Davey Allison

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Cover of Allison's biography

David Carl "Davey" Allison (born February 25, 1961 in Hollywood, Florida - died July 13, 1993 in Birmingham) was a NASCAR race car driver, best known as the driver of the Robert Yates Racing #28 Texaco-Havoline Ford. He was the eldest of four children born to NASCAR driver Bobby Allison and wife Judy. The family moved from Florida to Hueytown and along with Bobby's brother Donnie, family friend Red Farmer, and Neil Bonnett, became known in racing circles as the Alabama Gang.

Early career

Growing up, Davey participated in athletics, preferring football, but was destined, like many children of racers, to become a racer himself. He began working for his father's Winston Cup team after graduating high school, and would work after-hours on his own race car, a Chevy Nova built by Davey and a group of his friends affectionately known as the "Peach Fuzz Gang". He began his career in 1979 at Birmingham International Raceway and notched his first win in just his sixth start. He became a regular winner at BIR and by 1983, was racing in the ARCA series. Davey won both ARCA events at his "home track", Talladega Superspeedway in 1983, and was named ARCA Rookie of the Year in 1984, placing second in the series title. That same year, he married his first wife, Deborah.

Davey continued racing in the ARCA series in 1985 and eventually notched eight wins in the series, four at Talladega Superspeedway. He also began competing in some of NASCAR's lower divisions and in July of 1985, car owner Hoss Ellington gave him his first chance to drive a Winston Cup car in the Talladega 500. Davey qualified Ellington's Chevrolet 22nd and finished 10th in his first Winston Cup start. This impressive showing earned Davey more Winston Cup opportunities in 1986 where he would sub for injured friend and fellow Alabama Gang member Neil Bonnett in Junior Johnson's #12 Budweiser Chevy.

Early full-time Winston Cup career (the Ranier-Lundy years) 1987-1988

Prior to the 1987 season, car owner Harry Ranier tapped Davey to replace veteran driver Cale Yarborough in the Ranier-Lundy #28 Ford Thunderbird. Yarborough was leaving the Ranier-Lundy team to start his own operation along with the team's sponsor, Hardee's. Ranier negotiated a sponsorship deal with Texaco's Havoline motor oil brand, a deal that was signed during the NASCAR edition of Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway. On qualifiying day, Davey signalled that he was in Winston Cup to stay when he qualified an unmarked, but Texaco-Havoline painted #28 Thunderbird second for the 1987 Daytona 500, becoming the first rookie ever to start on the front row for NASCAR's most prestigious event. A pit miscue which allowed a rear tire to fall off on the track ended his hopes of a good finish in the race, but success for Davey Allison would be just around the corner.

May 3, 1987 would become an infamous day in NASCAR history. Earlier in the week, Bill Elliott had qualified his #9 Coors-Melling Ford Thunderbird at a record 212.809 mph for the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Davey Allison would qualify third, while father Bobby would start second alongside Elliott in the Stavola Brothers #22 Miller Buick. On lap 22 of the event, Bobby Allison ran over a piece of debris, apparently from his own car, cutting his right-rear tire. The car turned sideways, lifted into the air, and crashed vertically into the frontstretch spectator fence near the start finish line. The car landed back on the track and collected a number of other competitors. Davey was ahead of his father at the time and saw the crash unfold in his mirror. Bobby Allison was not injured, but the crash slightly injured several spectators and the race was red-flagged for nearly four hours.

When the race resumed, Davey continued to run up front and when Elliott exited the race with engine failure, Davey's toughest competition was eliminated. With darkness falling on the Talladega Superspeedway during a late caution flag, the decision was made to end the race 10 laps short of its 188 lap distance. Running second on the restart, Davey passed leader Dale Earnhardt on the backstretch and pulled away for his first Winston Cup win. In winning the race, Davey became the first rookie since Ron Bouchard in 1981 to win a Winston Cup event.

Davey would better that feat just 28 days later by winning the Budweiser 500 at Dover International Speedway (then the Dover Downs International Speedway), becoming, at the time, the only rookie to win two Winston Cup events. In all, Davey started 22 of the 29 Winston Cup races in 1987, winning twice, and scoring nine top-five and 10 top-ten finishes. He also won five poles in his rookie season.

