Bobby Allison started winning ways With Dodge BRISTOL, Tenn., August 22, 2001 - Bobby Allison's achievements in stock car racing are well known - 84 NASCAR Winston Cup wins, 1983 Series Champion, runner-up four times, most-popular driver six...
Bobby Allison started winning ways With Dodge
BRISTOL, Tenn., August 22, 2001 - Bobby Allison's achievements in stock car racing are well known - 84 NASCAR Winston Cup wins, 1983 Series Champion, runner-up four times, most-popular driver six times and selected in 1998 as one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers. Less well known is the fact that 10 of Allison's earliest NASCAR wins came at the wheel of a Dodge.
Allison's first win in a Dodge - his sixth NASCAR Grand National win - came at Birmingham International Speedway, an appropriate venue for a central figure in what became known in stock car racing as The Alabama Gang. After several more wins in a variety of brands, Allison returned to Dodge for six consecutive victories with car owner Mario Rossi, the first of which came at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 23, 1969.
"I did like the track an awful lot," said Allison of his experience at Bristol, where he won two races with Dodge and four altogether. "We had good success there, but the track was very, very demanding on you. Still is. There is a lot of G forces and very, very good speed, which contributes to the G forces."
For his first win at Bristol, Allison went solo. For his second win at the track - a day race on July 19, 1970 - Allison had a little help from Dave Marcis, who had dropped out of the race due to mechanical problems. Only 12 cars finished the wreck-filled race.
"Everybody was collapsing that day," recalled Allison. "We ended up with a pretty good lead and so Mario asked me to please get out of the car and let Dave finish because the day had been so hard on everybody else, and so I agreed. I felt like I could have gone on, but Dave did a great job for us and we got the win.
"On a hot day, it (Bristol) would absolutely stifle you, and I did really well in the really hot events and the really strenuous ones," continued Allison. "I was quite proud to be able to get wins there under those conditions, but it was a real blessing to all of us competitors when they went to the night race."
In 1969 and 1970, Allison drove some events for Mario Rossi and others in his own Dodge. Rossi wanted to focus the major events so Allison entered his own car in the short-track events. Allison also picked Dodge.
"I had raced the cars and had pretty good success with them, and felt like my best opportunity to win was with that particular car at that time," said Allison. "In those days, we had to buy all our own stuff, and so you had to spend your money as wisely as you could. (Team owner Ray) Nichels had the parts program and he was incredibly fair to me. I could buy bits and pieces to maintain my equipment and really get the prime parts from him and the rest of the suppliers that Chrysler Corporation had."
Allison said the Hemi engine was a great choice for an independent because of its durability. "I had a really good engine man at home - a fellow by the name of Lee Hurley, who is still in the performance business in Birmingham. Hurley built my engines and sometimes he would take an engine apart after a 500-miler and all it needed was cleaning up. We raced the same rings, the same bearings and the same valve springs in the very next race. I had very, very few mechanical problems in that period of time."
The Hemi was also well suited to the demands of Bristol Motor Speedway. "The Dodge Hemi was a great engine for that racetrack because it demanded a lot of power and a lot of strength that we had at the time," said Allison.
In addition to Bristol, Allison's list of favorite tracks includes Charlotte (now Lowe's Motor Speedway) and Riverside International Raceway. "Charlotte was probably my favorite track," said Allison. "Judy and I even had a condo there in turn one for a while, which we thought was really neat. But I also had an awful lot of success at Charlotte. I won the 600, the 500 and the 300, you know, and all kinds of preliminary events there. It was a favorite place of mine."
Allison's love for Riverside started when he won there for the first time in 1971, driving his own Dodge. "Early on I got really affectionate toward the road course at Riverside," said Allison. "I have the most wins of anybody at Riverside. I won the Saturday race and the Sunday race at Riverside a time or two or three. I don't have the exact numbers here in front of me (six), but I did that and also won an IROC race at Riverside. I did really enjoy Riverside. We went fast there and we got some wins there."
Allison's feelings about Pocono Raceway are mixed. He won three races there in 1982 and 1983, and it was also where he suffered career-ending injuries in a first-lap crash in June 1988. Allison cut a tire and spun near the tunnel turn. Another car hit his on the driver's side. Allison was in a coma for weeks and his recovery was slow. He had to learn to walk and talk again. "I still hurt all the time and I still have some memory loss," said Allison recently. "I'm not physically as able to do things. I'm just slowed down."
