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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Young, talented, but too bold?
How a brash young driver copes in Nextel Cup is an age-old issue.
By BRANT JAMES
Published June 23, 2007
David Pearson was a young man, in NASCAR terms, at 26 when he got his big break with car owner John Masoni. He was talented, as evidenced by the 105 wins he would amass in a 27-year career, ranking him second all-time. And he was brash.
But on May 18, 1961, he was 30 races into a NASCAR career and winless.
"(When) I went to Charlotte I was sitting there getting ready to start the race, " Pearson said, "and there was Fireball (Roberts), Joe Weatherly and all them sitting around me and I said, "(Expletive), this car doesn't know who's sitting here driving this thing. If they can do it, I can do it.' And I ended up winning the race."
By leading 225 laps. After three races back in his own equipment, he won with Masoni again in the Daytona summer race and for a third time that season at Atlanta.
Youth is considerably younger in NASCAR now. Mistakes borne of experience trying to catch up to talent still comes with it. And brashness still rankles veterans.
Kyle Busch broke into NASCAR's highest level at 19, won 11 races in its top three series (two in Nextel Cup) by 20 and a title contender at 21, when he finished 10th in points. But he became a constant whipping boy for the likes of two-time champion Tony Stewart because of his unapologetic aggressiveness. He raced teammate Jimmie Johnson aggressively, but cleanly, during a Chase for the Championship race at Dover in 2005 when Johnson was precariously atop the standings. Busch's outspoken critique of the Car of Tomorrow during the winner's news conference at Bristol was cringe-worthy.
Despite his results and seemingly limitless potential, Hendrick Motorsports awkwardly agreed to release him at the end of the season in a move that sounded a lot like a castoff. In his place, the team signed talented, immeasurably popular, but decade-older Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Busch, like his title-winning brother, Kurt, before him, apparently had crossed the fine line of young driver etiquette. But should young drivers have to defer to their elders if they have the talent to win, especially in a sport that minces through prospects?
Team owner Richard Childress, who has expressed an interest in signing Busch, doesn't see the problem as much as he sees history.
"I can name you eight or 10 guys in here at his age that were a handful, " he said. "He's learning. Every new experience you get educated a little more, and I'd say this has educated him a little more."
Childress driver Kevin Harvick, himself a handful at times in his successful and temperament-affected career, doesn't seem interested in educating Busch. When asked if Busch would make a good teammate, he answered simply, "No."
Whereas the Busches' ascension to NASCAR stardom has fairly or not been met with ambivalence and animosity, some win immediately without fuss. Jimmie Johnson did it. So did Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin. Kurt Busch did not.
"Young drivers ain't got nothing to do with it, " said Pearson, who at 72 still competes on short-track circuits with men a third his age. "It all depends on whether you feel like you want to do it or want to do it bad enough."