The 1988 season started with much promise. Davey again started outside the front row for the Daytona 500, the first modern day race utilizing the NASCAR mandated carburetor restrictor plate. While father Bobby was battling up front early in the race, Davey and his team stuggled with a car that was repaired during the early morning hours following a crash in the final practice session. But as the race came to a conclusion, Davey found himself running second, just behind his legendary father. Bobby Allison would go on to hold off his son and win his third Daytona 500. Father and son would celebrate their one-and-two finish in victory lane.

But Davey would struggle through much of the first half of the 1988 season as he ran some of the Winston Cup short tracks for the first time. The team was also suffering from engine failures and now sole-owner Harry Ranier was looking to sell the team. Crew chief Joey Knuckles was fired and engine builder Robert Yates replaced him. Then on June 19, at Pocono International Raceway came his father's near fatal, career ending crash.

With his father clinging to life in a Pennsylvania hospital, Davey Allison raced on but failed to finish the next three events. The team rebounded when the series returned to Pocono in July with Davey scoring a third place finish. Back at Talladega, the #28 Ford again suffered engine failure but Davey would drive his father's car later in the race when relief driver Mike Alexander was overcome by heat. Two races later, Davey would score his first win of the season at Michigan International Speedway. The win changed the fortunes for the financially strapped team and after a series of top-5 and top-10 finishes, Davey would win the inaugural race at the new Richmond International Raceway. During the month of October, Robert Yates bought the #28 team from Harry Ranier. The rest of the season was a mixed bag but Davey would finish the season with a third place finish at Phoenix International Raceway, and a second at the season ending Atlanta Journal 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He would finish eighth in the final Winston Cup standings. But the roller coaster 1988 Winston Cup season had taken a toll on Davey Allison's marriage and he and Deborah quietly divorced during the offseason.

Initial years with Robert Yates Racing, 1989-1990

Davey Allison's 1989 season didn't start well. A year after he and his father's one-two Daytona 500 finish, Davey started a disappointing 16th, then was involved in an early incident with Geoff Bodine that sent his car careening into the sand bar separating the track's backstretch from Lake Lloyd. The car made one slow, complete, roll-over with Davey eventually restarting the car and driving it back to the pits. He drove the damaged, hood-less car to a 25th place finish and had a heated exchange with Bodine following the race (the first of several exchanges with other drivers during his career).

The team rebounded at Rockingham and when the series moved to Talladega in May for the Winston 500, Davey had scored one top-10 and three top-5 finishes. Davey started on the pole at Talladega and got his first win of 1989, his second victory in Talladega's spring event. After the race, Davey stood sixth in the Winston Cup Championship standings, but didn't win again until the next restrictor plate race, the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, his last win of the season. By the end of the season, Davey had collected seven top-five and 13 top-ten finishes along with one pole position to go with the two wins. He slipped to 11th in the final Winston Cup standings, a disappointment over the previous season. However, Davey would marry his second wife, Liz, during the season, and their first child, Krista, was born prior to the 1990 season.

The 1990 season didn't start much better than the 1989 season and by the sixth race at Bristol, Davey was a disappointing 17th in the Winston Cup standings. A poor qualifying run had the team pitting in the backstretch pits, which usually doomed a team's chances of winning the race. But Robert Yates decided against pitting on the final caution flag and Davey scored his second short-track win in a thrilling photo-finish with Mark Martin. But the win didn't change the team's fortunes and after an ill-handling car at Dover required Davey to ask for relief from fellow Alabama driver Hut Stricklin, Robert Yates decided to hire "Suitcase" Jake Elder as the team's crew chief. Davey won the fall event at Lowe's Motor Speedway (then Charlotte Motor Speedway) but finished the season 13th in the final Winston Cup standings. He again posted two wins, but only five top-five and 10 top-ten finishes.