The hurt Allison deals with goes well beyond physical pain. He also carries the weight of family tragedies that are a central part of his legacy. In June 1992, Bobby's youngest son Clifford Allison died in a crash during practice for a NASCAR Busch Series race at Michigan International Speedway. In 1993, his other son, Davey Allison, died when a helicopter he was piloting crashed in the infield at Talladega Superspeedway. Davey Allison was flying to the track to watch a friend test a car.
Davey Allison had made his Winston Cup debut in 1986, and father and son gave fans many an exciting moment during the next few years, such as the 1988 Daytona 500. Bobby Allison was 50 years old at the time but it didn't show on the track as he won a qualifying race and the Busch race during Speedweeks. In the Daytona 500, father and son drafted past Darrell Waltrip late in the race and battled each other for the win. Experience won out that day as Bobby Allison crossed the finish line first. Davey Allison went on to win the 1992 Daytona 500 but he would always refer to the 1988 Daytona 500 as his most memorable moment in racing.
When his driving career ended, Bobby Allison tried to carry on as a team owner but sponsorship money proved hard to come by and the effort eventually ended. His life continued to unravel as he and Judy were divorced in 1997. They were later reunited and married again July 3, 2000. "We had the good fortune that fate put us back together," said Allison. "We really, really appreciate each other immensely.
"Racing was a great industry and a great life for me," continued Allison. "I had the highest highs and lowest lows. You know, I still really love racing. I watch it. I have a few people that I have special feelings for that are involved in the sport."
Among the people Allison watches are some of today's Dodge drivers. "I've always been friendly with Bill Elliott," said Allison. "I like Ward Burton; I'd like to see him win. And I was pleased to see Sterling Marlin win the first one for Dodge. Sterling has really worked hard and put in the effort. I raced against his Daddy when he was a schoolboy; I've known Sterling all along. His Dad was a good competitor who was one of the really friendly guys, and Sterling came along and began to do well on the track in Nashville and I'd see him there once in a while. I think he was right at Davey's age. Davey would be 40 right now. I think they were friendly. Davey was friends with everybody. He had a unique personality trait that he just was friends with everybody."
Despite being out of racing for several years, Bobby Allison still has a solid fan base. "It's 13 years since I've been in a car," said Allison. "I was at an autograph session at a drugstore trade show in Nashville last week and I signed about 450 autographs. That's pretty far out of a direct NASCAR involvement, so I thought that was pretty complimentary. A lot of people are old fans, but there are some people that come up to me and say, 'I saw you on Speedvision,' or 'ESPN Classic,' or 'I read some history books and I know you raced and I know you did well.' That's pretty neat."
If he could, would he do anything differently? "I would try to stay home from Pocono on June 19, 1988," said Allison. "Nothing else would I do different."
This week in Dodge history:
* 8/26/56 - Royce Hagerty won his first NASCAR Grand National race driving a Dodge at Portland Speedway in Oregon. The race was scheduled for 250 laps on the paved half-mile track but an embarrassing scoring mix-up brought out the checkered flag four laps early. Hagerty and his Dodge led the final 69 laps.
* 8/27/66 - David Pearson and his Cotton Owens-prepared Dodge got their 13th win of the season at the Myers Brothers Memorial at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. Pearson beat Richard Petty by 10 seconds, but most eyes were on Bobby Allison and Curtis Turner as they rammed their cars into each other with relentless abandon until both of them were too damaged to continue.
* 8/24/69 - Bobby Isaac came from five laps down to win by a four-lap margin in the Western North Carolina 500 at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway near Weaverville, N.C. Isaac lost the lead during lap 324 when his K&K Insurance Dodge ran out of fuel. His crew had a hard time getting the car restarted and he fell five laps behind. He was back in the lead on lap 386.
* 8/25/73 - Buddy Baker drove the K&K Insurance Dodge to victory in the Nashville 420 at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tenn. Baker finished the race four laps ahead of runner-up Richard Petty in a Petty Engineering Dodge. Coo Coo Marlin finished third.
* 8/24/75 - Richard Petty and his Petty Engineering Dodge passed David Pearson during the final lap to win the Champion Spark Plug 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. The lead changed five times during the final five laps as the two drivers searched for the fastest way around the track. The margin of victory was a half car length.