The "For Sale" sign lies blown down in the yard at 135 Church
Avenue in Hueytown, Ala., and the big ranch-style house looks
forlorn. Inside it is even grimmer. It was emptied at auction
last March. Who knows when it might sell, haunted as it is by
all that sorrow?
"We moved in on Christmas Eve, 1969," says Bobby Allison. "Worst
day of the year to move. But I thought it would be neat for
those kids to wake up in that new house and find that Santa
Claus had been there."
Allison now lives across the street in a modular home. He is
back with his mother, Kitty, after 40 years as maybe the most
independent-minded man on earth. On the dead lawns between the
two houses there is silence, save for the wind blowing leaves
through what's left of Bobby's life.
He is 59, and Kitty is 90. "This is Bobby Allison. Is my mommy
over there?" he sometimes asks neighbors on the phone in a mock
childlike tone, cheerfully acknowledging the irony of his living
arrangement. Kitty is back to waiting up for him at night and
picking up his ice-cream bowls. Everybody else is as gone as the
millions of dollars that have passed through his hands.
Down the hill from the big house are two sprawling, empty
buildings, Bobby's former racing shops, where his two sons
apprenticed to his perilous trade. Beyond the buildings lies the
fish pond where Bobby's family and friends used to take short
breaks from the long hours of work and cast for bass.
Time was when the melancholy aftermath of Christmas would give
way to a happy February in the Allison compound as the family
made its bustling departure for Daytona Beach and the bright
beginning of a new NASCAR season. This year Bobby will limp out
of his house alone and head southeast to hail the resumption of
a sport that has left him behind--broke and almost broken, but
not brooding. Allison does not brood. He goes on.
For the first time since he started in the sport, Allison goes
to Daytona as an outsider looking in. The North Carolina-based
racing team he partly owns has fallen apart, sponsorless and
driverless. He goes on.
Bobby and his wife of 36 years, Judy, separated nearly a year
ago. Their divorce proceedings, which batter the spirit of this
profoundly Catholic man, won't be settled until May at the
earliest. He goes on.
"Some...incidents...in my life kept the agony, kept the agony,
kept the agony on her," Bobby says. Not by accident does he say
the phrase three times: Once for his near death and the residual
handicaps he still suffers. Once for the death of Clifford, his
loving and mischievous son, the one Bobby most cherished. Once
for the death of Davey, the determined, self-sufficient,
sometimes defiant son, the great success, the one most like his
father. "So she packed her suitcase, and she left," Bobby
continues. "I felt the agony too. But I handled it differently.
I've always had this ... this ... ability to ... go on."
Their sons died pursuing passions that he gave them: driving
race cars and flying aircraft. "I still don't know whether I
blame myself about Clifford," Bobby says. "But racing took
Clifford. And racing was my ... my ... whole life.
"Racing didn't take Davey. Judy was really bitter about the
helicopter. She said racing bought it for him. I said Davey
would have mowed grass to buy that helicopter. Judy said racing
bought Davey the helicopter. I think one of the things that
happened to Judy and me was that we were not able to give each
other the support we should have in this incredible tragedy."
Even before the formal separation, Bobby continues, "we would go
in separate directions a lot. She would go stay with her
sisters. A friend of mine had a house in Pensacola, and I would
get in my plane and go stay with him, and we'd get on his boat.
Somehow I could hide."
Judy, who lives in an apartment in nearby Hoover, Ala., says she
isn't bitter toward racing. "And I didn't really leave," she
adds, measuring her words in light of the ongoing divorce
proceedings. She will not discuss the reasons for the separation
except to say, "I do not feel it was the deaths of the boys." Of
Allison family life and its attendant tragedies, she says only,
"I think this whole situation has been oversimplified [by the
media]. It would take a whole year's issues of SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED to get all of this the way it should be."
"This has been going on, and off, for about 25 years," says the
Allisons' eldest daughter, Bonnie, 34, of her parents' marital
strain. "But through it all, Dad and Mom were so strong in their
faith that divorce was out of the question until Davey and
A searching, groping look troubles Bobby's face as he tries to
make something add up in a mind that is hazy in some places and
totally dark in others, where certain precious memories should
be. This is the result of brain damage he suffered in a crash at
Pocono (Pa.) International Raceway on June 19, 1988.
"Life-threatening" inadequately describes the accident, which
was sickening to behold. Death had Bobby Allison in that
wreckage on the backstretch, had him firmly, until a paramedic
climbed into the car and performed the tracheotomy that gave him
a thread to hang by.
