a winner-the ray nichels story.
According to William LaDow in his book, Conversations with a Winner-The Ray Nichels Story, "Ray was thrilled to be able to put Pearson behind the wheel of the Nichels Engineering Pontiac GTO in 1971. Pearson and he had been friends back to the time that Nichels Engineering was GM-Pontiac's 'house' stock builder, when David began driving Pontiacs for Ray Fox and Cotton Owens.
"At the start of the '71 NASCAR season, Nichels Engineering had already begun campaigning Fred Lorenzen in the No. 99 STP Plymouth, while also campaigning A.J. Foyt and Bobby Unser in Plymouths in USAC. In the meantime, Nichels-knowing that NASCAR was in the process of trying to mandate smaller engines-began developing the 366ci Pontiac engine in an effort to be ahead of the curve for 1972. Nichels' intention was to split his stock-car building business between GM and Chrysler in 1972.
"Just as financing arrangements were being drawn up between Nichels Engineering and Chris Vallo, a Highland, Indiana, entrepreneur whose company name, CV Enterprises, sported the slogan 'You Name It' next to its logo, Pearson left Holman-Moody over a pay dispute right after the May 2, 1971, running of the 'Rebel 400' at Darlington. Nichels signed Pearson and had him in the No. 17 Nichels Engineering/CV Enterprises Pontiac GTO just 14 days later, racing at Talladega in the Winston 500."