He was NASCAR pioneer who took the sport to new levels. He built his own race cars and engines, was feared and respected by his competitors and made stars out of the men that drove for him. Last Thursday on June 7, Everett Cotton Owens passed away quietly at the age of 88. He was one a the few remaining drivers and team owners from NASCARs golden era, when stock cars truly resembled the showroom models and racers wore nothing more that an open face helmet, blue jeans and a T-shirt while hurling their 400-horsepower machines with minimal safety equipment around short tracks and super speedways.
Everett earned the nickname Cotton because his hair was very white, but it was his driving and tuning expertise running Modifieds with a Dodge six-cylinder engine that made the competition take notice. He won between 50 and 60 races in 1950 with a modified 37 Dodge. “I actually was running Dodge before anyone back in the early 50s,” said Owens in an interview years ago.
In 1957, Cotton won the Daytona 500 and he almost took the 1959 NASCAR championship, only to come in second to Lee Petty. However it was when he hung up his helmet and decided to be a car owner that he really became famous. He had an uncanny knack for tuning engines for max power while following the stringent NASCAR rules. He also knew that suspension played a big role in how a car would handle on the delicate track surfaces. It was he that put the Dodge brand in the record book with drivers like Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Bobby Isaac, Charlie Glotzbach and many more.
When NASCAR banned the HEMI® from competition in 1965, Cotton and his contracted driver, David Pearson went drag racing and campaigned a rear-engine Dart station wagon aptly called The Cotton Picker. With the introduction of the 426 Street HEMI® in 1966, NASCAR allowed the engine to run and since the new Charger with its fastback roofline was also launched that year, Cotton got right back in the mix. Once again the word throughout the pits and the grandstands was Cotton Owens-prepared Dodges were a force to be reckoned with. They gave the other Chrysler drivers, along with the heavily funded Ford and Mercury teams, a run for the money throughout the mid to late 1960s. When Dodge introduced the Charger 500 and Charger Daytona in 1969, these were some of the slickest machines to come out of his Spartanburg shop and immediately ruled the high banks.
When Chrysler began its slow exit strategy from NASCAR in the mid to late 1970s, Cotton could see the writing on the wall. During his retirement, he still stayed connected to the sport and remained in close contact with many of his former drivers. It was announced this past May that he was to be inducted into the NASCAR hall of fame in 2013 and we know that his legacy as a driver and team owner will live on forever.