American race car driver
Davey Allison was a champion stock-car driver, with major race wins; he captured the Daytona 500, stock-car racing's most important event, in 1992. His winnings on the Winston Cup circuit, the major league of the sport, totaled $6.7 million. Allison came from a family of race car drivers that included his father, Bobby, his uncle, Donnie, and his younger brother, Clifford. In 1993, the helicopter he was piloting to the Talladega Superspeedway to see a friend practice spun out of control and went down in a parking lot where he was attempting to land. He died at age 32 the next day of head injuries.
Allison's first job in the business was working for his father's company, Bobby Allison Racing, ate age 12. He swept garage floors and sorted parts for 50 cents an hour. In 1979, the year he graduated from high school, he completely rebuilt a 1967 Chevy Nova. Also that year, he started his career as a racer.
Allison entered his first NASCAR Winston Cup race in 1985, at Talladega Superspeedway. Allison won three Winston 500 titles—in 1987, 1989, and in 1992. Before competing in the Winston Cup races, Allison won eight Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) races, in a three-year span.
Big Moments at Daytona
In 1988, Allison was in second place, behind his father, in the Daytona 500. He treasured the moment more than his victory on the same track four years later. "Since I was a kid, I've dreamed about battling to the wire, finishing 1-2 with my dad," Davey Allison said. "The only difference was, I wanted him to finish second." Bobby Allison pulled away at the finish line, his Buick beating Davey's Ford by two lengths. Bobby, 50 at the time, became the oldest driver to win the 500.
"I saw the nose of Davey's car coming up, out of the corner of my eye," Bobby Allison said. "But I felt I had the horsepower to beat him." His son added: "I've worked for this guy all my life. At the finish today, I knew he'd make it awful tough on me."
Davey Allison would finally capture Daytona in 1992. He ran a patient race that day, and avoided a 14-car accident on lap 92 that effectively eliminated Allison's principal competition, Sterling Marlin, Bill Elliott and Ernie Irvan. Ironically, Allison smashed his primary car in a collision with Marlin in practice four days earlier. Racing with a different car, Allison felt he had to run smarter. "In a 200-lap race, there's no need to stick your neck out and take a chance," he said. "A couple of cars were faster than us, but they ended up a bunch of sheet metal in the garage." Allison, fourth at the time of the crash, led the final 102 laps. "I saw it coming," he said. "They ran out of room, I picked which way to go and Morgan (Shepherd) followed me, then all hell broke loose."
Allison's maturity clearly emerged. He admitted that had he been in that position a year earlier, he might not have had the presence of mind to avoid the crash. "When he graduated in 1985 to the Winston Cup tour," Joseph Siano wrote in the New York Times, "he arrived with a reputation as a fast driver, but one who needed to get his competitive fires—and the frustration that came with losing—under better control." Allison once injured his hand punching the transporter that carried his car. Siano cited the arrival of Larry McReynolds as crew chief on Allison's team as a turning point. He then won 11 of his 19 victories, "and more important, he became less headstrong behind the wheel."
The Allisons joined Lee and Richard Petty as father-and-son winners at Daytona.
Allison was also on his way to his first Winston Cup championship in 1992, when, in the last race of the Cup season, in Hampton, Georgia, a crash caused by Irvan eliminated him. Allison had needed only to finish in sixth place to win the Winston Cup standings and was, in fact, sixth when he encountered trouble on lap 253. "Ernie Irvan's Kodak Chevrolet had a tire go down and he lost control directly in front of Rusty Wallace and Allison," the Web site NASCAR.com wrote in its recap of 1992. "Wallace miraculously avoided the spinning Irvan, but Allison was not so lucky. Allison T-boned Irvan, ending his day." Allison settled for third in the standings, behind Alan Kulwicki and Elliott. But he was philosophical about his setback, noting to reporters that his father finished in second place in the Winston Cup standings four times before finally winning in 1983 at age 46.
No Strangers to Tragedy
Tragedy ran in the Allison family. In 1988, Bobby Allison nearly was killed when his car crashed at Pocono, Pennsylvania. He suffered permanent damage to his memory and his balance, and had to stop racing, although he stayed in the sport as an owner. At the time of his death, Davey Allison had only recently returned to racing as a driver, having suffered a concussion and broken an arm and ribs a year earlier, also in Pocono. Almost a year before Allison's helicopter crash, his younger brother, racer Clifford Allison, then 27, died in a car crash during practice in Brooklyn, Michigan. And Donnie Allison, Davey's uncle, was in a life-threatening crash in 1981 that ended his career.
Allison had purchased the ill-fated helicopter less than a month before he died. If there was one passion he had besides auto racing, it was flying airplanes. He obtained his private pilot's license in 1987, and subsequently received night and instrument ratings. He became certified to fly helicopters in 1992.
It was not unusual for a stock-car driver to also be a private pilot. As Darrell Waltrip, a star driver explained to USA Today's Dick Patrick, "We have a lot of places to go, and we try to make it easy as we can. It's just a way of life. It's part of our business."
At the time of the crash, Allison was headed from his home in Hueytown, Alabama to the Talladega Super-speedway, to watch driving friend David Bonnett practice. Bonnet, along with his father Neil Bonnett and Allison himself, were all part of a tight-knit racing cadre led by Bobby Allison and dubbed the Alabama Gang.
