The Frontstretch: Driven To The Past: Davey Allison by Vito Pugliese -- Thursday April 26, 2007

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Driven To The Past: Davey Allison

Vito Pugliese · Thursday April 26, 2007

 

Personal:
Born: February 25th, 1961
Birthplace: Hollywood, Florida
Hometown: Hueytown, Alabama
Married: Elizabeth
Children: Krista, Robert

Career:
Wins: 19
Top 5’s: 66
Top 10’s: 92
Poles: 14

This weekend is one of those races that most NASCAR fans have circled on their calendar. While many will argue that restrictor plate racing isn't "real" racing, the tight packs, high speeds, and breathtaking action are undoubtedly exciting if not a little nerve-wracking. Or maybe make that nerve-"wrecking". When the green flag drops at what was formerly known as Alabama International Speedway this weekend in Talladega, there will be one driver absent from the field that many will fondly remember and wish was taking part in the action. No, I am not talking about Mark Martin, who will be sacked out on the couch Sunday with barbecue sauce all over his fingers. I am referring to one of the greatest drivers of the modern era, one who was unable to find out just how bright his Texaco-Havoline star could shine. This week it is only fitting that we profile one of the Alabama Gang's finest, Davey Allison.

David Carl Allison was born February 25th, 1961 in Hollywood, Florida. The oldest son of the 3rd all-time winningst driver Bobby Allison and wife Judy, Davey and his brother Clifford really had no other choice than to join their father, uncle Donnie, as well as friends Red Farmer and Neil Bonnet, as charter members of the Alabama Gang….even though the Allisons were Florida natives. Davey started racing at the age of 18, driving a car he and his buddies put together, deeming themselves the "Peach Fuzz Gang". He would win both Talladega ARCA races in 1983, and ARCA Rookie of the Year in 1984, while placing in the runner-up spot in the series points standings.

Davey Allison made his first career NASCAR start at Talladega in 1985, driving Hoss Ellington's No. 1 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS. Things got off to a promising start as he notched a top 10 finish in his first outing at the big track in a car that was unrestricted, unlike today's machines. The pole speed back then was almost 20mph faster than today's speeds, in cars that actually bore more than a passing resemblance to their street counterparts than today's cars with their cockeyed bodies and headlight stickers. In 1986 he would run a handful of races for the Sadler Brothers, and while subbing for Neil Bonnet in the spring race (Bonnet was injured the week before at Pocono) would notch another top 10 run, this time a 7th place finish in the No. 12 Budweiser Chevrolet.

1987 would be Davey Allison's coming out party. He captured the first pole position of his career at the second race at Richmond, and scored his first career victory at his home track at Talladega in the spring, dominating the event, leading 101 laps of 198. The win was an ironic one. As Davey had just scored his first victory, his father almost put his car in the grandstands in one of the most memorable Talladega "big ones" in history. Davey Allison’s second win would only have to wait two more weeks where he put a hurtin' on ‘em again at Dover, leading 212 laps of the 500 lap event. His father Bobby led early, leading 147 laps before retiring with engine failure. He would win four more pole positions that summer, and finished second at both Talladega and Dover upon the return trip to those tracks, and also was runner-up at Michigan in June. He would take Rookie of The Year honors, becoming the first rookie to win two races in a season.

In 1988, race fans were treated to one of the most memorable finishes in Daytona 500 history. Davey in his No. 28 Harry Ranier prepared Ford Thunderbird dueled with his father's No. 12 Miller Genuine Draft Buick in the closing laps of the Daytona 500. The CBS cameras captured the action from his car as Bobby drove around Davey to claim racing's biggest prize for cars with fenders. He was soon in victory lane, dousing his dad with a can of Miller High Life. The rest of the 1988 season was an up and down affair. A top five one week would be followed by an engine failure the next. Then things really turned for the worse at Pocono in June. On the opening lap, Davey’s father Bobby was involved in a grinding crash. A tire went down, sending Bobby into the second turn wall, and into the path of another car which struck him in the driver's side door. Davey drove up to the scene under caution and stopped his car to check on his dad, not knowing how badly he had been hurt. Bobby was critically injured in the No. 12 car at Pocono….the same track where Neil Bonnet was injured a few years earlier, also driving car No. 12. It would be the same track where Davey would endure a similar fate in the future. Bobby was pulled from the wreckage, clinging to life. He suffered a bruised heart and brain damage, from which to this day he has still not fully recovered. He cannot remember the Daytona 500 from earlier that season.

