CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — It was only fitting that Cotton Owens was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame by David Pearson, the driver who won him a championship and was a devoted friend long after their racing careers ended.
Pearson, a member of the second class for the Hall, inducted former driver and car owner Owens in Friday night's ceremony. Owens died at 88 in June, weeks after learning he had been voted into the Hall's fourth class.
His inclusion was pushed for by both Pearson and Bud Moore, a member of the inaugural class. The two were among Owens' closest friends and the three were nearly inseparable around Spartanburg, S.C.
"He was a good guy, and my friend, and one of the best friends I had," Pearson said. "Every Sunday after church I'd go pick him up, been that way for years. Everybody thought when we were split up we were mad at each other."
Pearson won 27 races driving for Owens, as well as the 1966 championship.
Owens won nine races as a driver, then transitioned into ownership. He finished second in points in 1959 to Hall of Famer Lee Petty, and won more than 100 races in NASCAR's modified division.
He was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers in 1998.
"In our family book, there was no better racer than Cotton Owens," grandson Kyle Davis said in accepting Owens' induction. "He took great pride in the fact he could build a car from the ground up. ... He was a wizard turning wenches and behind the wheel."
Herb Thomas was remembered as a hard worker who never forgot his farming roots during his induction.
Thomas was the first of the five inductees honored in a class that also included former champions Buck Baker, Rusty Wallace and innovative mechanic and crew chief Leonard Wood.
Thomas' induction was opened by current NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, and was accepted by Thomas' son, Joel.
Thomas, the first driver to win two NASCAR championships, died in 2000. A two-time champion at NASCAR's top level, he also finished second in points twice and ended the year in the top two in four consecutive seasons from 1951-54.
Thomas won 48 races and ranks 13th on the career wins list.
Joel Thomas said his father returned to working on the family tobacco farm in Olivia after his retirement.
"He was always kind and fair to everyone, and wasn't afraid of hard work," Joel Thomas said. "He operated his own saw mill and almost 50 years later was excited to teach me how to run it. When dad finally retired from racing in 1962, he worked on the farm with his family for many years. Those were wonderful years."