Dynamic Duo: Davey Allison And Robert Yates
by Tom Jensen October 18, 2023
A shared belief in each other’s talents helped Robert Yates and Davey Allison build a powerhouse organization.
One of the common themes you’ll find in NASCAR is that successful people are drawn to each other. And when two or more successful people join forces, it often results in a team that reaches collective heights none of the individual participants could have achieved alone.
That was certainly the case with driver Davey Allison (Class of 2019) and team owner Robert Yates (Class of 2018). Allison is one of four drivers in the so-called Alabama Gang of racers to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Famer, along with his father Bobby (Class of 2011), uncle Donnie (Class of 2024) and longtime family friend Red Farmer (Class of 2021).
The younger Allison spent his first two full-time seasons in the Cup Series driving for Harry Ranier. It was an auspicious beginning for Allison, who became the first driver in Cup Series history to win two races in his rookie season. After winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1987, Allison followed up his early success with another two-victory season in 1988.
But when Ranier and partner J.T. Lundy decided to put his NASCAR team up for sale at the end of the 1988 season, Allison strongly encouraged Yates, the team’s engine builder, to buy the operation, which he did.
Driving for Robert Yates Racing in 1989, Allison won races at his hometown track, Talladega Superspeedway, and over Fourth of July weekend at Daytona International Speedway. In addition, Allison claimed one pole, seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes en route to an 11th-place points finish in the team’s first season of NASCAR premier series competition.
That the combination of Allison and Yates won multiple races in its first season spoke volumes about how well the two worked together and how each pushed the other to achieve greatness.
“Davey had an enormous amount of respect for Robert,” said Liz Allison, Davey’s widow. “And he was very loyal to Robert. I think he felt like Robert had put himself out on the line so much to buy that team, personally and professionally. Davey really recognized that and appreciated that.”
Davey had an enormous amount of respect for Robert. And he was very loyal to Robert.
— Liz Allison
“Davey was like a second son to my dad,” said Doug Yates, Robert’s son, who is now CEO of Roush Yates Engines. “But he was also a huge influence for my dad. When Harry Ranier and J.T. Lundy were going to get out of racing, Davey told my dad, ‘Robert, you can do this. You deserve it. You’re ready for it. And if you buy this team, I will never leave you.’ And Davey shook my dad’s hand, and that’s all it took.”
Like Doug, Davey was the son of a Hall of Famer. Growing up in racing families influenced them both.
“The things I remember about Davey: First, he had a great dad, a champion and a competitor,” said Doug Yates. “He always wanted to make his dad proud. Similar to me, he wanted to make sure he took it further than his dad did. He wanted to make the family name proud, so he had that drive and determination. He just had a grit and determination and toughness like I’ve never seen.”
Davey was like a second son to my dad.
— Doug Yates
Although Allison’s promising career was cut short by a fatal helicopter crash in 1993, he already had posted very impressive numbers, winning 19 premier series races at 11 different tracks. Allison won 10 percent of his starts for his career and finished in the top five in more than a third of his starts. He narrowly lost the 1993 Cup Series championship after being crashed out of the race by another driver,He also won a number of NASCAR majors, including the Daytona 500, Winston 500, Coca-Cola 600 and the NASCAR All-Star Race in both 1991 and ‘92. Allison was versatile, too, winning on the 2-mile Michigan oval, on 1-mile tracks at Phoenix, Rockingham and Dover, on the Richmond and North Wilkesboro short tracks and at the Sonoma road course. He was good pretty much everywhere he raced and usually a threat to win on any given weekend.
Add it all up, and it’s a Hall of Fame career.
And while one can never know for certain how his career would have gone had he lived longer, there’s no question Allison would have built on his already impressive achievements.
“I don't want to be as good as my father,” Davey once said. “I want to be as good as Davey Allison can be. Whether that's better than him or not as good doesn't matter.”