Bobby Allison, Leader of the Alabama Gang has always fought the tough Fight
For two decades, Bobby Allison was one of the most loved drivers by the fans, and one of the most feared competitors by his peers, on the NASCAR circuit.
Allison, who was the leader of the famed Alabama Gang, was a three-time winner of the Daytona 500. He was also the 1983 Winston Cup Champion and the 1980 IROC Champion. He drove for some of the best teams in the business.
Among the teams that Allison served as the wheelman were those of Cotton Owens, Mario Rossi, Holman and Moody, DiGard Racing, Ranier-Lundy, Bud Moore, Junior Johnson, Roger Penske, and the Stavola Brothers. He also drove cars that he owned over the years as well.
Allison had success in his car early on. And he also found that when he came up with a good idea, NASCAR would find a way to slow him down. When most teams were going for the big block motors and big cars, Allison decided to bring out a smaller car with a smaller engine. It wasn't long until NASCAR came up with a minimum weight rule, as well as an engine rule.
After some time with Cotton Owens, Holman-Moody, and Mario Rossi, Allison teamed up with Junior Johnson. During his time with Johnson, Allison and Richard Petty had many heated battles on the racetrack. If you have seen film of short track races from the early seventies, or you were able to attend one, you know there has never been any racing quite like Allison and Petty going at it on a short track.
I was only six years old, but the first race I remember attending was at Martinsville. These two pounded on each other most of the last half of the race. Allison finally spun in turn four and The King went on to take the win.
When Allison left Junior Johnson, he teamed up with Roger Penske. During this time, he drove the Cam-2 Mercury for a while and an AMC Matador. That's right, a Matador. It was a challenge but Allison and Penske did win races with the Matador.
After his time with Penske, Allison joined up with Bud Moore, and right of they had success at Daytona. The Moore team had to take a wrecked Thunderbird, that was torn up in the Twin 125 mile qualifying races, and make it race ready again.
Allison started 33rd and was up in the top five quickly. He battled with Buddy Baker, the same driver he had wrecked with on Thursday, almost all day. Baker's Oldsmobile lost an engine and Allison brought his Thunderbird home for the win.
During his time with Bud Moore, Allison took a less than aerodynamic Thunderbird to 13 wins in three years. Those wins came at Daytona, Talladega, Dover, Charlotte, Atlanta, Richmond, Rockingham and Riverside. Allison was a threat to win on any track.
A lot of folks always thought that Bobby Allison was so good on different tracks because he raced every chance he had. I remember Allison coming to Greenville Pickens Speedway several times. If he had an off week; he would find a track to race at. He would also find a track to race at near the NASCAR races he was competing in. Allison used this on track time, to test new set ups and different parts.
Allison left Bud Moore to join up with the team of Harry Ranier and J.T. Lundy. When other teams chose to run cars like the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Buick Regal, Pontiac Grand Prix, or an Oldsmobile Cutlass, Allison convinced Ranier-Lundy to bring a Pontiac Grand Lemans to the track.
Being a pilot, Allison had studied aerodynamics and he knew the Grand Lemans would be a better car than the others offered by General Motors in the early 80s. Once again, NASCAR worked to slow Bobby Allison. Allison's crew had to cut the rear spoiler down to nearly nothing. Allison had the fastest car at Daytona for the 1981 Daytona 500, but fast doesn't always win. Allison made a late stop for gas and tires while Richard Petty feather-footed his Buick home for the win.
In 1982, Allison teamed up with DiGard Racing, and once again, Allison found his car under the NASCAR microscope. Allison won the Busch Clash and his car was very strong in his qualifying race. NASCAR made Allison's crew trim down the rear bumper on the car, saying it was too big. Well, during the 500, Allison was bumped and the rear bumper fell off the car. Several drivers said that Allison and crew chief Gary Nelson had rigged up a button to eject the rear bumper. Nelson could work wonders on a car, but that was beyond his ability.
During his three and a half years with DiGard, Allison won 18 races including the 1982 Daytona 500, 1983 Southern 500, 1984 World 600 at Charlotte, and the Winston Cup Championship in 1983. In 1985, everyone was chasing Bill Elliott and teams were looking for a way to gain speed. The DiGard team decided to run a test car with driver Greg Sacks to hopefully catch up with Elliott. This team entered and won the 1985 Firecracker 400 at Daytona in a Chevrolet.
Allison had asked the team to switch his car from a Buick to a Chevrolet but they would not do it. Then, after Sacks won, Allison decided to part ways with DiGard. He felt that those test parts could have been put on his car because the team knew his car was slow. Allison spent the rest of 1985 driving a car from his shop. He drove a Chevrolet for a while, and then a Ford Thunderbird.
The Stavola Brothers approached Allison to team up with them and young driver Bobby Hillin Jr. Allison brought the Miller sponsorship with him and he and Hillin drove twin Buicks, except for the #22 for Allison and #8 for Hillin.
The folks at Buick listened to Allison when he asked them to do something different with the hood on the 1986 La Sabre. During the 86 season, the team swept Talladega. Allison won the May race and Hillin won a crash-filled July race. Allison added a win in the July 1987 Daytona race as well.
For 1988, Buick was changing to the Regal model. Allison was invited to the wind tunnel as this car was being prepared for production. Once again, the General Motors folks listened to Allison. They made the changes that Allison wanted to the hood and deck lid of the car.
So, to start the 1988 season, Allison won his 125-mile qualifying race at Daytona. He took a 1986 Buick La Sabre to victory lane in the 300 Busch race on Saturday afternoon. The Wednesday before the 125, Allison won the annual fishing tournament held at Lake Lloyd, in the infield of the Daytona Speedway.
Then on Sunday afternoon, Bobby Allison drove his new 1988 Buick Regal to victory in the Daytona 500. It was one of the best NASCAR races ever run. Following Bobby Allison to the finish line, was his son Davey in second place, with his long time friend Neil Bonnett placing fourth.
This was one of those career weekends that a driver would remember forever. Well, for Allison, he was able to remember this great weekend until the month of June.
On lap one of a 500-mile race at Pocono, Allison cut down a tire and he was t-boned in the driver's door. Allison had life threatening injuries. He was unconscious for two months. When he came around, he had forgotten most of the 1988 season. He remembered going to Daytona, but he can't remember racing his son for his third win in the Daytona 500.
What makes this even worse, in an eleven-month period in 1992-93, both of Allison's sons were killed. Clifford died while practicing for a race at Michigan in August of 1992. Then in July of 1993, Davey died from injuries received in a helicopter crash at the Talladega Speedway.
The stress of his crash and the loss of his sons took its toll on Allison. He and his wife Judy separated in the mid-nineties. But another family's tragedy brought them back together.
When Adam Petty, the son of Kyle Petty and grandson of Richard Petty, was killed at the New Hampshire Speedway in 2000, Bobby and Judy were among the first people to come to the aid of the Petty Family.
There was a book written about Bobby Allison called Triumph over Tragedy. That title sums up the life of this racing legend.
I was afraid to ask Bobby about his sons or that crash at Pocono in 1988 on my radio show, Droppin the Hammer on www.espn1400am.com. I have seen Bobby answer those questions so many times on television that I didn't want to ask him to do it again.
I didn't have to ask him. Bobby talked about both topics himself. Bobby will tell you that, in life, you have good days and bad, and it is how you handle the bad days that make your good days even better.