Sunday, January 17, 2010

Davey Allison

Davey is in a group with the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett, Richard Petty, Kyle Petty, and many more drivers that was born into a family of NASCAR legends. Davey’s father Bobby Allison was a successful driver along with his uncle Donnie Allison.

David Carl Allison was born on February 25th of 1961 in Hollywood, Florida which ironically was the day before his NASCAR legend’s father Bobby’s first Daytona 500. When his family moved to Hueytown, Alabama he became very good friends with Red Farmer, and Neil Bonnett; ironically Red and Neil would later witness the death of Davey.

Growing up, Davey participated in athletics, preferring football, but was destined, like many children of racers, to become a racer himself. He began sweeping floors for his father's Winston (Sprint) Cup team, and after graduating high school would actually work on the cars, 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 where he earned his first win in just his sixth start.

He became a regular winner at BIR and by 1983, was racing in the Automobile Racing Club of America (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. He also made his first Winston (Sprint) Cup start in 1984 at the Talladega 500, he started 22nd, and finished 10th in a Hoss Ellington owned Chevrolet. 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, which four of them was at Talladega Superspeedway. He also competed in some of NASCAR's lower divisions.

His great race at Talladega earned Davey more Winston (Sprint) 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.

Prior to the 1987 season, car owner Harry Ranier asked Allison to replace veteran driver Cale Yarborough in the #28 Ranier-Lundy Ford Thunderbird. Yarborough and his sponsor Hardees, was leaving the team to start their own operation. Ranier negotiated a sponsorship deal with Texaco's Havoline motor oil brand, a deal which was signed during the NASCAR edition of Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway. On qualifying day, Davey signaled that he was in the Winston (Sprint) Cup series to stay when he qualified an unmarked, but Texaco-Havoline painted #28 Thunderbird second, for the 1987 Daytona 500, which was the first time a rookie started on the front row for NASCAR's most prestigious event. A pit miscue which allowed a rear tire to fall off while he was on the track ended his hopes of a good finish in the race, but success for Davey would be just around the corner. At the Winston 500 in May Davey’s dad Bobby was in a major wreck which knocked him out of the race and when Bill Elliot, his only other competition, dropped an engine he was set and he won the darkness shortened race becoming the first rookie since Ron Bouchard in 1981 to win a race. He then won the Budweiser 500 at Dover Downs International Speedway about a month later becoming the first rookie to win two races in a season. Overall that season out ofthe 22 races he ran, he had 2 wins, 9 top-fives, 10 top-tens, and five poles in just his rookie season.

The 1988 season started with Davey for the second time in a row starting second in the prestigious Daytona 500; the difference between this race and the one before is this was the first race that had NASCAR mandated a Carburetor Restrictor Plate. Davey didn’t have to good of a day up until the last of the race when he and his father Bobby was running 1-2; Bobby held off Davey for the win but they celebrated together in victory lane. Mid-season sole owner Harry Ranier replaced Allison’s crew chief Joey Knuckles with the legendary engine builder Robert Yates and not to long after that at Pocono that summer his father had an almost life ending crash which put his career to a halt. At Michigan a month or so after his father’s horrific crash he won his first race of the season; he also won at Richmond and in October Robert Yates bought the #28 team from Harry Ranier. Overall that year he competed in every race and won 2 of them with an 8th place finish in the points.

Over the 1988-1989 offseason he and his wife Deborah had a divorce.

The team rebounded from a rocky start at Rockingham and when the series moved to Talladega in May for the Winston 500 Davey started on the pole and got his first win of 1989, which was his second victory in Talladega's spring event. After the race, Davey stood sixth in the Winston (Sprint) 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 (Sprint) 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.

At Bristol in March of 1990 he started the race a disappointing 17th in points, but crew chief Robert Yates decided to make a critical decision at the end of the race by pitting on the last caution; Davey won the race in a photo finish over Mark Martin. At Dover Davey got fellow Alabama native Hut Stricklin to drive his car. Yates hired “Suitcase” Jake Elder as the team’s crew chief after a pretty bad season up until that point. Davey won his second race that season at the Charlotte Motor Speedway that fall; his two wins, five top fives, and 10 top tens only propelled him to a 13th place finish in the points system.

The beginning race of 1991 at Daytona was a very conspicuous race for Davey, he won the pole but then got caught up in one of Dale Earnhardt’s many Daytona 500 mishaps to finish 15th, and from there things wasn’t looking much brighter until Robert Yates fired crew chief Elder and hired Larry McReynolds. At Charlotte in May Davey dominated the All-Star race and a week later he totally demolished the field in the Coco-Cola 600 leading 263 of 400 laps. At the race at Sears Point later that year him and Ricky Rudd was in a tight battle for the lead when Ricky spun Davey and crossed the finish line first, Ricky was stripped of the win for that reason and Davey was named the winner. At Talladega later that year Davey got mad and punched a wall, breaking his wrist; but of course he kept racing. The final results of 1991 was a third in points only four points behind second placer Ricky Rudd, five wins, 12 top fives, 16 top tens, and three poles. Davey’s wife Liz had a second child during the season, Robert Grey Allison.

