Remembering Davey – Great Driver…an Even Better Person
Events of the past week brought back some very fond memories of one of NASCAR’s all time great individuals – Davey Allison. Yes, he was one of NASCAR’s all time great drivers, having early career success and potential far greater than we ever got to fully experience. But David Carl “Davey” Allison was an even better person than race car driver. What is my measure of that you may rightfully ask?
People’s character is more often evident in how they deal with adversity than success. And Davey had his share of both. He won a total of 19 races at the then Winston (now Sprint) Cup level in just 6 ½ years of competition including the 1992 Daytona 500, finished second to his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, in the 1988 Daytona 500, and also had more than his share of incredibly hard accidents and tragedies including losing his brother Clifford in a Busch (now Nationwide) Series crash practicing at Michigan.
Davey’s sixth full time season at the Winston Cup level, 1992, became his best – entering the season finale in Atlanta with a 30 point lead after a roller coaster year that included five wins and several tenaciously hard accidents one resulting in a concussion, broken arm, wrist and collar bone and another crashing in victory crossing the start finish line and going to the hospital vs. victory lane.
As a pit reporter for MRN Radio, I had interviewed Davey many times in the preceding years and talked with he and his lovely wife Liz on numerous occasions prior to driver introductions, at the car before races and around the garage area. Both were always extraordinarily gracious and a pleasure to talk with. On this day, among my assignments was to talk with drivers who had fallen out of the race either in the garage or as they excited the infield car center. Needless to say, there was heavy media attention on Davey after he had been checked over and released from the care center. No one would have blamed him if he had chosen to take a back door exit and avoid the throng of reporters to take time and gather his thoughts after having the championship taken from his grasp due to no fault of his own or his team’s. Not Davey – he was always accessible and accommodating. I was struck not just at his accessibility but how gracious he was in describing the incident. He calmly explained what he encountered and how he got swept up in someone else’s mistake never offering any criticism of blame on Ernie, a frequent target of other drivers’ criticisms for his hard charging, aggressive style. As I recall, he ended our interview with something to the affect of “we have had a wonderful year, I am so proud of our Robert Yates team and we’ll go after ‘em again next year and hope to be in the same position to win the championship when we come here next year. “
Unfortunately, when we went to Atlanta the following year for the season finale, Davey was not in that position, and tragically was longer with us. He passed away on July 13, 1993 from injuries suffered in a helicopter accident while landing at the Talladega Superspeedway going to visit with his good friend and fellow Alabama gang buddy Neil Bonnett and provide moral support for Neil’s son David who was testing that day at Talladega.
Davey’s last race was the inaugural Winston (now Sprint) Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 11, 1993. 1993 had not provided the level of success he and his Robert Yates team expected standing 5th in points entering the race but 323 points behind leader Dale Earnhardt and only one win at the season’s midway point. Davey and his team had one of the best cars that day leading 38 of the races 300 laps. He was in position to win leading late in the race before a late race caution brought everyone to pit road. His car was better on long runs and he wound up finishing third behind Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. My post race assignment that day included interviewing drivers who finished in positions 2 – 5. Despite the disappointment of the race getting away from them at the end coupled with a year that didn’t measure up to he and his team’s expectations, Davey was again incredibly gracious and philosophical. He again complimented his team on the car and the progress they continued to make never once lamenting the misfortunate the late race caution presented.
While these are but two of the many encounters I had with Davey, they are indicative of what I observed over the years I had the pleasure to interview and observe him. Always gracious and professional, accepting adverse circumstances with the same grace as the humility he displayed when he won.
Humpy Wheeler, long time President of Charlotte Motor Speedway, provided the following quote in the video that honors Davey’s father Bobby in the Hall of Honor in the NASCAR Hall of Fame: “a far better person than a race car driver. And he was a helluva a race car driver.”
Clearly, the apple did not fall far from this tree.
Davey – thanks for the memories. We miss you!
- Winston Kelley