Cotton Owens, a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame's fourth class, didn't live to experience his own induction, but to his friend and fellow Hall of Famer David Pearson, being selected for the hall was the culmination of a dream for his former car owner.
Owens, 88, died at his Spartanburg, S.C., home Thursday morning after battling lung cancer for more than seven years. On May 23, two days after his 88th birthday, Owens learned he had been voted into the Hall of Fame. Because of his illness, he was unable to attend the announcement, but Pearson said the selection was not lost on his friend.
"He was aware of everything," Pearson told the NASCAR Wire Service during a phone call Thursday afternoon. "It really meant a lot to him. I just wish he could have been there for the ceremony."
The induction ceremony for the five members of the 2013 Hall of Fame class will take place on Feb. 8, 2013.
"This is a sad day for the NASCAR industry, but we are all consoled by the fact that Cotton was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame before his death," said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. "Today we have lost a portion of our past. But people like Cotton Owens are the reason our sport thrives today -- and can look forward to a promising future."
Pearson won the first of his three championships in NASCAR's foremost series driving Owens' No. 6 Dodge. All told, Pearson won 27 races in 170 starts driving Owens' equipment.
Owens began his racing career as a driver. In what is now called NASCAR's Whelen Modified Tour, he won more than 100 features and division championships in 1953 and 1954, earning him the nickname "King of the Modifieds."
Owens also collected nine victories in NASCAR's top division (now called Sprint Cup), the last coming at Richmond in 1964, when he beat Pearson to the checkered flag.
As an owner, Owens won 38 times in 405 starts in the Cup series. Owens fielded cars for a list of luminaries that included Pearson, Junior Johnson, Bobby Isaac, Ralph Earnhardt, Benny Parsons, Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, Mario Andretti, Jim Paschal, Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach and Al Unser.