Witnesses said Allison was guiding the aircraft in for a landing in a small parking lot adjacent to the speed-way. Only a foot off the ground, and seemingly about to touch down, the machine leapt back into the air, and 25 feet up, spun out of control. It crashed to the blacktop on its left side, where its full weight came down on Allison.
Fellow driver and longtime family friend Red Farmer, 60, was also on board. He suffered broken bones but survived the crash probably, he later told reporters, because his racing instincts kicked in and he braced himself just before impact. Allison was still wrestling with the controls as the helicopter went down.
Allison underwent surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, but to no avail. The official cause of death was acute subdural hematoma—severe bruising of the brain and the resulting swelling of the brain's delicate tissues.
Allison's father suffered the same injury in the auto accident that ended his career. After Bobby Allison's accident, he joined the board of directors of the National Head Injury Foundation. This nonprofit group's mission is to help victims of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the families of victims. After Allison's death, the National Head Injury Foundation established a fund in Allison's name to educate people about TBI.
Allison left behind his wife, Liz, their daughter Krista Marie, then 3 years old, and their son Robert Grey, who was 23 months old at the time of Allison's death, as well as his parents, Bobby and Judy, and two sisters.
|1961||Born in Hollywood, Florida|
|1979||Graduates from high school|
|1979||Begins racing career|
|1985||Makes NASCAR Winston Cup debut|
|1988||Loses out on Winston Cup championship after collision with Ernie Irvan on final race of year|
|1993||Dies after a helicopter crash at the Talladega Superspeedway|
Related Biography: Race Car Driver Bobby Allison
Davey Allison's father, Bobby Allison, was also a champion race car driver and an avid private airplane pilot. Born on December 3, 1937, Bobby Allison began racing in the 1950s. He moved to Alabama in 1959, where he joined with his brother, Donny Allison, and friend Red Farmer as the original members of the celebrated "Alabama Gang" of racers. In 1983, after four attempts, Bobby Allison won the Winston Cup. He stopped racing for several years after being involved in a near-fatal crash on the track in 1988, but he returned to race on the senior circuit in the early 1990s. Bobby and his wife, Judy, lost two sons, Davey and Clifford, to accidents. They also have two daughters, Carrie and Bonnie.
Davey Allison was part of a famed racing family with a legacy for excellence—and tragedy. He knew the dangers of his sport, as did the other Allisons. "Through this whole thing, nobody ever heard me say, 'why me?'" he said after his brother, Clifford's death. "The thing to do is retain the memories and prepare to live every day the best I can, on and off the track."
"Davey Allison grew up in this sport and, from a small child into adulthood, dedicated his life to it," NASCAR president Bill France, Jr., said upon Allison's death.
"There are no guarantees in life," John Sonderegger wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Davey Allison knew all too well how precarious this world can be….Davey once said that if he were killed in a racing crash, 'I'd die with a smile on my face.' That pretty much is the way race-car drivers accept the risk. But Allison didn't die on the track."
Awards and Accomplishments
|1987||Becomes first Winston Cup series rookie to qualify to start in the front row at the Daytona 500.|
|1987||Wins his first Winston 500 race|
|1987||Named NASCAR rookie of the year|
|1989||Wins his second Winston 500 race|
|1991||Leads in more races (23) than any other driver|
|1992||Wins his third Winston 500 race|
|1992||Leads in more laps (1,377) than any other driver|
|1992||Wins Daytona 500|
|1993||Wins International Race of Champions at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama|
|1996||Inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association's Stock Car Hall of Fame (posthumous)|
|1997||Inducted into the Bristol (TN) Motor Speedway's Heroes of Bristol Hall of Fame (posthumous)|
|1998||Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (posthumous)|
Noting Kulwicki's death in a plane crash three months earlier, Sonderegger wrote, "That's one reason there is so much pain in the NASCAR family. Two of the sport's brightest young stars died in accidents that had nothing to do with racing cars."
Allison, Liz. Davey Allison: A Celebration of Life. Charlottesville, VA: Howell Press, 1995.
Fachet, Robert. "Allison's Passenger Discusses Crash." Washington Post (July 15, 1993): D2.
Patrick, Dick. "Severe Head Injury Caused Death." USA Today (July 14, 1993): 7C.
Siano, Joseph. "Davey Allison, Stock-Car Driver, Dies at 32 After Helicopter Crash." New York Times (July 14, 1993): D20.
Sonderegger, John. "Mourning Allison; Pain Flares as Drivers Race at Talladega." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (July 25, 1993): 1F.
Tuschak, Beth. "Copter Crash Is Latest Tragedy to Hit Allisons." USA Today (July 13, 1993): 13C.
"1988: Father Before Son." Nascar.com. http://www.nascar.com/2003/kyn/history/daytona/01/31/daytona_1988/ (February 11, 2003).
"1992: Davey's Day." Nascar.com. http://www.nascar.com/2003/kyn/history/daytona/02/05/daytona_1992/ (February 5, 2003).
"Bobby Allison." Infoplease.com. http://www.infoplease.com/ipsa/A0108963.html (January 14, 2003).
"Bobby Allison." BobbyAllison.com. http://www.bobbyallison.com/ (January 14, 2003).
"Davey Allison" NASCAR.com. http://www.nascar.com/2002/kyn/history/races/02/02/dallison/ (December 16, 2002).
"History 60-69." ARCA Online. http://www.arcaracing.com/Remax/history60-69.html (January 13, 2003).
Sketch by Michael Belfiore