Darlington win 'surreal' for Pearn

Jim Cressman, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:42 PM ET

Cole Pearn and Regan Smith got to know each other as 12-year-old go-karters when they pitted beside each other for three days at a track in Indiana.

Never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined that 16 years later they would be celebrating together their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in Darlington, S.C.

Regan Smith, from Syracuse, N.Y., and Cole Pearn, from Mt. Brydges, Ont., now both living in Denver, Colo., and with the No. 78 car in the unheralded Furniture Row Racing, owned by Barney Visser.

But NASCAR knows all their names now after they won the 62nd running of the famed Southern 500 last Saturday night at Darlington Raceway, a unique 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval on land that once grew peanuts and cotton.

Pearn had seen plenty of celebrations in victory lane in his four years in Sprint Cup, but nothing prepared him for the elation he'd feel as Smithheld off Carl Edwards -- and survived a slam into the Turn 2 wall -- in a great battle to the finish line.

It was also Smith's first trip to victory lane in his four years after winning rookie of the year in 2008. He also became the first first-time winner at Darlington, considered the trickiest track on the circuit.

It's also a track steeped in tradition, with the faces of the Southern 500 winners etched in bronze at the base of the trophy -- legends such as David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon.

Now, Regan Smith.

"I don't get excited too easily but I was pretty excited that night," Pearn said Friday. "That place is pretty special and it was a big shock, just so surreal to win there. I have to say it was pretty cool.

"Regan did such a great job driving. He never put a stripe on the car until the last lap. And that last lap was pretty crazy. We ran the fastest lap of the whole race on 35-lap old tires, which is almost unheard of."

Pearn was the engineer for Kevin Harvick of Richard Childress Racing for two years before joining Smith in 2010 and Harvick had won a couple of Bud Shootouts, but never a points race.

"When it's for points, it makes it pretty special, but you don't have much time to celebrate because it is a job and we're right back at it this week (Sunday's FedEx 400 in Dover, Del.) and this sport can humble you pretty quick," Pearn said.

"It's so much more of a surprise when you win one with a guy like Regan. We've been qualifying real well this year and showed we've had the speed. But we haven't had the results. If we'd knocked off a few more top 10s it wouldn't have been as big a surprise."

Smith's first top 10 in Sprint Cup also came this year as he finished a strong seventh in the season-opening Daytona 500.

"But for a single-car team from Colorado to win the Southern 500, that's not something you expect," Pearn said as their team is the only one in that state.

He said knowing Smith for such a long time has helped make for a good relationship.

"Regan ended up running a lot of races in Canada as we got older and so he was in that circle of guys. And we still talk as equals."

Pearn said one of the nicest things about last Saturday was after the dust had settled, other drivers and mechanics and people from the various garages began dropping by to congratulate them.

"They all understand the difficulties we face in where we're at and what it takes to win one of these races. And for us to accomplish that, I think they really appreciated it. For me that was the best thing."

Pearn, who's gone from being the son of Delaware Speedway hobby car legend Ron (Peaches) Pearn, to the track's youngest late model champion, is now one of the youngest team engineers in NASCAR after graduating from the University of Waterloo.

And now too he's a Sprint Cup winner.

But he said he doesn't feel any added pressure of having to win this week because that pressure is there every week.

"Every week you're trying to make your car better. You can't become complacent. If you stand still, somebody is going past you."

jim.cressman@sunmedia.ca


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