This morning, I was listening to a local sports talk show. They rarely talk about Nascar on this station, but it beats listening to the local news and talk stations.
There was a caller to the morning show who was apparently traveling through the area. On the local morning show, he proclaimed that he could not live in a state such as South Carolina, because nobody in the state had ever won anything. The host of the show pointed out that Clemson University did indeed win a national championship in football in 1981, but the caller kept on with his spiel.
"You guys don't even have any Nascar guys that ever won a race! You all suck! I could never live in such a loser state."
At this point, I beg to differ. South Carolina certainly has it's faults. I've lived in the state my entire life, so I know we have our faults. Currently, we're under some sort of embargo or whatever by the NAACP because the confederate battle flag still flies on the grounds of the State House in Columbia. The flag was removed from the Capitol years ago, but that didn't satisfy the NAACP. This has been an ongoing battle in the state for years. I think a lot of people forget that the flag was originally placed at the State House by then governor Ernest F. Hollings, later to become a senator from South Carolina. Hollings was a Democrat, and generally was as liberal as any senator from New York or Massachusetts. Yet he was the guy that flew the battle flag, nearly 100 years after the Civil War.
But, I digress. Sure, Clemson University, in Clemson, SC did indeed win a national football championship in 1981, under the leadership of coach Danny Ford, who to this day still resides in Pendleton, SC. He's actually practically a neighbor of mine. I've seen Danny many times at local restaurants around the area. I've crossed paths with him at the grocery store. Danny Ford was originally from Alabama, and played football there and became an assistant coach for Alabama back when the head coach was the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant.
"I just like South Carolina," said Danny Ford. "People are nice here, and I love the lakes and the countryside here." That's good, Coach Danny. Many Clemson fans here talk about you as they would Jesus, in hushed voices, emanating total loyalty. There's still quite a few fans who wish that Danny Ford would come out of retirement and coach the Clemson Tigers to another championship.
As far as Nascar is concerned, South Carolina has a great history. Every hear about David Pearson and Cale Yarborough? Yep, they were born here and still live here to this day.
David Pearson won 105 Cup races in his career, though he rarely raced an entire season. He's second only to the "King", Richard Petty in total wins. In 1999, Richard Petty was asked who the best driver in Nascar was. Without a moment of hesitation, Richard replied "David Pearson."
Petty and Pearson battled to finish 1st and 2nd a total of 68 or so times in their careers. I grew up watching some of these classic battles. Pearson won the championship 3 times in the 1960's. If not for David Pearson, Richard Petty probably would have won 10 championships or maybe more.
David Pearson had prematurely gray hair, even back during his racing days, and was dubbed the "Silver Fox." David was a hard charger, but he knew how to finesse the car when he needed to.
I was privileged to get to meet David Pearson a couple of years ago. He still lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and he's as nice a man as you could ever meet. He's in his 70's now, and as humble a man as ever was. "I was lucky to race when I did," Pearson recalls. "I got to race with the greatest of them, and sometimes I beat them. I was lucky."
David Pearson is possibly too humble. He beat people like Petty because he was a great race driver. I doubt that Richard Petty respects any driver as much as he does David Pearson. Had he run full race schedules, who knows? We might be talking about David Pearson as being the King now.
Another South Carolina legend is Cale Yarborough. Cale was and still is a big bear of a man. He's rough. He's tough. At 70 years of age, he's never seen anyone or anything that can beat him.
Cale was born and still lives near Timmonsville, South Carolina. In his career, Cale won 83 races and 3 Cup championships. He was, until 2008, the only driver ever to win 3 championships in a row. Cale never complained when he was hurt. He went on and drove the next race anyway.
Cale was involved in what became the Awakening of a Nation to Nascar. Cale was involved in the 1979 fight with the Allison brothers on national TV at the Daytona 500, the first nationally televised race from green flag to checker flag. Everything that Nascar has today can be attributed to Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, and Donnie Allison. That was the moment that the USA became aware of Nascar.
The guy that called the station and said he'd never live in a state with a bunch of losers? Turns out he's from the great state of Rhode Island. No disrespect, but what national titles has Rhode Island won lately?