1991 and the hiring of Larry McReynolds

The 1991 season began with much promise. Davey won the pole for the Daytona 500 and was in contention for the win until the final laps. After a late race restart, eventual winner Ernie Irvan passed Dale Earnhardt for the lead. Davey tried to follow Irvan around Earnhardt but couldn't make the pass and the two drivers battled side-by-side for a few laps. As the cars came off turn two, Earnhardt's car spun, collecting Allison and Kyle Petty. Davey was unable to continue and finished a disappointing 15th. From there, things went downhill. Davey finished 12th at Richmond, 16th at Rockingham, then crashed hard early in the Motorcraft 500 at Atlanta, finishing 40th. Davey was openly feuding with crew chief Elder and, after the crash at Atlanta, Robert Yates decided to make a change.

Elder was fired, and Birmingham native Larry McReynolds was hired away from the Kenny Bernstein team to replace him. In his first race with McReynolds at the helm, Davey finished second at Darlington. A third place finish followed at Bristol, then a sixth at North Wilkesboro and an eighth at Martinsville. The team finished 22nd at Talladega due to a large accident triggered by Ernie Irvan but there was no doubt the team had improved and was destined for bigger things.

Two weeks later, Davey dominated The Winston all-star race at Charlotte, and continued his domination by winning the Coca-Cola 600 the following week, leading 263 of the race's 400 laps. Two races later, Davey won his first road course event at then Sears Point International Raceway in a controversial finish with Ricky Rudd. He won again at Michigan then finished third in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. At the halfway point of the 1991 season, Davey had climbed to fifth in the Winston Cup point standings.

After finishing 14th at Pocono, the series moved to Talladega. As the race wound down, Davey Allison was poised for yet another win behind leader Dale Earnhardt. But Davey was unable to get drafting help from fellow Ford Motor Company drivers and he slipped to ninth place after attempting to pass Earnhardt for the lead. In a fit of rage after the race, Allison punched a wall in the team's transporter, breaking his wrist. The injury failed to slow him down, however as he finished a remarkable 10th on the road course at Watkins Glen, then was second at Michigan, a photo-finish in which Dale Jarrett scored his first Winston Cup victory. Davey scored back-to-back victories at Rockingham and Phoenix and entered the final race at Atlanta second in the Winston Cup standings. But a dead battery in that race relegated him to a 17th place finish, dropping him to third in the final standings, only four points behind Ricky Rudd. Dale Earnhardt won the championship. The final tally of the 1991 season for Davey Allison came to five wins, 12 top-five and 16 top-ten finishes, and three pole positions. It was also during the 1991 season that Davey and Liz welcomed their second child, a son, Robert Grey Allison.

With McReynolds at the helm, Davey Allison entered the 1992 season as a legitimate championship contender.

1992 - triumph and tragedy

Statistically, 1992 was Davey Allison's best season in Winston Cup racing. And yet, it was also a very painful and heartwrenching season. Davey started sixth in the 1992 Daytona 500 but was probably not quite as fast as the Junior Johnson teammates of Bill Elliott and Sterling Marlin. But the race would change dramatically on lap 92 when Elliott, Marlin, and Ernie Irvan triggered a multi-car crash at the front of the pack. Fourteen cars were eliminated, but Allison--and eventual runner-up Morgan Shepherd--somehow made it through the mess. He would lead 127 laps to join his father as a Daytona 500 winner.

Bill Elliott would rebound to win the next four events, but Allison was not far behind in either event, posting four top-five finishes to maintain his lead in the points. A hard crash at Bristol left him with a bruised shoulder, but the following weekend he won at North Wilkesboro. Another hard crash at Martinsville left him with broken ribs, but Allison rebounded yet again, leading a contingent of Fords to victory in the Winston 500 at Talladega, his third win in that race. The win also put him in position to win the Winston Million if he could win either the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, or the Southern 500 at Darlington.

Next up was The Winston all-star race. One year removed from his domination of that event and the Coca-Cola 600, Davey was ready to take the spotlight again. But this time around, there was more focus on the event itself. Over the winter, the Musco Lighting company had installed a state-of-the-art lighting system at then Charlotte Motor Speedway. Billed as "One Hot Night" by The Nashville Network, which was to broadcast the event, The Winston was the first superspeedway race to be held under the lights. Davey would drive the same car that he used to dominate the event one year earlier, affectionately known as "007".

