After a seven-year battle with lung cancer, Cotton Owens lived to hear that he would be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Feb. 8, 2013, but unfortunately, he wasn’t able to make it to the actual induction ceremony. Owens passed away Thursday morning at the age of 88.
The Owens family released a statement following the announcement of Owens’ passing.
“The family would like to express gratitude for the thoughts and prayers of precious friends and fans,” the statement read. “While Cotton was a racing legend with an incredible racing family, we mourn the irreplaceable great-granddad, granddad, father, uncle, brother-in-law and friend we have all lost. The family respectfully requests privacy at this difficult time.”
Owens was a significant presence in the early days of the sport, both as a driver and a car owner. As a driver, the Union, S.C., native won nine races, including the 1957 Daytona Beach road course race, the first NASCAR win for Pontiac. He was almost champion in 1959 but lost out in the close battle with eventual champion, Lee Petty.
Owens retired from driving in the mid-1960s because of a vision problem, but he continued in the sport as a car owner. He fielded the car David Pearson drove to a championship in 1966, and was the owner of the car Buddy Baker got up to a speed of more than 200 mph at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in 1970. It was the first speed of more than 200 mph recorded in NASCAR.
Owens retired from full-time team ownership in the 1970s but continued to field cars for country music legend Marty Robbins on a part-time basis.
In the 1990s, Owens returned to his dirt track roots, so to speak, building and preparing cars for his three grandsons. In 1998, he was included among NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.
“NASCAR has lost one of its true pioneers with the passing of Cotton Owens,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said. “On behalf of the France family and everyone at NASCAR, I offer heartfelt condolences to Cotton’s family and friends.
R.I.P., Cotton Owens.
Photo courtesy of ISC Archives/Getty Images
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