COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) NASCAR pioneer Cotton Owens died Thursday morning. The Hall of Famer who made his mark as a driver and owner was 88.
Kimberly Meesters of the NASCAR Hall of Fame confirmed Owens passing through his family. Meesters said Owens died peacefully. The Owens family thanked fans for their well wishes, but requested privacy in this difficult time.
Owens, who lived in Spartanburg, was part of the Hall's class of 2013 that was announced two weeks ago in Charlotte. He'll be inducted in February along with Rusty Wallace, Leonard Wood and the late Buck Baker and Herb Thomas.
Owens, whose given name was Everett, won nine times on NACAR's top circuit including the Daytona Beach, Fla., road course that marked Pontiac's first win in NASCAR. He was perhaps better known as an owner, fielding cars for Hall of Fame drivers like Junior Johnson and David Pearson. Owens won nine times as a driver and 38 as an owner.
"While Cotton was a racing legend with an incredible racing `family,' we mourn the irreplaceable great granddad, father, uncle, brother-in-law and friend we have all lost," the Owens family said in a statement released through NASCAR.
NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said the sport had lost one of its true pioneers.
"But we are all consoled by the fact that Cotton was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame before his death," France said.
Owens was born in Union on May 21, 1924 and lived most of his life in Spartanburg, where he headquartered his race team.
He finished second in the 1959 series championship chase to Lee Petty and was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers in 1998.
Owens fielded a who's who of drivers for his cars. Besides Pearson and Johnson, Owens' drivers included Ralph Earnhardt, Marvin Panch, Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker and Mario Andretti.
Most of Owens' success came with Pearson, who won the 1966 series championship and 27 of his career 105 victories driving for Owens.
Owens' grandson, Brandon Davis, told NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley that the honor lifted Owens' spirit in his final days. "He will be missed," Kelley said.