Davey Allison would later recall how that night, after emergency
neurosurgery was performed on his father, "the doctor called me
over into a corner. He said, 'Son, tonight you're going to have
to make yourself be the man of this family. Because if your
daddy lives through the night, he'll probably never be able to
do anything again.' It took the breath out of me. It took my
legs out from under me. I fell straight down onto the floor."
But somewhere deep in his coma, Bobby's enormous will took
charge. He fought off death, fought through unconsciousness,
rose and walked. But, says Judy, "Bobby went all the way back to
being a baby. He had to be retaught everything: going to the
bathroom, brushing his teeth, taking a bath, getting dressed,
everything. Who do you think did that [with him]?" Gradually
Bobby recovered the majority of his mind. This last miracle he
accomplished during the eight agonizing months between the crash
and the day he limped triumphantly onto the track at Daytona in
February 1989. Clifford and Davey were both competing in that
year's Speed Week. "I ... am ... very ... glad," Bobby said then
with terrible difficulty, "that ... both ... Davey ... and
Clifford ... are ... out there ... racing ... because ... there
is ... a lot ... more good ... out there ... than ... bad."
"I meant that," Bobby says now. "I still believe that."
As he slowly recovered physically, other things got worse. And
worse. And worse. First he realized that he would never race in
NASCAR again. Then two insurance policies failed to protect him,
and he had to pay $160,000 of his medical bills himself, mainly
by selling machinery he had bought after the crash to help build
racing engines because, he says, "at least that was something I
could still do." (A rehab center in Birmingham let him work off
a debt of about $60,000 by making public appearances and
"I have been hurting," Allison says, "for 8 1/2 years." He
tosses a hand as though it were nothing, this physical pain.
"I'm hurting right now, sitting here, talking to you." His face
goes somber. "But when I walked up to that car, as close as from
me to you, and saw that boy was dead--knew that boy was
dead"--his voice begins to dwindle--"there began a pain that I
had never known before, never imagined. And it kept hurting.
Kept hurting. Kept hurting...." And has never gone away, the
echo of his whisper says. Clifford still stares at him from that
wreckage at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 13, 1992.
"He had a wound on his face that never even bled--that's how
fast his heart stopped," Bobby says. Clifford was 27.
"If I get killed in a race car," Davey Allison once said, his
brown eyes blazing with certainty, "I'm gonna die with a smile
on my face." Davey died with no expression on his face, in a
coma, in a Birmingham hospital on July 13, 1993, just hours
after his helicopter crashed into an infield parking lot at
Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. He and Charles (Red) Farmer, a
veteran racer and longtime family friend, were flying into
Talladega to watch the race car test session of David Bonnett,
son of Neil Bonnett, another close family friend and an original
member of the storied Alabama Gang of drivers Bobby once led.
It was Neil who scrambled into the helicopter wreckage to rescue
Farmer (who suffered fractured ribs and a broken collarbone) and
then went back in for Davey, who was unconscious. Seven months
later Neil would die of injuries suffered in a crash during
practice at Daytona. He was an ever-cheerful sort who could
lighten any burden. In 1990 he had suffered a brain injury of
his own in a crash. "I went over to Bobby's house to get some
advice," he said later. "Between Bobby trying to think of what
he wanted to say, and me trying to remember what he'd just said,
we had a helluva time." When Neil died, it was "another hard
hit," says Bobby. "But by that point I had two things I had been
through, to build my strength."
The 32-year-old Davey, like his father, was an excellent pilot
of fixed-wing aircraft. But the jet helicopter was a new toy he
had bought with money he earned as he hurtled toward the
pinnacle of NASCAR. The helicopter was highly sophisticated,
treacherous to a novice. After it crashed, the National
Transportation Safety Board investigation concluded there had
been pilot error.
Davey's widow, Liz, has taken her multimillion-dollar
inheritance to Nashville, where she lives with their two
children and dates country singer Joe Diffie. Bobby is not
bitter about that. He goes on.
Occasionally he slurs a word, like someone who has had a few
drinks. He walks slowly, arrhythmically, deliberately. Every
step is unimaginably hard. But Bobby's injured brain and
shattered left leg have healed vastly beyond his doctors'--maybe
even his priest's--expectations.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.... You might
wonder how many hundreds of thousands of Hail Marys have been
said for Allison. And by him. And you might wonder why he has
never uttered Ernest Hemingway's prayer of the desperate: Hail
nothing, full of nothing, nothing is with thee.
