In the Rearview Mirror: Bobby Allison, Triumph and Tragedies

This week I continue to look at the 2011 Hall of Fame Inductees, next up is Bobby Allison. Hard core racer, Winston Cup Champion, father and brother…Bobby is an integral part of NASCAR history. Join me in this look back In the Rearview Mirror.

Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Since the beginning, NASCAR has been a family sport bringing us families such as the Pettys, Waltrips, Earnhardts, Flocks and the Allisons as well. Led into the sport by Bobby, brother Donnie followed in his footsteps and later sons Clifford and Davey did as well.

Bobby Allison, leader of the infamous "Alabama Gang", was born December 3, 1937 in Hialeah, Florida (which is near Miami). Bobby grew up attending races with his father Edmond but that did not help the fact that when he wanted to race himself his father opposed the idea. Not wanting to be caught by his father, Bobby raced but under an alias "Bob Sunderman". The problem - Bob Sunderman’s first race he finished in seventh and the local newspaper included his name in the report. Bobby’s father saw that and was wise to the fact that was his son; therefore, his comment to Bobby was simply "if you are going to race use your own name and do it with honor."

Alabama Gang Oct Talladega 2007
The Alabama Gang: Bobby Allison, Red Farmer and Donnie Allison
Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR
In 1958, brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison packed up and moved to Alabama because at the time they knew Alabama was a hot spot for racing. Bobby, Donnie and close friend Red Farmer set up shop in Hueytown, Alabama and this is the roots behind their Alabama Gang moniker. When the three men would travel to race, people would say “here comes that Alabama Gang.”

Bobby married his wife Judy in February 1960 and soon thereafter children would be apart of their new life together. Eldest son Davey was born on February 25, 1961 and would later be joined by sister Bonnie in December of 1962.  Younger brother Clifford was born in October 1964 and youngest daughter Carrie was born in May 1967.

Any racer’s goal is to race in the Grand National (current Sprint Cup) and Bobby Allison had that goal as well. His first race in the Grand National series was on February 24, 1961 running the qualifying race for the Daytona 500. Bobby ran the No. 40 for Ralph Stark and finished in 20th place. This qualified him for the Daytona 500 where he raced and completed the race in 31st. (Son Davey was born the day before the Daytona 500…racing was in him from birth)

Drivers rarely drove a full schedule back in the olden days of racing due to the frequency of races but Bobby’s first “full time” season was in 1966. It was a season of many firsts in his career: first pole award (Old Dominion Speedway) and also a first start from the pole position followed by his first win at Oxford Plains Speedway. Oxford was the first of three wins that season, followed by Islip Speedway and Beltsville Speedway.

Bobby partnered with the legendary Junior Johnson's race team in 1972 bringing his sponsorship with Coca-Cola to the team. One obstacle that stood in their way for the goal set to attain the Winston Cup - Richard Petty. Allison had ten wins this season and Petty had eight but "The King" still managed to win the 1972 Winston Cup championship by 127.9 points.

Bobby ventured off in 1973 and most of 1974 by becoming a car owner until later joining Roger Penske for the final few races in the '74 season. Driving multiple seasons with Penske, Allison still fell short of his goal of claiming the Winston Cup championship.

If you had not previously heard of Bobby or even his brother Donnie, I am hoping you had heard of the 1979 Daytona 500 race. You can’t mention the Allison brothers without mentioning their infield fight with Cale Yarborough. Bobby was one lap down after a crash, brother Donnie was leading the legendary Daytona 500 which is every racer’s dream. Cale was attempting to make a slingshot pass on Donnie when they touched, Yarborough’s tires hit the edge of the pavement sending him out of control. Both cars made contact multiple times and finally connected together before they settled in the infield at Daytona. An argument broke out between Donnie (a known fighter) and Cale then brother Bobby drove up to the argument which turned into an all out fight that broke out. (Not a shoving match ala Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton)
Cale Yarborough (standing) and Donnie (navy suit diving) in an all out fight at Daytona
Credit: RacingOne Multimedia
This race is considered to be the most important race in stock car history, being the first 500 mile race to be televised live from flag to flag coverage. Donnie, Bobbie and Cale definitely gave the fans a show that day.

The next obstacle for Bobby in getting the Winston Cup came in the form of "Jaws" himself - Darrell Waltrip. After leading the points for much of the 1981 season, Darrell managed to overtake him with just six races to go. Bobby lost the championship by only 53 points. Again in 1982 it was the same story, Allison finished in the second position for the fifth time in his career - this time with a difference of 72 points.

One season later, everything changed. NASCAR had began enforcing penalties against rules violations (illegal gas cans, unapproved fuel cells and other out of the box modifications) and this resulted in Richard Petty departing from his team after several rule violations.  Bobby Allison had lost the championship two seasons in a row but was not about to let that happen for a third time. By July of this year, Allison held a 170 point lead over Waltrip and Darrell managed to shave some points off this lead by getting the difference down to 41 points. Bobby Allison would not relent and he pulled off three victories in a row (Darlington, Richmond and Dover) to then clench the title by 47 points despite a last ditch effort by Waltrip.

Following in their father’s footsteps, sons Davey and Clifford joined the family business of auto racing. Davey worked his way up the ranks of NASCAR, racing hard and winning often.

Bobby and his son Davey ran the 1988 Daytona 500 together with a memorable finish - father and son first and second.  Davey joined his father to celebrate in victory lane.
1988 Bobby Davey Allison Daytona 500 victory lane
Bobby and Davey celebrate in Victory Lane
Credit: RacingOne Multimedia
Just four months later an accident at Pocono International Raceway ended Allison’s career. It was the Miller High Life 500 and Bobby didn’t even complete a lap before he crashed. The accident caused severe head injuries, requiring him to be hospitalized extensively and his care required a shunt due to brain swelling. The accident took away all memories of his 1988 season, including the Daytona 500 in which he led his son and claimed his third Daytona 500 victory.

Highlights and awards:
  • 6-time Winner Most Popular Driver Award (71-73) (81-83)
  • 3-time winner of the Daytona 500 (1978, 1982, 1988)
  • NASCAR Award of Excellence (1989)
  • International Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductee (1993)
  • National Motorsports Press Associational Hall of Fame Inductee (1993)
  • North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame (1998)
  • NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee 2011
The Allison family racing legacy was in the hands of sons Davey and Clifford. Davey continued to race and Clifford was working his way into NASCAR as well.  Clifford joined the Busch (Nationwide) Series in 1990 and made 22 starts in the series before his untimely death during a practice crash at Michigan International Raceway on August 13, 1992. Less than one year later, brother Davey died in a tragic helicopter crash en route to Talladega Superspeedway on July 13, 1993.

In his own words, Bobby said on his life and his tragedy and triumphs “I’ve been at the bottom of the valley but I’ve seen the top of the mountain”
Bobby stands beside his display in the NASCAR Hall of Honor
Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR

Amanda takes NASCAR seriously and is willing to pass up other activities to watch the boys have at it. NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two main focuses with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also frequently writes the post-race recaps for Skirts and Scuffs. Feel free to contact Amanda via Twitter.
In the Rearview Mirror: Bobby Allison, Triumph and Tragedies In the Rearview Mirror: Bobby Allison, Triumph and Tragedies Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 Rating: 5