Pearson's No. 21 Wood Brothers...
Pearson's No. 21 Wood Brothers Mercury spent plenty of time out front atMichigan International Speedway. Pearson hammers the low groove here enroute to a win in the 1974 Yankee 400.
Michigan International Speedway is rarely mentioned as one of NASCAR'smost important tracks. Those bows are usually reserved for DarlingtonRaceway as the track with the most tradition; Bristol Motor Speedway asthe most exciting; and Daytona International Speedway as the mostrevered.
Michigan gets few votes in any of those categories but is stillconsidered one of NASCAR's top venues because of its proximity toDetroit--the epicenter of American automobile design and manufacturing.
Located on 1,400 acres of land in the "Irish Hills" area, MIS isapproximately 40 minutes west of Detroit and its laundry list ofautomotive corporate headquarters. That fact alone has made winning atMichigan a priority since NASCAR first competed on the two-mile Michiganhigh banks in 1969.
Charles Moneypenny, the same man who designed Daytona's 2.5-mile oval,was brought in to conceive the Michigan track. Ground breaking occurredon September 28, 1967. More than 2.5 million yards of dirt were moved toform the new Michigan two-mile D-shaped oval. The track's initialconfiguration included a three-mile course and two 1.9-mile road coursesdesigned by road racing great Stirling Moss.
Pearson celebrates a win at...
Pearson celebrates a win at Michigan International Speedway withBeverley Pridgen, Miss Winston.
Built at a cost estimated to be as much as $6 million, the track openedon October 13, 1968, with a 250-mile IndyCar race won by Ronnie Bucknum.The NASCAR boys got into the act at Michigan a year later when CaleYarborough won the 1969 Motor State 500 by five car lengths over DavidPearson. Richard Petty, LeeRoy Yarbrough, and Charlie Glotzbachcompleted the Top-5 finishers. Donnie Allison won the pole with a speedof 160.135 mph in a Banjo Mathews prepared '69 Ford, but Allison fellout at Lap 115 because of engine failure. He finished Twenty-Seventh infront of a crowd of 46,238.
The event proved to be the first of eight wins by Yarborough at thetrack. In most instances, that would be good enough to be the all-timeleader in victories at a speedway. Unfortunately for Yarborough and therest of the drivers of the era, David Pearson was also usually enteredat Michigan.
Pearson captured 105 NASCAR Cup events in his storied career, and nineof them were at Michigan. The Whitney, South Carolina, native made hisracing debut in a Hobby Stock division in 1953 and broke into the NASCARGrand National (now Nextel Cup) ranks in the 1960 Daytona 500, startingThirty-Third and finishing Twenty-Eighth in the 68-car starting field.
By the time Pearson finished Second in the inaugural Motor State 500 atMichigan, he had already won 51 career races and was now behind thewheel of the famed No. 17 Holman Moody Ford.
Pearson drove the sleek silver and blue Ford to the pole for a secondrace at Michigan that summer--the 1969 Yankee 600. Set for 300 laps onthe two-mile MIS track, Pearson dominated the event by leading 79 of the165 laps run before rain washed out the rest of the race.
It took Pearson until 1972 to return to Victory Lane at Michigan when hewon the June 11 Motor State 400. Now driving the potent No. 21 WoodBrothers Mercury, the win began an incredible streak for Pearson and theWood Brothers at Michigan.
Some guys are more relaxed...
Some guys are more relaxed at the track than others. In this photo,Pearson gets some extra winks in the seat of his Wood Brothers Mercurybefore a race at Michigan. Note the "special" footwear the drivers ofthe era employed.
Pearson came back to win the fall 1972 Michigan event and the 1973 MotorState 400 to give him three-straight wins. After a Third-Place finish inthe 1974 Motor State 360 (cut in length because of the '74 gas crisis),Pearson cracked off wins in the 1974 Yankee 400 and the 1975 Motor State400 to give him five wins in six Michigan events.
Pearson kept the incredible hot steak going with a Second-Place finishbehind Richard Petty in the 1975 Champion Spark Plug 400 before headingfor Victory Lane two more straight times in the 1976 Cam 2 Motor Oil 400and the Champion Spark Plug 400.
The "Silver Fox" then closed out the incredible run with a Fifth and twoseconds and earned his final Michigan win by capturing the 1978 ChampionSpark Plug 400. The victory gave Mercury bragging rights in Motor City,as the brand won 12 of the first 20 NASCAR events contested in theinitial decade of the Detroit area speedway.
Pearson's final '78 win ended a run of eight victories and threerunner-up finishes in 13 Michigan races from 1972-78. His finishingaverage over those 13 events was 1.7 with his worst effort a Fifth.
Pearson continued to compete at Michigan well into his career with hisfinal appearance coming in the 1986 Champion Spark Plug 400 where hedrove the No. 16 Chattanooga Chew racer to a Tenth-Place finish.
In all, Pearson competed in 29 Michigan Cup events and posted nine wins,17 Top-5 and 20 Top-10 finishes. He led an amazing 864 laps and recordedjust eight DNFs at Michigan.
Richard Petty and David Pearson...
Richard Petty and David Pearson dominated Michigan InternationalSpeedway in the '70s by winning nine NASCAR races in a row from1972-1976. Here, Petty gets the win over Pearson in the 1975 ChampionSpark Plug 400.
As good as Pearson was on race day at MIS, he might have been evenbetter at qualifying. Pearson is also on top of the all-time pole winnerhonor roll at Michigan with 10, including six in a row from August 1976through August 1979.
Over the years, a few drivers have been able to match Pearson's masteryof MIS. Yarborough proved to be Pearson's biggest on-track rival bywinning eight times. Bill Elliott also managed to post a Pearson-likeperformance at Michigan when he won seven races and scored a second-bestsix pole positions from 1984-1989.
In recent years, Ryan Newman has proven to be the most successful driverin NASCAR Nextel Cup competition at Michigan. Newman has won two of thelast three events. A year ago, Newman survived nine cautions and a stoutchallenge from Kasey Kahne to win the 2004 DHL 400 spring event at MIS.
The race, which finished under caution, saw Kahne nab runner-up honorsover four-time Michigan winner Dale Jarrett, followed by Jimmie Johnsonand Elliott Sadler. The event took 2 hours, 52 minutes and 18 seconds tocomplete, and Newman took home $176,317 for the win, more than twice thetotal purse offered in the inaugural '69 NASCAR event at the track.
In all, Michigan has hosted 71 Cup events with the NASCAR Busch Seriesstaging 13 events since first running at MIS in 1992. The NASCARCraftsman Truck Series is also now an annual staple of the Michiganschedule, with the track hosting five events since debuting there in1999.
Newman will try to continue to emulate Pearson, Yarborough, and Elliottwhen he and the rest of the NASCAR Cup crowd take on the Batman Begins400 on Sunday, June 19. The 200-lap event will be telecast on FOX andwill take the green flag at 2:10 p.m. Eastern Time. The event will alsobe broadcast worldwide on MRN Radio.