Cotton Owens nominated for NASCAR Hall

Spartanburg’s Cotton Owens is among more than two dozen stock car legends under consideration for the 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame class.

The 2012 class will be selected in June by a 54-member panel, plus a fan vote selected on NASCAR.com, according to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

Other nominees include Timmonsville native Cale Yarborough, Fireball Roberts, Tim Flock, Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick.

Owens first made a name for himself racing modifieds, earning more than 100 wins and capturing titles in 1953 and 1954.

He ran his first NASCAR race in 1950 but didn’t make a serious stab at stock car racing’s top level until later in the decade.

Owens’ first victory in what was then called the NASCAR Grand National Series (today’s Sprint Cup Series) came in February 1957 at Daytona when he drove a 1957 Pontiac to victory.

Owens beat second place finisher Johnny Beauchamp by nearly a minute with the first-ever 100 mph (101.541 mph) average race on the then-sand course. The win was Pontiac’s first in NASCAR.

Two years later, Owens finished second to Lee Petty in the points standings. He won just once, at Richmond, but finished with 22 Top 10s and 13 Top 5s out of 37 starts.

Owens had his best year in 1961 with 11 Top 5s and four wins in just 17 starts, winning at hometown track Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds in Spartanburg.

The following year, Owens began a long and prosperous run as a car owner, hiring legendary racer Junior Johnson. He also began developing a relationship with fellow Spartanburg racer David Pearson.

Two years later, in an effort to teach the young and somewhat combustible Pearson a lesson, Owens entered a race at Richmond and beat Pearson and everyone else on the track to capture his ninth and final Cup victory.

Over the years, Owens’ cars won 32 races and 29 poles, and he and Pearson took the 1966 championship. Pearson will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in May.

He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998.

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