Everett “Cotton” Owens was a two-timer. And proud of it.
Owens had a successful career in the 1950s and early ’60s as a stock-car racer, followed by an equally notable career as a car owner.
“I’m doubly proud,” said Owens, who is now 83 years old. “I built them and I drove them. A lot of people can’t say that. And I won races with them.”
That he did. All told, as a car owner and as a driver, Owens visited Victory Lane 41 times in 487 NASCAR Grand National races, and captured 38 poles.
For his dual accomplishments, Owens has been named to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 2008 Induction Class. He is joined in the Class of 2008 by Art Arfons, Robert “Red” Byron, Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, Frank Kurtis and Ralph Seagraves. The group will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame on April 24.
A native of Union, S.C., Owens became hooked on stock-car racing as a teenager after illicitly watching a race for the first time in 1940
“I had to climb the fence to see that race, and I fell in love with it,” Owens recalled. “I’d seen some midget races, but I hadn’t seen any stock cars. I watched that one race, and that’s all it took.”
Owens pursued a racing career following World War II, and eventually earned the nickname “King of the Modifieds” for his success on the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour. He won more than 100 Modified races and captured the series championship in 1953 and ’54.
Owens made the transition to the NASCAR Grand National Series in the late 1950s and continued his winning ways. On Feb. 17, 1957, he picked up the first-ever NASCAR victory for Pontiac by winning the series’ premier event on the Daytona Beach Course. Owens became the first driver to average more than 100 mph in the race (101.541) in taking the checkered flag nearly a full minute ahead of runner-up Johnny Beauchamp.
That began a five-year streak, through 1961, in which Owens earned at least one Grand National victory each season. His most successful season in the point standings was in 1959, when he had one victory, 13 top-five finishes and 22 top-10s in 37 starts and finished second to the legendary Lee Petty in the standings.
Two years later, in 1961, Owens had perhaps his most productive season, though he did it as a part-time racer on the circuit. In only 17 starts (compared to 46 starts for points champion Ned Jarrett) Owens had four victories and 11 top-five finishes.
Shortly after that season, Owens shifted gears and became more of a car owner than a driver, though he continued to race periodically through 1966. Over the years, Owens worked with some of the biggest names in the sport, including Buddy Baker, Pete Hamilton, Ralph Earnhardt, Bobby Isaac, Junior Johnson, Benny Parsons, Fireball Roberts, Mario Andretti, and Al Unser.
In 1970 at Talladega, Baker was driving an Owens-prepared car when he became the first person to top 200 mph in a NASCAR sanctioned event.
But Owens most famous and successful partnership was with David Pearson. In five seasons together, Owens and Pearson won 27 times in 170 races. The duo teamed up to win the 1966 Grand National championship, claiming 15 victories and 26 top-five finishes in 42 races.
“He was like a young lion,” Owens said of Pearson. “You’d have to calm him down every so often. But when he was (calm), he was one of the best ever.”
The same could be said of Owens. In fact, in 1998, he was named one of the 50 greatest drivers in NASCAR history. And now he is becoming a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
“A lot of people don’t remember what happened years and year ago,” Owens said. “So it’s nice to be remembered this way.”