There are successful drivers and there are successful owners. But, rarely are there both.
Cotton Owens, a recent inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the Class of 2013, as well as recently celebrating his 88th birthday on May 21, passed away early Thursday morning.
Owens had been diagnosed with lung cancer seven years ago. Owens was born in Union, SC but lived most of his life in nearby Spartanburg, S.C., where he based his racing operation.
Owens was more than successful behind the wheel, while driving in the Cup series from 1950 to 1964, leaving high-level driving at the age of 40 but winning nine times including the 1957 Daytona Beach road course which marked Pontiac’s first NASCAR victory. He nearly won the 1959 championship, finishing second to NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty.
But as an owner, Owens stood out as one of the greats of NASCAR’s early eras. His eye for talent was unmatched. He hired Johnson in 1962, the same season in which he began a future championship relationship with another NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson.
Johnson spent only four races with Owens but with Pearson, well, that was another story. Twenty-seven of Pearson’s 105 NASCAR premier series victories were recorded in a Cotton Owens car. The pair teamed to win the 1966 championship after Pearson, driving an Owens Dodge, finished third in points in 1964.
Owens will be inducted posthumously as part of the hall’s fourth class on February 8, 2013.
Competed: 1950-64 (Driver); 1950-73 (Owner)
Starts: 160 (Driver); 405 (Owner)
Wins: 9 (Driver); 38 (Owner)
Poles: 10 (Driver); 33 (Owner)
STATEMENT FROM THE OWENS FAMILY:
“The family would like to express gratitude for the thoughts and prayers of precious friends and fans.
“While Cotton was a racing legend with an incredible racing “family,” we mourn the irreplaceable great granddad, granddad, father, uncle, brother-in-law and friend we have all lost. The family respectfully requests privacy at this difficult time.”
STATEMENT FROM BRIAN FRANCE, NASCAR CHAIRMAN AND CEO:
“NASCAR has lost one of its true pioneers, with the passing of Cotton Owens. On behalf of the France Family and everyone at NASCAR, I offer heartfelt condolences to Cotton’s family and friends.
“This is a sad day for the NASCAR industry, but we are all consoled by the fact that Cotton was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame before his death. Today we have lost a portion of our past. But people like Cotton Owens are the reason our sport thrives today — and can look forward to a promising future.”
Statement from Winston Kelley, executive director, NASCAR Hall of Fame
“We lost one of NASCAR’s greats today. Our hearts go out to Cotton’s family, and we hope they find strength in the memories of his remarkable life and career. That career was topped off just a few weeks ago with his selection for the Class of 2013. In speaking to his grandson, Brandon Davis, he reiterated how much being an Inductee meant to Cotton and how much it lifted his spirit.
“I vividly remember when I first started following NASCAR in the early to mid-’60s watching his white and red No. 6 Dodge run up front with David Pearson and later Buddy Baker. I was just a child, but I still remember his car being a contender all the time. It was one of the ones to beat. In more recent years I remember how supportive he was of our initiatives. NASCAR recognized his career by inviting him to be an original member of our Voting Panel. You could always count on Cotton to be here for Voting Day and other hall events. He will be missed.”
Statement from Buz McKim, historian NASCAR Hall of Fame:
“Cotton Owens was one of the first heroes of NASCAR. He was exciting to watch, as he thrilled early-day fans with his patented broadsliding on dirt tracks. Not only a gifted driver, he was a fine mechanic and was a championship car owner. He also mentored many drivers, among them David Pearson. Another chapter of history closes today as the racing world has lost a great friend and pioneer, Everett “Cotton” Owens.”