NASCAR & Auto Racing

Higgins' Scuffs: A tribute to Davey Allison

The haunting, somber memory is back in mind again.

It returns each July when the NASCAR Cup Series teams gather at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, as they have this weekend for the Camping World 301.

I recall seeing Davey Allison, an immensely popular star driver, standing at a helipad behind the track’s pit road and chatting amicably with fans that Sunday 20 years ago. He was waiting to be ferried by helicopter to a nearby airport on July 13, 1993, a field from which he would fly his plane back home to Alabama.

Davey, who had finished third in the just-completed Slick 50 300, and many other competitors were taking the chopper in order to avoid exceedingly heavy highway traffic that marked the speedway’s inaugural Cup event.

The New Hampshire race appeared to be Allison’s, but a late yellow flag and subsequent pit stops enabled Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin to finish in front of him.

Davey’s turn on the air taxi finally came and he hopped aboard for the short trip on the little aircraft that was making pickup after pickup.

Thousands of New England fans lingered in the stands to watch. They were ecstatic that speedway owner/promoter Bob Bahre had brought the NASCAR big time back to the area after and absence of 30 years.

Who among us could have imagined that it was the last time we were to see Davey Allison?

In a bitter bit of irony, he suffered injuries that proved fatal the very next day while attempting to land his own helicopter at Talladega Superspeedway back home in Alabama. Davey died the next morning in a Birmingham hospital at age 32.

Davey left behind his wife, Liz, and two small children.

Davey and a mentor, the colorful driver Red Farmer, were flying to the track to watch another member of their “Alabama Gang,” Neil Bonnett practice for a comeback.

Something went tragically wrong and Davey’s aircraft smashed down right at a gate leading to Talladega’s garage area. Farmer was hurt, but survived.

To say that Davey’s death stunned the spectrum of sports is understatement.

Just 11 months earlier Clifford Allison, 27, Davey’s brother, had lost his life in a crash while testing a race car at Michigan International Speedway.

From around the world hearts went out to the brothers’ parents, Bobby and Judy Allison. Davey and Clifford had followed their legendary dad into motorsports as drivers. The loss was difficult to fathom.

Making it even more astonishing and painful was the death just weeks earlier--on April 1, 1993--of reigning Cup Series champion Alan Kulwicki. He and three others were killed in the crash of a private plane on approach to Tri-Cities Airport near Bristol, Tenn., where the Food City 500 was scheduled three days later.

Shocked fans paid tribute-after-tribute to Davey Allison and Kulwicki. So did their fellow competitors.

I’ve often wondered just how many races and championships the two might have won had they lived.

Kulwicki, of course, already had his title. He had taken the 1992 crown that seemed destined to be Davey’s. A wreck not of Allison’s making in the season finale Hooters 500 dropped Davey from the lead back to third in the point standings behind Kulwicki and Bill Elliott.

It seemed inevitable that Davey soon would join his father, the 1983 winner, as a Cup Series champion.

Driving for the powerful Robert Yates Racing team of Charlotte and crew chief Larry McReynolds, Davey was in the midst of a super career. In only 6 1/3 full seasons he had won 19 races, including the ’92 Daytona 500 and the ’91 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Very memorably Bobby and Davey had posted the greatest 1-2 father and son finish in NASCAR history in the 1988 Daytona 500.

And Davey had won the first race under lights at Charlotte in ’92 in spectacular fashion, edging Kyle Petty at the checkered flag with a move that led to a crash which knocked him out.

“There absolutely is no telling how great Davey’s record would have been,” McReynolds said a few days ago when we ran into each other at a supermarket near our homes in Mooresville, N.C. “He would have won championships that went to other drivers.”

It is beyond heart-breaking that Davey Allison died so young, leaving us only to imagine what he might have achieved.