Living Legend

NASCAR Icon Is An Auto Recycler

Everett "Cotton" Owens' legendary auto racing career spans decades and has ties to auto recycling.


Everett "Cotton" Owens was a fixture in the auto-racing world from 1950 to 1973 as both a driver and owner. During the 1950s, he won more than 100 modified races, earning him the moniker "King of the Modifieds."He had nine victories in NASCAR's premier series, now called the Sprint Cup. Some of racing's biggest names drove his racecars, including, David Pearson (2011 Hall of Fame inductee), Buddy Baker, Ralph Earnhardt, Junior Johnson (2010 Hall of Fame inductee) and Mario Andretti. NASCAR named Owens one of its 50 greatest drivers of all time to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1998 and nominated him as a possible inductee for the 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame. It's an impressive career and one that begins with auto salvage.

Owens and good friend Bud Moore (another 2011 Hall of Fame inductee) got a job at a salvage yard located next door to Owens' parents' house in Spartanburg, S.C. right after returning from World War II. He hadn't been there long before two racecar drivers came in with a wrecked 1937 Ford. The drivers asked Owens and Moore to fix it before their upcoming race.

"They wanted to know if we'd put a body on it while they got some rest,"recalled Owens. "When they went out Saturday, they won that race. Bud and I looked at each other and said, 'Man, there isn't anything to that racing. We gotta do that.'"

Owens spent the next couple of decades building and racing autos.

"All he's known is racing and working on cars,"acknowledged Owens' son, Don Owens. "There's very few who do it like he used to, when you built the car from the ground up."

Owens built a relationship with Dodge as a racer in 1962 and stayed with the company through 1971. It was then he got the opportunity to be one of five people to buy Chrysler salvage directly from the Detroit automaker and opened up his specialty yard, Cotton Owens Enterprises, Inc. in Spartanburg, S.C. Later Owens bought test vehicles.

"They were dropping these Dodge 4x4 trucks on TV in California," Owens explained. "I bought all 15."

Owens admits he crushed a lot of classic vehicles back in the day, like 20 - 30 of the Dodge Challenger and Barracuda he couldn't remove from a leased site.

"You're talking about some good looking cars,"he acknowledged. "Some of them had beautiful bodies. I took the running gears out, but as far as bodies, I just crushed them."

Cotton Owens Enterprises sits on about 11 acres. Though it isn't computerized, engines and computers are stored inside a 60-by-60 foot building.

Five years ago, Owens was diagnosed with lung cancer, which has slowed him down this past year. Now he and Don only keep the business open part time. It is currently for sale.

"Business was good and then the economy changed and you had to crush cars to make room for newer cars,"said Don. "It just started slowing up. We now only have about 20 cars."

Owens said he thinks there is a connection between auto racing and auto recycling.

"I think it's the love of the automobile and nothing else really," he stated. "People just love to see the car they like and they love to see it do well."

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