In the final, 10-lap segment of the race, Dale Earnhardt led, followed by Kyle Petty and Davey. In the third turn on the final lap, Petty nudged Earnhardt's car and the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet spun. Davey took advantage of the contact and jumped into the lead. But Petty charged back and as Davey crossed the start-finish line to win the race, the two cars came together, sending the driver's side of Davey's car hard into the outside wall in a shower of sparks. An unconscious Allison was taken from his car and airlifted to a Charlotte hospital. The crash left him with a concussion, bruised lung, and a battered and bruised body. His car, "007", was totaled. Allison would later say to have susatined an out of body experience after the crash. He claimed to have awoke to see his crashed car below him as he rose away from it, and to have turned his attention away from the frantic work of the emergency workers to a bright light above, which faded and left him in darkness until he awoke later in the hospital.

The wreck didn't deter Allison. He finished fourth in the Coca-Cola 600 the following week despite the injuries and maintained his points lead. He then finished 11th at Dover, 28th at Sears Point, and fifth at Pocono. Still hanging onto the points lead and his body healing, Davey won the pole and dominated the Miller Genuine Draft 400 at Michigan, leading 158 of the race's 200 laps. The first half of the season ended with Davey posting a 10th place finish in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. At the halfway point of the season, Allison had a 46 point lead over second place Bill Elliott and a 134 point lead over third place Alan Kulwicki, and had held the points lead since the first race of the season, despite the injuries and setbacks.

That would all change as the series went back to Pocono. Davey won the pole for the event and led 115 of the first 149 laps. But a lengthy pit stop during a caution flag sent him to the middle of the pack. On lap 150, Allison was charging back through the pack and was attempting to pass Darrell Waltrip. The two cars made contact and Davey went sliding into the grass off Pocono's "tunnel turn". The car went airborne and began a series of violent flips, somersaulting end-over-end, then nose to tail, and finally spinning on its nose like a top along a guardrail. Miraculously, Davey survived the crash. He was airlifted to the hospital with a severe concussion, along with a broken arm, wrist, and collar bone. His 33rd place finish left him nine points behind Bill Elliott for the series title, but that seemed insignificant at the moment. Especially traumatizing was the fact that Pocono was the site of Dave's father Bobby's career-ending crash a few years earlier (see above).

Davey arrived at Talladega the following week wearing dark shades to hide eyes severely bruised in the Pocono crash. His arm was in a cast that allowed him to drive, and velcro attachments to his glove and the car's shifter knob helped him drive with less exertion, but Bobby Hillin, Jr. would relieve Davey after the initial laps of the DieHard 500. Hillin drove the #28 Texaco-Havoline Ford to a third place finish at Talladega, helping Davey and the team keep pace with Elliott. The team was a strong contender for the win until suffereing a jack failure on a pit stop. The following week, veteran road racer Dorsey Schroeder would relieve Allison, but he could only manage a 20th place finish.

With his body healed enough to allow him to drive an entire race, Davey headed to Michigan where he had dominated the track's earlier event. But tragedy struck as the Michigan events began. While practicing for the weekend's Busch Series race, Davey's younger brother, Clifford Allison crashed hard in the third and fourth turns of Michigan International Speedway. He would die en route to the hospital. Heartbroken, Davey drove to a fifth place finish in the Champion Spark Plug 400, then went home to Hueytown for Clifford's funeral. The following weekend, Davey crashed again at Bristol, finishing 30th. Though still in second place in the Winston Cup standings, he now trailed leader Bill Elliott by 109 points.

Davey's chance to win the Winston Million was up next as the series headed to Darlington for the Southern 500. Davey led 72 laps of the event and was in contention to win, but soon after the leaders pitted for tires and fuel, rain halted the race with 69 laps left. Darrell Waltrip, gambling that the rains would come, did not pit and was leading the race when it was red flagged. He was declared the winner as darkness fell and the rains continued. Waltrip, who had long feuded with the Allisons, sat next to his car on pit road in lawn chair and held a colorful umbrealla, gleefully joking that the rainshower was worth "one million dollars" to him. Davey finished fifth and was now 119 points behind Elliott, who finished third.

