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THIS WEEK IN NASCAR

THIS WEEK IN NASCARWhen Legends Meet

On a sunny afternoon in the garage area of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, exchampions David Pearson and Tony Stewart got to know each other. At the time, Pearson was 70 years old, Stewart 33. Pearson’s last championship occurred in 1969, when what is now Nextel Cup was referred to as Grand National and there were no races in Las Vegas. Perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, though, Stewart is a throwback to the days when dinosaurs named Pearson, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison ruled the earth. Earth, at the time, mainly consisted of the South. Pearson, who won 105 races, was leisurely strolling around with another notable resident of Spartanburg, SC former car owner and ace mechanic Walter “Bud” Moore. As luck would have it, they happened to be in front of the stall where Stewart’s No. 20 Chevrolet rested, shortly after the end of a practice session and as Stewart was climbing out of his orange car. “Do you know Tony Stewart?” I asked Pearson. “I’ve met him,” he said. “I don’t know him. I know he can sure enough drive a race car.” “I think you’d like him,” I said. “Hang on a minute.”  I then walked over in front of the car, where Stewart was discussing various matters of technical significance with his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli. “David Pearson’s out there,” I said to Stewart. “Want to say hello?” “Give me a minute,” said Stewart. I walked back out and started talking with Moore, about whose teams I used to write, and Pearson, the hero of my youth. Pearson looks as if he could climb right back into a stock car and run 500 miles. He seems far more robust than a man who underwent open-heart surgery a few years back. He has the same barrel chest and broad shoulders he boasted when he was winning 11 races in 18 tries in 1973. After a few minutes of chitchat, though, the proud ex-champion was getting a little restless. With a small sense of urgency, I excused myself and returned to the garage stall, where Stewart had been intercepted by someone else. “Hey, Tony,” I said, “the best stock-car racer who ever lived is out there, and I don’t think I’d make him wait much longer.” Stewart looked up. “Don’t let him get away,” he said. “I’ll be right there.” Thirty seconds may have passed before Stewart strode out into the desert sunshine.

“Hey,” he said, shaking Pearson’s hand, “I need you to drive my car for me at Darlington. I ain’t worth a damn at that track.” Pearson didn’t flinch. “All you got to do is drive that thing as high on the track as you can get it,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing,” Stewart said, smiling. “You ought to have driven it when it was hard,” replied Pearson, who won there a record 10 times. “It’s easy now.” By this time, a small army of photographers had descended. After a reasonable period of “photo ops” taken while they chatted, Stewart and Pearson walked over to the Joe Gibbs Racing transporter and went inside to chat a while longer. Pearson came out with an autographed photo for his grandson, aptly named David. Say what you want about Stewart, but he is nothing if not mindful of the past and respectful of its heroes. At any given time that he isn’t embroiled in high-level discussions on just how he’s going to manage to win the next race, a visit to Stewart’s transporter will find him talking shop with a Red Farmer or a Donnie Allison. Stewart feels at home in the company of the hardscrabble men who preceded him. No one needs to remind Pearson of how great he was. He’s a proud man, but Massage Oils . Adult Novelties Lingerie and Much More he’s not one to elaborate on his great works and deeds. Pearson grew up in a textile-mill village, and when he rose to prominence, he knew well the feeling of being looked down upon by the society folks. I wasn’t kidding when I told Stewart he was the best stock-car racer ever to strap on a helmet. That’s my opinion and it’s unlikely to change. (Reprinted from Haul Ass and Turn Left: The Wit and Wisdom of NASCAR, by Monte Dutton (2006). Reprinted with the author’s permission.)

To read more Monte Dutton, visit his blog at NASCAR This Week (nascar.rbma.com), which features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road.

(c) 2009 King Features Synd., Inc.

Racing legends David Pearson (left) and Tony Stewart have a lot in common, which is why they are both champions.

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