Al Pearce is a generous man who last weekend covered the Daytona 500 for AutoWeek magazine for the 47th year in a row, which is how I know Al. For 12 years, I edited the stories he’d send back to AutoWeek — and not only from Daytona but from all the other races on the NASCAR circuit.
Since I moved from Michigan to Arizona, Al has been a frequent house guest during the NASCAR-racing weekends at Phoenix International Raceway.
And sometimes it’s not just Al who stays. As I said, he’s a generous man — even with my house — and sometimes he brings home a stray writer or two who can’t find or afford a motel room. One night a few years ago, both of my guest beds were occupied and there were one or two others sleeping on the floor.
At least Al calls well in advance to tell me when he’s staying at my house. Sometimes, however, instead of flying he arrives by train (his father was a railroad engineer and Al loves to travel the rails), which means there are days, well, more like nights, when I have to drive out to the desert outpost of Maricopa, Arizona at 2 or 3 a.m. to meet the westbound Amtrak.
But as I said, Al Pearce is a generous man, and he always pays for a wonderful steak dinner when he visits.
But that’s only a small part of Al Pearce’s generosity. Ever since the annual event began, Pearce has been a regular on Kyle Petty’s cross-country motorcycle ride that raises money for children’s charities (before he was married, Pearce would ride his motorcycle from race-to-race covering NASCAR). To further help the cause, Al started collecting autographs on helmets that he’d sell to add to the charity ride coffers.
There was a helmet with the autographs of all living Indy 500 winners, and one with the signatures of all living NASCAR champions and another with all living Daytona 500 winners. And one year, if my memory is correct, he collected the autographs all the winning Super Bowl coaches who were still alive, and this time on a football helmet.
But his crowning achievement has been to secure signatures from every living World Driving Champion on a helmet that will be offered for sale at RM Sotheby’s upcoming Monaco auction.
Al started collecting those signatures in the fall of 2007. Once upon a time I’d worked with Phil Hill’s daughter, Vanessa, and she and her brother, Derek, were at their parents’ home when Al arrived and they made sure their ailing father signed his helmet.
Many people told Pearce he’d never get the Formula One champions, among the most self-centered and selfish of professional athletes, to sign his helmet. But those people don’t know Al Pearce’s determination or his generosity.
Armed with letters of introduction from the likes of Richard Petty and Roger Penske but on his own dime, Pearce traveled something like 70,000 miles, made multiple trips to Europe and at least one to Brazil to get the rest of the Grand Prix champions’ signatures.