Allison and Elliott continued their drive for the championship after Darlington as the two kept pace with each other. But beginning with the Goody's 500 at Martinsville on September 28, Elliott's hold on the points lead began to slip. He finished 30th in that event while Allison finished 16th. Then at North Wilkesboro, Allison posted an 11th place finish, while Elliott finished 26th. Back at Charlotte, Allison finished a disappointing 19th, but Elliott finished 30th and there were now four drivers within 100 points of Elliott...Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Mark Martin, and Harry Gant. Martin and Kulwicki finished first and second respectively at Charlotte, and Kulwicki was continuing a late season charge. Three races prior to Charlotte, Kulwicki had crashed and finished 34th at Dover leaving him 278 points behind Elliott and in fourth place in the standings.

Elliott's skid stopped temporarily at Rockingham where he finished fourth. Davey finished 10th and Kulwicki 12th and entering the final two races of the 1992 season, Davey was 70 points behind Elliott in second, with Kulwicki 85 points behind in third. But Davey's fortunes changed dramatically at Phoenix as he won the event, and Elliott finished 31st. Davey now had the points lead for the first time since his violent Pocono crash, and was 30 points ahead of Kulwicki, and 40 ahead of Elliott, who had slipped to third in the standings. Also in contention to win the championship as the series moved to the final race at Atlanta were Harry Gant (fourth place, 97 points behind), Kyle Petty (fifth place, 98 points behind), and Mark Martin (sixth place, 113 points behind).

The 1992 Hooters 500 would be a milestone race in NASCAR Winston Cup history. It would be the final race of Richard Petty's career, as well as the first for future Winston Cup Champion Jeff Gordon. Couple that with the closest championship race in history, and the race was destined to be a classic. Davey Allison entered the race needing only to finish fifth or better to win the[Winston Cup. A first lap incident involving Rick Mast caused minor damage to Davey's car, and he battled through much of the race to stay in the top ten. Meanwhile, Elliott and Kulwicki were staging a battle for the ages, battling for and swapping the lead through much of the event. Late in the race, Davey had finally managed to reach the top five and was in position to win the championship when Ernie Irvan lost control of his car on the frontstretch on lap 286. Davey couldn't avoid Irvan's spinning car and plowed into the #4 Kodak Chevrolet. Allison's tumultuous 1992 season was over, his championship hopes lost as Elliott and Kulwicki finished first and second in the race respectively. Kulwicki, an independent driver who had turned down offers to drive for other teams, including Junior Johnson, won the championship by leading one more lap than Elliott (103 to 102). Davey was noted for his gracious concession of defeat after emerging from a medical evaluation, and his refusal to blame or criticize Irvan.

1993

Though 1992 had been a heartbreaking year for Davey Allison and the Robert Yates Racing team in more ways than one, they had to be encouraged by their run for the championship. But 1993 opened on a sour note with Allison finishing 28th at Daytona. That finish was followed by a 16th at Rockingham, but Davey rebounded to win at Richmond the following week. No one knew at the time, but it would be Davey Allison's last win.

The next race at Atlanta was delayed a week by a blizzard that blanketed much of the Southeast. Morgan Shepherd won the race and Davey finished 13th. He then posted an 11th at Darlington. Despite the early season struggles, Davey was sixth in the Winston Cup standings, while defending series champ Kulwicki was ninth.

Davey Allison had debuted in the International Race of Champions (IROC) in 1992, but his injuries forced him to miss the last two races. 1993 was shaping up to be a far better year for Davey, with a second place victory at Daytona and a victory at Darlington, giving him a large points lead.

Three days after Kulwicki's death, Davey Allison finished fifth in an emotional race at Bristol. He followed that finish with a fourth at North Wilkesboro, second at Martinsville, seventh at Talladega, and 15th at Sears Point. He finished a disappointing 30th in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but rebounded at Dover, finishing third. He was sixth at Pocono, but finished 35th at Michigan and 31st at Daytona. Halfway through the 1993 season, Davey was fifth in the point standings, but was 323 points behind leader Dale Earnhardt. Still, Davey and the Robert Yates team were confident that they could put their early season struggles and inconsistency behind them and could make a run for the championship in the second half. The inaugural race at New Hampshire International Speedway proved the team's optimism was not unfounded. Davey led 38 laps of the event and finished third behind Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin.