The following year the team would be bought by Davey’s then crew chief Robert Yates. The horsepower king's swoopy new Thunderbird would win at Talladega in the spring and later in the year at Dover, posting wins at the same two tracks he did in 1987. 1990 would produce a hard fought win at Bristol, barely holding off Mark Martin in what is still one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history, and a second win at Charlotte in the fall. While he only finished thirteenth in points, the No. 28 team was building something special for 1991.

The next year Davey would be united with crew cheif Larry McReynolds, following an ugly falling out with then crew cheif "Suitcase" Jake Elder. The combination was an instant success, and McReynolds seemed to be the missing link for Davey and the new Yates team. The duo got off to a fast start, finishing 2nd in their first race together at Darlington. He would win at Charlotte, Sears Point (following a NASCAR penalty on Ricky Rudd for rough driving on the final turn of the last lap), Michigan, Rockingham, and Phoenix. At the second Michigan race he was involved in another one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history, as he was nudged out by Dale Jarrett who scored his first career win by less than a foot. He also won the Winston All-Star race that year. With Larry McReynolds' leadership and finely tuned racecars, the No. 28 would end the year 3rd in points, and was considered the favorite in 1992 to win the Winston Cup.

Davey and company proved the prognosticators right at the Daytona 500 in 1992, winning the race in dominating fashion. Although a majority of the field was eliminated in a wreck before halfway when Ernie Irvan, Bill Elliott, and Sterling Marlin tangled while battling for the halfway bonus (that paid a whopping $10,000….paltry by today's standards), the No. 28 team was competing with a back-up car after the primary car was damaged beyond repair in a crash during practice just three days before the 500. While that victory certainly was a high point in 1992, there were a number of lows as well.

During the spring Bristol race, Allison tangled with one of his father's arch nemeses, Darrell Waltrip, injuring his ribs. His grandfather "Pop" Allison would pass away that spring as well. While battling with Kyle Petty door to door on the final lap of the The Winston, the first race run at night at Charlotte under the lights and a full moon, he was involved in a very hard crash on the front stretch. As he attempted to squeeze by Petty as the cars crossed the finish line, he had just won by a nose and the two cars made contact. Davey spun around, hitting the wall driver's side first. Allison would later say that as crews were working to extricate the unconscious driver from his car, he saw a bright white light, and was headed towards it, and had an aerial view of his car with safety crews tearing it apart.

Woah.

In July, Darrell and Davey would again get together. Depending on the vantage point, going across the Tunnel Turn at Pocono, Davey came down into Darrell, or Darrell moved across the back end of Davey's car. The last shot on television was Davey's car sliding sideways on the grass out of view. The next picture was the No. 28 car stood up on it's nose leaning backwards, as it began a series of violent barrel rolls through the infield and up onto the guardrail, landing a few feet from a rescue vehicle. The car flung everything from the springs and shocks to the steering wheel out of the car. Larry McReynolds was monitoring radio traffic as the crews worked feverishly to extricate Davey, or what was left of him, from his car. Larry happened onto Mark Martin's radio channel just in time to hear him say, "they better get a body bag for Davey." Alas, Davey emerged bruised, beaten, arm broken but conscious and very much alive. Davey returned to driving just a week later, with raccoon eyes and his hand Velcroed to the Hurst shifter in his racecar. Two weeks later however, Davey would loose his younger brother Clifford during practice for an ARCA race at Michigan. Following the penultimate race at Phoenix that year which he won, he entered the final race with a 30-point lead and a solid chance at winning the Winston Cup. Unfortunately for Davey he was involved in an incident on the opening lap that saw his rear quarter panel crushed, and later would be involved in a wreck with Ernie Irvan, dashing his chances at a title.

