Earl Pearson Jr. Eyes Jani-King Late Model Prize
"My crew started kidding me a few years ago when hurricane Earl came through and they started calling me that," explained the Jacksonville, Fla., resident. "We put it on a couple of shirts and it took off big time.
"I didn't really want to stay with it because I know from experience that hurricanes are pretty bad," Pearson added. "But the fans really like it."
The 34-year-old Pearson leads the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series point standings and appears headed to a third consecutive national championship. He also scored the biggest victory of his career last month when he won the prestigious World 100, one of late model racing's marquee events.
Pearson started racing 26 years ago when he was just 8 years old.
"I started in go-karts and won championships on both dirt and asphalt," he said. "My whole family has been involved in racing for many years. It was pretty much a family thing. It was always in our blood."
From go-karts, Pearson moved to open-wheel modifieds when he was 16. That's when he met the first in a long line of people who helped take him to where he is today.
"I ran open-wheel cars for a little while, and then I got hooked up with Gene Chapman," said Pearson. "He ran an engine shop in Jacksonville. He sponsored us and built our motors. He was the guy that helped us climb the ladder."
Pearson kept winning and got the break that put him over the top in 1999 when he hooked up with Carlton Lamm and the Dunn-Benson Ford Motorsports team.
"I was racing for Marvin Harris out of Atlanta," Pearson recalled. "I got to know Carlton in the pit area. He already had a driver, but he gave me the opportunity to drive one night in Brunswick, Ga. Two weeks later, I got a call that their driver didn't want to travel."
Pearson climbed aboard Lamm's No. 1 Ford and the rest is history.
"I'm just so happy with the Dunn-Benson team," Pearson said. "There's no contract between us. It's been on a handshake basis since 1999. That's how good of a relationship we've got."
In addition to his success on the track, Pearson and the Lucas Oil team have developed a devoted fan following.
"I try to make all the driver autograph sessions and be as friendly as I can," Pearson explained. "I love being around the kids. I remember what it was like when I was one of them."
Pearson also tries to get along with his fellow competitors, though he does it in a low-key manner.
"A lot of them say I'm laid back," he said. "I pretty much keep to myself, but when I'm racing, I give 100 percent and do the best I can. I race everybody clean. Sometimes we beat each other up on the track, but the next week we're all friends."
In the rare moments he's not traveling to the next race, Pearson says he's just an ordinary guy.
"If I'm not racing, I like to be in the woods hunting. I ran heavy equipment when I was younger, so I enjoy doing that, too. And I like to cut grass. That's when I do my best thinking," he concluded.
Pearson, late model legend Scott Bloomquist, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup veteran Ken Schrader and Carolina dirt-track legends Mike Duvall and Freddy Smith are among the more than 50 late model drivers expected to chase a possible $28,000 first-place prize during the Oct. 11 Jani-King Southern Showdown presented by Ferris Commercial Mowers.
In addition to a 50-lap feature for the late model stock cars, two of the world's most popular Monster Trucks-Avenger and Equalizer-will square off in a no-holds-barred, winner-take-all freestyle competition.
With former World Freestyle Champion Jim Koehler behind of the wheel of Avenger and Mike Hawkins piloting Equalizer, the duo will tackle a radical freestyle course comprised of a full-sized school bus, numerous cars, vans and a recreational vehicle. Specially constructed wheelie ramps will also allow the drivers to launch their 13-foot-tall behemoths up to 30 feet in the air.
If purchased in advance, adult tickets for the Jani-King Southern Showdown presented by Ferris Commercial Mowers are just $20 with children 12 and under admitted for $5. All tickets are $5 more the day of the event. Tickets are available by calling 1-800-455-FANS or online.