Newman & Pearson: The Masters of Going Faster
The 500-mile race on Saturday night, Oct. 15, is round five of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.
Newman, who holds the track record at 192.988 mph, has leaped to third on Charlotte Motor Speedway's all-time pole list behind Jeff Gordon (7) and David Pearson (14).
Pearson's 14 poles include a string of 11 straight from October 1973 through October 1978. With 14 poles in 46 starts, Pearson started first in 30.4 percent of his races at the 1.5-mile superspeedway.
Amazingly, Newman's LMS pole-winning average is even better at 55.5. Since joining the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup circuit in 2000, the former open-wheel racer has five poles in just nine races at the track.
Pearson won poles at LMS in cars owned by Ray Fox and Bobby Hawkins but a majority of his success, including the string of 11 straight, came behind the wheel of the Wood Brothers' legendary No. 21.
"We just worked hard at it. They [Glen and Leonard Wood] did, and I did," said the 70-year-old Pearson, who is still a prolific race winner with a vintage stock car series that competes on short tracks throughout the Carolinas.
"They had the car set up on the edge," Pearson recalled. "If something had happened and I had to hit the brakes, I wouldn't have had any. They were pushing everything to the limit, using special grease in the wheel bearings and things like that-stuff you wouldn't really need today, but you did then."
With Pearson winning so many consecutive pole positions, some fans became bored and stayed home or at their campsites during qualifying. Track president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler wanted those fans in the seats and decided to shake things up.
"The qualifying went from two laps to three laps and then to four laps, stuff like that, hoping I'd screw up one lap and not get it," Pearson said. "Then, they changed the track, took that hump out of 3 and 4. Humpy said, 'I've got you now.' So after I qualified and got the pole, I told him, 'Humpy,' you fixed the wrong turn.' And he did."
Nothing Wheeler came up with slowed the No. 21 as Pearson and the Wood Brothers continued to claim pole after pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway. And, in the end, it wasn't the format or even another competitor that stopped their amazing streak. It was a split that saw driver and team go their separate ways following the 1978 season.
After the split, Pearson and the Wood Brothers won additional poles at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but neither ever found the qualifying magic they enjoyed together.
In May 1989 it appeared Pearson would return to the Wood Brothers' No. 21 Ford when the team's driver, the late Neil Bonnett, was injured in a crash at Darlington Raceway. Pearson was fitted for a seat and even tested the car in preparation for the Coca-Cola 600.
"The Woods felt like they had a motor that could do it. I went up there to Charlotte and drove it in practice to see if I was up for it," Pearson said. "If not for my back, I would have gone ahead and done it. We ran real good. They felt like we could have sat on the pole again."
Recurring back spasms prevented that reunion, and on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 1989, Pearson officially retired from NASCAR competition.
His final stats show Pearson collected 105 NASCAR Cup series victories and 113 poles during a 30-year career, placing him behind only Richard Petty in both categories.
The 27-year-old Newman reminds many garage-area veterans of Pearson. Both are very quiet, very calculating and strategic behind the wheel. Both most certainly are masters of getting the most out of their race cars.
When it comes to winning pole positions at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Newman appears capable of challenging Pearson's record.
"I really like the race track, but it's changed a lot over the last year-and-a-half," Newman said. "I enjoy the facility and enjoy being close to home. I think it's a great racing facility. We've had some pretty good success there.
"We've had some pretty crazy things happen, too, like spinning out while leading on lap 11 of the 600. Crazy things like that."
Pearson has watched Newman and feels he is destined to win a lot of races.
"From what I've seen, Newman is a talented race car driver and knows how to go fast. He's like me, he doesn't say too much and just shows what he can do on the track," Pearson noted. "That's the way I was and the way the Woods liked doing it. We let the success we had on the race track speak for us."
Newman was quite young when Pearson was in his prime, but has read about his many accomplishments.
"He was one of NASCAR's greatest drivers and I admire him," Newman said. "I know he had his rivalries with the Pettys when he drove for the Wood Brothers. I'm definitely aware of David and all his accomplishments, his qualifying record and things like that.
"I've been compared to Cale Yarborough for my short neck and orneriness, and now to David for the pole positions I've won, so that's definitely good company."
After qualifying on Bojangles' Pole Night on Thursday, Oct. 13, the wild-and-crazy CRASHCars will take the frontstretch quarter-mile oval for an hour of motorized mayhem and a giant fireworks extravaganza will round out the evening.
A collectible Bojangles' Pole Night ticket featuring Rusty Wallace is available for $15 in advance and can be obtained online here or by calling 1-800-455-FANS.