NASCAR Families, Part 4: The Allisons

To many NASCAR fans, they know them better as the leaders of "The Alabama Gang". They've had great triumphs as well as great tragedy. Through the ups and downs, they have left a lasting mark on the sport. In part four of this NASCAR Families series, the legacy of the Allison Family is put into focus.

Many of the families that got started in NASCAR got into the sport after one member got their foot in the door. In the case of the Allison's, it was two that got the family into NASCAR. Brothers Bobby and Donnie entered the NASCAR ranks in the 1960's. Though the two were born in Miami, FL, the journey to NASCAR took them to Alabama. With more racing opportunities in Alabama than there was in Florida, the brothers, along with friend Red Farmer, settled in the Birmingham suburb of Hueytown. They would put the town on the NASCAR map.

Bobby's first race was at the Daytona 500 in 1961. His first win would come in 1966. Through the rest of the decade and into the '70's and the '80's Bobby was one of the top drivers on the circuit. Bobby would have officially 84 wins in his career, tying him with Darrell Waltrip for third on the all-time list along with 446 top-ten finishes. But, Bobby had fallen short of winning the Winston Cup Championship. That was until 1983, when he finally won his championship, the final piece of his career. He also won three Daytona 500's.

Donnie Allison was never a full-time driver in the NASCAR series. However, he did win ten races and had 115 top-ten finishes in his career. Donnie made his debut in the sport's top series in 1966. While he never raced full-time in the series, most NASCAR fans remember him for one occasion: The 1979 Daytona 500. Donnie was racing defending series champion Cale Yarborough on the race's final lap. The two were side by side heading down the back straightaway, hitting each other at the same time. Going towards the third turn, the two hit each other again, then they lost control of their cars, slid into the wall and skidded across the track. Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip, who were racing each other for third, wound up finishing first and second.

What happened after that is NASCAR legend.

As Cale and Donnie were talking about it, Bobby pulled along side the two. Bobby came to defend his brother, and then things really got heated. As the cameras were watching Richard Petty go to victory lane, CBS quickly turned back to the back stretch, where the fight was getting started. With Ken Squier screaming "There is a fight", the Allisons fought it out with Yarborough. All this going on in the first ever live broadcast of a NASCAR race on television. It is a moment that will forever be remembered in NASCAR history.

The next generation of the family arrived in NASCAR in the 1980's. Bobby's son, Davey, showed an early interest in the sport. Davey's racing career began in 1979 at the Birmingham International Raceway, near the family's Hueytown home. He won in just his sixth start and then became a regular winner there. He entered ARCA in 1983 before making his Winston Cup debut at the Talladega 500 in 1985. As a foreshadowing, he finished 10th in that race. He raced some in 1986 for injured driver and fellow Alabama Gang member Neil Bonnett. Davey would race full-time starting in 1987.

At the Winston 500 at Talladega in May of 1987, the family would have a very eventful day. On lap 22, Bobby hit some debris on the tri-oval, causing him to lose control. Bobby's car flew into the air and crashed into the fence separating the track from the grandstands, almost flying into those stands full of race fans. Bobby escaped without injury, but the damage done to the fence caused a lengthy delay. The race would have to be shortened by ten laps because of nightfall. After the delay was over, Davey dominated the race. The Winston 500 would be his first Winston Cup win. He followed that up about a month later win another win at the Budweiser 500 at Dover. Davey was the clear choice for Rookie of the Year in 1987.

The 1988 season could not have started any better. At the Daytona 500, it was a 1-2 finish for the father-son duo. Bobby won the race and Davey finished second. Bobby's wife and Davey's mother had a very funny quote afterwards saying that she was pulling for Bobby because she knew him first and he was still paying the bills. The family's joy was short lived in the 1988 season. At the Miller High Life 500 at Pocono 500, Bobby was seriously injured in a crash. Bobby was able to survive the injuries, but it was serious enough to force him into retirement.

Davey continued on and as the 1990's arrived, he became one of the premier drivers in NASCAR. He won five races in both 1991 and 1992. His biggest win came at the Daytona 500 in 1992. That season, he was in contention for his first Winston Cup Championship. He led the standings going into the final race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. However, he had all sorts of trouble in the race. His championship bid ended about halfway through the race in a crash with Ernie Irvan.

Tragedy hit the family in August of 1992. Davey's brother and Bobby's son, Clifford was trying to get his NASCAR career going. But while preparing for a Busch Series race at Michigan, Clifford crashed. He died from his injuries. Less than a year later, tragedy struck again.

NASCAR was still trying to heal after the death of Winston Cup Champion Alan Kulwicki when he died in a plane crash near Bristol, TN on April 1st. On July 12th, Davey was flying a helicopter with Red Farmer from Hueytown to Talladega Superspeedway to watch Neil Bonnett practice as he was starting a comeback into NASCAR. As Davey was attempting to land, something happened and the helicopter crashed in the infield of the track. While Farmer was able to escape the helicopter on his own, Davey was unconscious. He was flown to Birmingham after his injuries were determined to be life-threatening. The following morning, Davey died from his injuries. The death was another blow to NASCAR, who was still in mourning from the Kulwicki tragedy. His death was especially felt in Alabama, where he was source of state pride. The Alabama Gang was again touched by tragedy in February 1994. Neil Bonnett died at the Daytona International Speedway while preparing for the Daytona 500.

The continuous string of tragedies put a strain on Bobby and Judy Allison. Soon after the death of their sons, Bobby and Judy separated and divorced. Ironically, it was another tragedy that brought them back together. When they heard of Adam Petty's death in 2000, they went together to offer condolences and support for the Petty Family. The two decided that they needed to stay together. Bobby and Judy Allison remarried in July 2000.

Even after her husband's death, Liz Allison has been in the sport. She did some pit reporting for TNT and has written online articles for Liz's experience in NASCAR inspired her to write books geared towards female fans. Her first book was the successful "The Girl's Guide To NASCAR" She has two more books scheduled to be released this Fall.

Through the good times and the bad, the Allisons are remembered for the success they have had in NASCAR. They deserved mention among the best in the sport. Though the Allisons are not as visible in the sport as they used to be, their place among the legends is secure. Even after his death, Davey is still remembered. He is honored every year at the spring race at the family's home track of Talladega. The legacy of the Allisons is very much alive in the town that the family made famous. The main street in Hueytown is now known as the Allison-Bonnett Memorial Drive.


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