After a few months to recuperate, recover, and reconcile the loss of his brother, Davey and company were back at it in 1993, again picked as the team to beat to win the Winston Cup. This time they waited until the third race of the year to win, running away with the victory after a dominating early performance by Kyle Petty. As has so often been the case in this sport, that sadly would be the final win of his career. Davey Allison would run his last race at New Hampshire International Speedway in July. During the week before the next race in Pocono, Allison decided to make a trip to his home track, Talladega, to watch his friend David Bonnet run a test session. While arriving at the track by helicopter with fellow Alabama Gang member Red Farmer, the helicopter, only a few feet off the ground, suddenly climbed straight up, rolled over, and crashed on its roof. Neil Bonnet was on hand to witness the horrific event. He freed Red from the wreckage, but could not help Davey. Farmer would survive the crash. Davey Allison would succumb to his injuries the following morning at the age of 32. The No.28 Texaco-Havoline team was shaken by the loss and elected to stay home from the next race at Pocono, but would return to the track in Talladega the following week with young Ford driver Robby Gordon behind the wheel. Later that year, Ernie Irvan would vacate his #4 Kodak Chevrolet to take over the driving duties for the team.

In 1993, Davey was leading the IROC points heading into the final race of the season. Terry Labonte started his car for him, and Davey won the title posthumously. All of the cars for the remainder of the year carried #28 and #7 stickers on the B-pillars, in tribute to Allison and Alan Kulwicki, who was also killed in a plane crash months earlier. Allison was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at his home track in 1998. He was also named to NASCAR's list of 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998, along with his father, in honor of NASCAR's 50th Anniversary.

Davey Allison remains one of the most memorable and popular drivers in the sport. To this day, cars and trucks are proudly emblazoned with faded No. 28 stickers with his signature. The next time you're at a race, keep your eyes pealed; you will no doubt spot a couple of Davey Allison t-shirts proudly worn in tribute to an always favorite driver. I was at the 1992 Daytona 500 when Davey Allison won the crown jewel of stockcar racing. Fans had no idea then it would be a little more than a year later that he would no longer be with us. As Jeff Gordon was circling the track at Phoenix last week with the No. 3 flag in hand, one couldn't help but wonder that had Davey Allison not died in some bizarre accident in 1993, how the racing landscape as we know it would have been changed. Would Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt be tied for 76 wins? Would Dale Earnhardt have seven Championships? Would Jeff Gordon have four? Unfortunately, we will never know just how spectacular Davey Allison’s career would have been. Many believe there is a good chance he'd be knocking on his father's door of 84 wins by now.

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©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

falcon325
04/27/2007 06:39 AM
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Thanks Vito. That was awesome.

When Davey died in that helicopter crash, my boss was a former Army Colonel who flew Cobras in ‘Nam. The reports said that the aircraft had leapt up into the air and then spun out of control and crashed. I’m not a pilot, but I spent enough time around choppers to know a little about them. After the crash, I asked my boss if he had heard about the helicopter crash at ‘Dega. He said “Yes.” I said, “He flew the tail rotor into the fence didn’t he?” My boss said, “Yes.”

About a year later, the NTSB released its report, saying Davey had hit the fence with the tail rotor. Davey Allison was one heck of a racecar driver. But he was a novice helicopter pilot, and that killed him.

And that leaves us with the haunting questions you posed. What if…

Cathy
04/27/2007 07:48 AM
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Thanks for a great article. Davey was a large part of our home. My oldest son who is now 19 is autistic and could not talk when he was younger. He loved Davey and to this day has Davey items all over his room. As I said he could not talk and my husband and I had taken our son out for drive. Texaco is not here in Upstate NY except for a little station over an hour from where we live. As we passed the station we heard a little voice from the back seat say “Davey”. I almost cried he was pointing at the big Texaco Star. My husband were at the race in Pocono when Davey flipped and that is one crash I don’t think I will ever forget.
It is nice to see that Davey will be remembered by others as well.
Thanks again

Yatesguy
04/27/2007 05:03 PM
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Thank you for reminding everyone what an incredible talent Davey was. Davey’s star rose so very fast then..blinked out before our very eyes. Far too fast for his true brilliance to shine. He will be missed, by many, for a long, long time.

James
04/27/2007 09:30 PM
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I have been following Cup racing since the late 1960’s and my favourite driver was Bobby Allison.

Of course, that expanded to include Davey Allison when he came along. I have to agree with you; there is no way that Earnhardt and Gordon would have accumulated the wins and championships they have if Davey had lived.

Maybe one day, a young driver named Robbie Allison will take up the mantle …

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