By Patrick Reynolds
Davey Allison, son of NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Allison, was largely considered a diamond in the rough.
A young man who entered big league stock car racing with plenty of driving talent, bu
t also with a shortage of patience and temper. In his five-and-a-half years of competition on NASCAR’s top circuit we saw him mature and grow outside of a racecar while he honed his ability inside one.
In 1992, Allison’s final complete Cup season, that diamond started to shine brightly. His five wins and championship challenge was impressive enough. But what he endured and overcame to have that outstanding year defines the meaning of a racer.
Allison began the season with a Daytona 500 victory, a high achieving accomplishment on its own. But it was done while steering a backup car. The Robert Yates Racing primary chassis was damaged in a practice session crash during Speedweeks. The spare car finished third in his Thursday qualifying race, then avoided the “Big One” during the 500 to begin the year on a highest of highs.
A string of top-five finishes through the early season helped Allison keep his point lead.
Bristol’s spring event began a literal series of tough blows. A crash ended his race early and his first injury of the season was recorded. Cartilage separated from Allison’s rib cage and some vertebrae were injured from the wall contact. His toughness was about to be ratcheted up.
The intense pain kept Allison from making his qualifying laps the next race in North Wilkesboro. Jimmy Hensley strapped in to assist in practicing and making the field. Hensley then remained on standby duty for Sunday’s 400 laps. Allison would start the event to secure the championship points and then hand off to Hensley when the pain became too intense. Allison mettle was tested, he never came out of the car, gritted through the pain, and eventually won the event.
That race was just the beginning of Allison’s season-long battle with physical and emotional pain.
The following week in Martinsville, Allison crashed and suffered another rib injury. Also injured was his championship lead, which shrank to a narrow margin.
His up and down pattern continued by winning the next race in Talladega.
Allison won the next event on the schedule, the All Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. NASCAR’s first superspeedway night race brought about one of the most famous finishes as Allison tangled with Kyle Petty approaching the finish line. Allison crashed hard into the wall after winning and was knocked unconscious. He was brought to the hospital and did not see Victory Lane that night.
Showing how tough he was, Allison finished a strong fourth in Charlotte’s 600 just eight day later.
A summer full of strong finishes and a win at Michigan helped Allison maintain his championship points lead.
The Pocono July race was next on his physical challenges. A pole position and first half domination ended with yet another severe crash. Contact with Darrell Waltrip sent Allison flipping multiple times on the infield exiting the tunnel turn. He suffered head, arm, and wrist injuries. His ailing body that was healing was inflicted with more pain and another hospital stay. And he slipped to second in the title standings behind Bill Elliott.
Allison was wearing an arm cast and dark glasses in Talladega for the following race. The cast was equipped with Velcro that fit a steering wheel attachment to help in driving. The glasses were to hide his eyes that showed the after-affects of his head injury. Bobby Hillin, Jr. relieved him and finished a strong third, allowing Allison to retake the point lead.
Dorsey Schroeder relieved Allison in Watkins Glen for the next race but a mid-pack finish gave the title lead back to Elliott.
With all of the intense physical injuries that Allison had endured so far, the next weekend in Michigan was the most painful. Allison’s younger brother Clifford was killed while practicing for the Busch Series event. The speedway was cast under a sad atmosphere as fans and competitors mourned the Allison’s family loss. A heartbroken Davey soldiered on to a fifth place Sunday finish.
A non-injury crash at Bristol added to Allison’s point deficit. The championship tug-of-war with Bill Elliott continued throughout the autumn months with mixes of top-fives and poor finishes by each.
Allison won the next-to-last race at Phoenix to regain the title lead heading into Atlanta.
The season finale turned into a historic Cup event, with the race being Richard Petty’s final one, Jeff Gordon’s first one, and a tight championship battle. Allison, along with Alan Kulwicki, Elliott, Harry Gant, Kyle Petty, and Mark Martin had a chance at the title.
The year’s final racing heartbreak for Allison came late in the event. While running in the top ten and in contention for the championship, Allison collided with a spinning Ernie Irvan. The impact left both cars disabled and effectively ended Allison’s title chance. His car was repaired and finished the race many laps down. The final standings left him in third place behind champion Kulwicki and runner up Elliott.
Allison was gracious in defeat, showing an upbeat, philosophical racing attitude that was not prevalent in his younger years. His maturity and talent inside and outside of a racecar were admirable. His courage for overcoming so much during this character-testing season impressed the racing community.
His potential was on display. Many felt he attained the level of a race winning and championship contending driver for now and the future.
Sadly, that vision never came to be with his death in a helicopter crash during the summer of 1993. The Allison family mourned the young man’s passing after he suffered and overcame so much during the past year.
Allison is remembered with a “I wonder how many?” or a “What could have been…” legacy. That in the terms of race wins and Cup championships. The Allison name looked to be carried on in NASCAR’s record books. Allison demonstrated what it means to be strong.
The difference between a diamond and coal is pressure. Twenty years ago Davey Allison showed how bright a diamond can shine after it is polished.