Father Dale Grubba, a priest from Princeton, Wis., who has been
a friend of the Allison family for nearly 25 years, is writing a
book comparing Bobby and the Biblical figure Job. "The
difference," says Father Grubba, "is that Job never had a head
injury, with all the frustration, the confusion, the self-doubt
that come with it. God left Job his clarity, so that he could
reason through his trials."
In the end God restored Job's wealth. Allison drives a '77
Mazda pickup between his mother's house and the hangar at the
Bessemer, Ala., airport where he keeps his weathered twin-engine
1981 Aerostar. (Some neurosurgeons said there was no way Allison
could rehabilitate himself enough to regain his pilot's license
with full instrument ratings, but he did so in 1993.) He still
owns a condominium at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but it is of
little use to him now that his racing team, which was based
nearby, is on the verge of collapse. He still has his two
daughters--Bonnie and 29-year-old Carrie--but, Carrie says, "I
don't think it's possible for us to replace anything about
Clifford and Davey: their time or anything else they shared with
"We've tried," says Bonnie, who lives six miles from Church
Avenue with her second husband and their three children. "We've
been there, gone to races with him, but it's just different."
Carrie, who is divorced and lives alone near Charlotte, works as
a marketing representative for Bobby Allison Motorsports,
although the team survives in name only, with no driver, no
sponsor and no plans to enter a car at Daytona this year. "I
think Dad enjoyed having Carrie travel with the team," says
Bonnie, "but that team wasn't working together."
Carrie could see that the team was causing her father more pain
than joy. "I think he felt he really wasn't needed there," she
The disintegration of Bobby Allison Motorsports "might just be
the best thing that has happened to me since 1988," Bobby says.
He is tired of being a figurehead car owner, dependent on the
financial backing of his partners. It isn't just that he can't
drive anymore. He can't attract adequate sponsorship--even with
his highly recognized name--in NASCAR's boom time of popularity,
when most other teams are engorged with funding. He can't even
bring himself to give orders in the pits.
He is tired of writing himself little notes of reprimand. "S---.
I should have spoken up," he wrote into his worn little notebook
in October, moments after his driver, Derrike Cope, had been
caught up in a crash at Rockingham, N.C., destroying one of the
few good vehicles the Allison team had left. There went another
$100,000. Just before the crash Allison had reckoned the car
should be called into the pits for some adjustments. Others on
the crew didn't see the need Allison saw, and he kept quiet. "If
I'd said something, taken charge, ordered Derrike in, he
wouldn't have been out there where the wreck started," Allison
says. "But that old thing keeps biting at me. Lack of
confidence." Since his own accident and recovery he simply
hasn't trusted his own thoughts.
"A lot of people have tried to help him get his confidence
back," says Carrie, "and there have been some who, though they
haven't meant to, have contributed to his lack of confidence. If
he made a suggestion, they'd either ignore him or laugh. They
made him feel like he didn't know what to do or what to say."
Bobby Allison was a cornerstone of NASCAR's formative years,
from the late '60s to the late '80s. "Yesterday," he says, with
all the emptiness a man can put into one word.
But being a living legend paid well for Allison, at least until
October, when his towering pride reared its head and he cut off
his own paycheck. He had a contract with the Alabama Department
of Transportation to do television spots, personal appearances
and lectures on safe driving in exchange for up to $75,000 a
year. But, he says, "I got criticized." He had been recruited by
Governor Fob James, a Republican. Then Allison met, and liked,
Jeff Sessions, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. They
took some bus tours around the state together, making speeches.
Then Alabama newspaper columnists assailed the Republicans and
Allison for perceived logrolling--"saying that I had made all
this money, and now I was ripping off the state of Alabama,"
Allison says. On Oct. 23, on another bus tour, Allison picked
his spot. He gathered two Birmingham TV crews and announced that
he would continue to do the safety appearances, but at no
charge. "So far, I think I've earned $48,000," Allison said into
the microphones. "The contract called for up to $75,000 a year,
for two years."
"So you're giving up more than $100,000?" a reporter asked.
"Whatever it is," Allison said, and he shrugged. The cameras
stayed on him. "I can take care of my personal bills." (He makes
a little money from public appearances for corporations and from
the use of his name by a small chain of cellular-phone stores in
Florida.) "I have been in a financial pinch for 90 percent of my
adult life. I'm pretty fortunate that people like [90-year-old]
Mrs. Shepherd, who lives up there at the beginning of Church
Avenue in Hueytown, will feed me if I show up hungry."
