Thursday, February 15, will mark the 25th anniversary of the most famous finish in NASCAR history. David Pearson, driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Mercury, was dueling Richard Petty coming off turn four of the final lap when they...
Thursday, February 15, will mark the 25th anniversary of the most famous finish in NASCAR history. David Pearson, driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Mercury, was dueling Richard Petty coming off turn four of the final lap when they collided and spun. Pearson was able to keep his car running and crawl across the finish line while Petty sat stalled on the infield grass. Pearson's triumph in the 1976 Daytona 500 was his only victory in "The Great American Race" and the fourth for the Wood Brothers.
DAVID PEARSON -- "We had been drafting back and forth all day. I kept slowing up and slowing up, hoping that he would pass me. This was earlier so that I could see just what to do. You know you've got to find out during the race what you're going to do if you come down to a situation between you and the other guy, if you're behind or whatever. That's what you've got to do. Anyway, it came down to the last lap. I was slower than him, but when we came off two and down the backstretch I drafted by him. Of course that day he had me beat. He just had more horsepower than what I did, but I drafted by him. And then when we went into three he just cut right down and came right back around me. When I was coming off of four he wasn't quite by me. I guess he thought he was, but I always kidded him a little bit saying that he was just going to try to block me. It used to be that you could draft coming off of four and beat a guy to the start/finish line if you started by him coming off of four, but that was in the past. You can't do it now, but with these plates and the way they've slowed them down for Sunday, you probably could. Anyway, he came up and his right rear hit my left front and, of course, we both spun around and hit the walls and everything else and messed the cars up, but luckily I kept mine running. I just mashed the clutch in when I started spinning. There was so much smoke and stuff I was on the radio hollering, 'Where's Richard? Where's Richard?' I didn't know if I was behind him and if he had crossed the line or not. They told me he had stopped up by the start/finish line. Of course I turned mine around and got back on the track and went by him and won the race."
HOW WOULD YOU RANK THAT WIN? "That was a good one, no doubt about it. People ask me what is the most remembered win, and I guess that first one always comes back to you. I would have to say the Charlotte World 600; that was the first race that I won, the first big one that I won. I was a rookie and I hadn't won anything that year. That was the first time that I got into a factory-backed car. That was in 1961. I was driving Ray Fox's car from Daytona Beach. He came to Charlotte and didn't have a driver. Bud Moore, Cotton Owens and them talked to him and told him that he ought to give me a shot at it, that they thought I could do a good job. All I had ever run was just short track stuff, which was sportsman stuff back then. He didn't know me and I didn't know him. All I knew was that he had a good car. I was just starting and then I won the Charlotte 600 for him. And then I drove at Daytona in the Firecracker and won that one and then went on to Atlanta and won that one. And at that time nobody had ever won three big races in one season."
GLEN WOOD, Car Owner --21-- Motorcraft Taurus -- "They were coming down to the last lap and of course they had exchanged the lead several times earlier. Then late (in the race) Richard wouldn't pass David. And then he finally did pass him. And going down the backstretch David started to slingshot by him, and he hollered on the radio to Eddie, 'I've got him going into turn three'. Just as soon as they went into turn three Richard started to get under him, and he got under him going into three and four. I don't know if he thought he was by or not, but he thought he was by enough that David might back off. He started to move over on David, but David hadn't let off the gas because Richard hadn't gotten by him. David said that Richard hit him and around they both went.
"We were down near the middle of pit road and all we could see was that the grandstand went wild. The next thing that we saw was Richard, I guess came first, looping down there. And then David, here he comes looping around. Ironically, he made a loop entering pit road and hit some car and it straightened him up. He said, 'We owe him something'. Anyway, we just knew Richard was going to spin across the line and win the race backwards, but he didn't get there.
"David had his radio on and asked, 'Did he go across?' And Eddie said, 'No.' And David said, 'Well, I'm coming'. He kept his engine from stalling by pushing in the clutch and Richard's wouldn't crank. The rule is you can't give a car assistance after the white flag either by hand or another car pushing it, so if they had pushed Richard's car and got it going he would have been penalized a lap.
"Someone asked David if he was mad, and he said, 'No, but I was fixing to be if I hadn't won the race.'"
EDDIE WOOD, Car Owner --21-- Motorcraft Taurus -- "I don't remember a lot about the race, how it played out and where everybody was, but I do know that David and Richard ran first and second or in the top three or four all day with each other.
"It came down to one to go and as they went into the white flag lap David was running second as they went off into one. They were nose to tail going into two, and I remember asking David as they went by for the white flag if he could pass him. He said, 'I don't know.' Anyway they went off into one like that and then David dropped back because at that time thet slingshot deal was in effect. In today's environment it doesn't really work, although it might here Sunday with the new rules, but it hasn't in a while. Anyway, he backed off in two and at the end of the backstretch David passed Richard, and he said on the radio, 'I got him'. "Back then there were only two people on the radio. Nobody had scanners, it was pre scanners. Nobody knows what was said except David and me. They're going into three and David is still in front. Then as they start back toward the tri-oval David comes back on the radio and says, 'He's under me'.
"Just a second later the crowd jumps up. And just as the crowd jumps up he said, 'He hit me', or 'he touched me'.
"Anyway, they touched and they wrecked and are spinning and all that. David is coming off the wall backwards and spinning and he calls on the radio and says, 'Where's Richard?'
"You've got to realize that at this time there were no talk buttons on the steering wheel. They were on the shoulder harness. So he's spinning and reaches down on the shoulder harness to push the button and asks where Richard is and he's still spinning. If you watch the video, he hits a car. He hit Joe Frasson, and that's what straightened him up. From that point on everybody is going nuts over what's happening.
"I told him, 'He's up here, he's stopped, he's not across the line'. I, of course, was not that calm and those probably aren't the words I used. I remember more about what he said than what I said, but I yelled 'Come on.' "The last thing I remember him saying was, 'I'm coming.'
"So I looked up and here he came. The odd thing about it was that just before he got to the line Benny Parsons went by. Benny was running third, but Benny was a lap down. The year before David was leading the race and he was running with Cale Yarborough and they touched and David spun on the backstretch with one or two to go and Benny won the race. I remember thinking Benny's won THIS race, but he was a lap down. I knew that, but I didn't realize it. Anyway, that was the way it was.
"Then the next thing that I remember was David was coming down pit road and Maurice (Petty) come out on pit road to where he was. He stopped. I never have known what Maurice said to him or what he said to Maurice. I don't know what that conversation was. That's the biggest of all my memories in racing."
WHAT HAPPENED THAT YOU WERE ON THE RADIO AND NOT YOUR DAD OR LEONARD? "They didn't want to. When the radio thing came about just a few teams had them. We didn't have them for a while. The Pettys had them before we did. It was just my job. That's what you do. I would stand right by Leonard and whatever was said, I'd tell him. And he would tell me what to say back, when to pit and stuff. It just wound up that way. I was the caretaker of the radios. They took a lot of maintenance because everything was new and nobody really knew what was needed. They required a lot of upkeep."
HOW OLD WERE YOU? "I don't know. That was 1976 and I'm 48 now. (Laughing) I had long hair."
WAS THAT THE MOST SATISFYING WIN FOR THE WOOD BROTHERS? "It was the most exciting. The most satisfying might have been Kyle (Petty) or Dale Jarrett because you know we had struggled a while and then come back and won. Those two were probably the most satisfying because back in those days (with Pearson) we won fairly often. But it was the most exciting. There probably never will be another one like that with the names involved and what those two men meant to the sport. They were the pillars of the sport. You finally had the two super bowl powers going for the whole deal in the last lap."
- Ford Racing