The following day, Monday, July 12, 1993, Davey Allison boarded his newly acquired Hughes 396 helicopter to fly to Talladega Superspeedway to watch family friends Neil Bonnett and David Bonnett test a car for David's Busch Series debut. He picked up another family friend, legendary racer Red Farmer, en route to the track. Allison was attempting to land the helicopter inside a fenced-in area of the track infield when the craft nosed up suddenly, then crashed. (The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the crash on Allison's inexperience in helicopters, coupled with the decision to attempt a downwind landing.) Neil Bonnett was able to free a semi-conscious Red Farmer from the wreckage, but could not reach Allison. Paramedics arrived and freed Allison, who was alive but had suffered serious head injuries. He died the next morning, July 13, 1993, at Carraway Methodist Medical Center in Birmingham. Thousands packed the auditorium at Saint Aloysius Catholic Church in Bessemer to pay their respects at his funeral.

After the final race of the season, series champion Dale Earnhardt and race winner Wallace drove a side by side Polish Victory Lap carrying flags for fallen heroes Alan Kulwicki and Allison.

In his short NASCAR Winston Cup career, Davey Allison posted 19 wins, 66 top-five and 92 top-ten finishes. He also won 14 poles and earned $6,724,174. He was survived by his wife, Liz, and two children, daughter Krista, and son Robbie.

Legacy

Davey was leading the IROC series championship at the time of his death, with one race remaining in the four race series. Terry Labonte drove the final race in place of Allison and secured the championship for him. Allison's championship money, $175,000, was set up as a trust fund for his children.

Davey Allison was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1995 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1998.

In a foreshadowing of NASCAR's rise to prominence ten years later, Davey was a figure in a mildly scandalous controversy as his widow became involved with country music star Joe Diffie shortly after Davey's death. Tabloid television programs and newspapers gave much coverage to the story at the time, with some claiming that the two had been lovers before Davey's death. Liz has spoken openly about her relationship with Diffie, most recently on the Paul Finebaum Radio Network during the week of the 2006 race at Talladega. Liz expressed some regret over the relationship and mentioned that she and Diffie were band-aids for each other, and band aids were not meant to be permanent.

In 2003, on April 28, the mayor of Hueytown declared it Davey Allison Day and is celebrated on the weekend of the springtime Talladega race, the anniversary of Allison's death.

In October 2004 Jamie McMurray drove the #42 Tribute to Davey Allison Dodge at Talladega. A portrait of Davey Allison hangs to this day in the headquarters of Texaco.

Son Robbie Allison has pursued a successful racing career in an on-again, off-again fashion, but is frequently "parked" by his mother for fears of his safety and health.

Races won

Winston Cup (19 career wins)

  • 1993 (1 win ) Pontiac Excitement 400 (Richmond)
  • 1992 (5 wins) Daytona 500]] (Daytona]])First Union 400 (North Wilkesboro), Winston 500 (Talladega), Miller Genuine Draft 400 (Michigan), Pyroil 500K (Phoenix)
  • 1991 (5 wins) Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte), Banquet Frozen Foods 300 (Sonoma), Miller Genuine Draft 400 (Michigan), AC Delco 500 (Rockingham), Pyroil 500 (Phoenix)
  • 1990 (2 wins) Valleydale Meats 500 (Bristol), Mello Yello 500 (Charlotte)
  • 1989 (2 wins) Winston 500 (Talladega), Pepsi 400 (Daytona)
  • 1988 (2 wins) Champion Spark Plug 400 (Michigan), Miller High Life 400 (Richmond)
  • 1987 (2 wins) Winston 500 (Talladega), Budweiser 500 (Dover), Rookie of the Year

International Race of Champions (2 career wins)

  • 1993 (1 win) Race 2 (Darlington), IROC Championship
  • 1992 (1 win) Race 2 (Talladega)

References

  • Davey Allison. (2006, December 27). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:04, December 27, 2006 [1]

External links