During the 1992 season opening Daytona 500, Bill Elliott and Sterling Marlin started a 14 car crash at the head of the field which helped Allison become the only contender. Davey won that race leading 127 laps to join his father Bobby as a Daytona 500 winner. In May Davey went to the Charlotte Motor Speedway as determined as ever to win. He came with the same car he did the previous year and at the Winston he was on his way to winning again after he spun Dale Earnhardt on the third turn, but Kyle Petty came out of the last turn right beside Davey and they made contact and Davey slammed into the wall. Davey claims to have had an out-of-body experience after the wreck; he ended up with a concussion, bruised lung, and a very beat up body. Larry McReynolds his crew chief stated during the FOX telecasts that the first words from Allison when he awoke in the hospital were "Did we win"? McReynolds told Allison "Yes Davey we won". Victory celebrations went on even though the driver was not present and all crew members later went to the hospital to be with their driver.

The week after his horrendous wreck he went back to Charlotte for the Coco-Cola 600 to finish 4th in NASCAR’s most grueling race. He had the points lead all the way up until the second time they went to Pocono a couple months after his first major wreck of the season when he and Darrell Waltrip made contact and Davey went flying and landed on the infield guardrail. Miraculously, Davey survived the crash and 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 Davey's father Bobby's career-ending crash a few years earlier. In fact, many worried fans wondered if the younger Allison's career was over. The week after that violent crash Davey raced a few laps at Talladega but then handed the reins over to Bobby Hillin Jr. who finished 3rd.

A couple weeks after his major wreck at Pocono at Michigan Davey’s younger brother Clifford was practicing in the Busch (Nationwide) series and slammed hard into the third turn wall; he died on the way to the hospital. The final race of the year was a great one in NASCAR history. Richard Petty drove his very last race in NASCAR, while Jeff Gordon drove the first, and that was only the tip of the ice-berg. Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliott were in a major point’s battle with Davey but Davey was in a wreck which lost his championship hopes. Alan won the championship over Elliott by only one lap difference, while Davey finished 3rd; overall that season Davey had 5 wins. That year, his grandfather, Bobby’s father, Pop Allison, died.

In 1993 when Davey was thought to have been on the top of his game he won his very last NASCAR Winston (Sprint) cup race at Richmond. But in the International Race of Champions (IROC) series he got a second at Daytona and he won at Darlington. The previous year’s Winston (Sprint) Cup champion Alan Kulwicki tragically died in a plane crash, and just two days later Davey won a very emotional race at Bristol. One weekend in July Davey acquired a Hughes 369HS helicopter and was on his way to watch Neil Bonnett and his son David Bonnett practice for the Busch (Nationwide) series along with Red Farmer; on July 12th of 1993 he tried to land his helicopter, the nose lifted up and it crashed in the infield. Neil Bonnett was able to get Red Farmer out but was unable to reach Davey. He was alive but died the next day at Carraway Methodist Medical Center. The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the crash on Allison's inexperience in helicopters, coupled with the decision to attempt a downwind landing. Thousands packed the auditorium at St. Aloysious Church in Bessemer, Alabama to pay their respects at his funeral. He is buried near his brother, Clifford in Bessemer's Highland Memorial Gardens. After the final race of the season, series champion Dale Earnhardt and race winner Rusty Wallace drove a side by side Polish Victory Lap carrying flags for fallen heroes Alan Kulwicki and Allison. Even through his death he still won the 1993 IROC championship with Terry Labonte filling in for him in the last race. Allison's championship money, $175,000, was set up as a trust fund for his children.

In his short NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup career of only 191 starts, 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 Marie, and son Robert Grey.

In 1995, Davey Allison was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Davey Allison was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1998. He was also named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in honor of NASCAR’s 50th anniversary.

Liz Allison and their two children moved to Nashville and she married physical therapist Ryan Hackett on May 13, 2000. Ironically, after being divorced for four years, Bobby and Judy Allison reunited at the wedding, after nearly seven years of tragedy had separated them.

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

Davey was the first, second-generation "Alabama Gang" driver and carried on the tradition established by his father, his uncle Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett, and Red Farmer. Davey is said to have introduced his cousin Pam Allison to future driver Hut Stricklin. Hut is commonly recognized as the last member of the Alabama Gang.