The interview was aired on Birmingham newscasts that night.
Allison had the last word, the cost be damned (although, he
says, he and the state recently agreed to resume their
"Sounds just like him," says Richard Petty, his grin rife with
30 years of memories of his once bitter rival. "Same old Bobby,
saying, 'O.K., boys, you wanna play? I'll play with you. But
we're gonna play by my rules.'"
"It was," says Allison, "evidence that a little of the real me
has survived all this." By "the real me" Allison means his
iconoclastic, vengeful side--which is a big reason why he
survives. He holds a precious set of grudges that keep him going
as much as his religion does. "The real me" is why Allison shies
away from being compared with the righteous Job. He says, "Job
was an entirely different kind of man."
There is no record of Job hating another man so much that he
feared his own soul would wind up in hell. Allison long harbored
such a hatred for fellow driver Darrell Waltrip.
Job never begrudged a monarch his throne, but Allison still
leaks resentment of Richard Petty's 200 career wins and his
status as the king of stock car racing.
Job did not tell prophets to kiss his ass, but that's literally
what Allison told Junior Johnson, the car owner famous for his
innovations, in 1972 (otherwise Allison, not Petty, might be
known today as NASCAR's king), and it's figuratively what he
told owner Roger Penske in 1976 (otherwise Allison might have
been so successful in Indy Cars that he would be as celebrated
for his diversity as A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti).
And Job never beat up a peer with his fists. That's what Allison
did to Cale Yarborough in 1979 in the most notorious ending ever
to a Daytona 500.
These incidents may all be in Bobby's past, but emotionally they
are in his present. His peeves and grudges abide as blessed
distractions from his sorrow.
When Johnson sold his racing team and retired at the end of the
1995 season, after 139 victories with various drivers, he told
his employees, "If we'd been able to keep Bobby Allison, we
would have won 200 races, and Richard Petty wouldn't have."
As it turned out, "I won for 10 different teams," says Allison,
only half proud that he quit so many owners. He was, says his
brother Donnie, 57, a former driver who works with Tri-Star
Motorsports, "his own worst enemy."
The alltime NASCAR wins list reads: Petty, 200; David Pearson,
105; Waltrip and Bobby Allison, 84 each. "Eight-five," says
Allison. "I've really got 85." Allison won a race at
Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1971 in a now defunct class of car, the
Grand American, that was sometimes used to fill out insufficient
Winston Cup fields at backwater tracks. Petty finished second
that night, but in a Winston Cup-class car. Because NASCAR
officials deemed Allison's nimble little Grand American Mustang
to have had an advantage over the heavier Winston Cup cars on
the tiny quarter-mile oval, they later took the official victory
away from him and awarded it to no one. Allison, however,
believes Petty got the win, and if NASCAR were to restore it to
Allison, Petty's total victories would fall short of the magical
"Now who in the world would take one of the king's 200 wins away
from him?" asks Allison with delicious irony in his voice. "Who
in the world would do something that vile?"
Twenty-five years have passed since Petty called a truce in
their war on the track. From 1967 to 1972 they had wrecked each
other repeatedly, intentionally, in races across America. "Now,"
says Petty, "at least we can joke about it."
Sort of. Just last fall Petty was driving his pickup on
Interstate 85 near Charlotte when he couldn't get past a car in
the left lane. Petty tailgated, trying to get the car to move
over. The other driver jammed on his brakes for spite. Petty,
never one to shy away from a confrontation, bumped the offender.
Petty received a traffic citation that was widely reported. At
the next NASCAR race, Allison, limping past Petty in the garage,
couldn't help himself. "Hey, Richard," he said. "That guy on
I-85 must have looked like me."
"Nah," Petty said. "He was just acting like you."
"For career wins," says Allison, turning his guns toward
Waltrip, "I am tied with a man who will probably break the tie.
But if Darrell would only give back all the wins he got
illegally, then he would be tied with Joe Frasson for career
wins." (Frasson was a colorful but winless driver of the '70s.)
Illegally? How were Waltrip's wins illegal? "Big fuel tanks,
wrong-size engines, wrong tires, you name it," says Allison. "He
just got away with murder, race after race."
Waltrip laughs that off as absurd. "Bobby's a lot smarter than
me," he says. "Just ask him. So if I thought of that many ways
to win races illegally, how many do you think he thought of? For
every race I won illegally, he won one more. Seriously, though,
do you think NASCAR would let that happen, race after race?
"One of Bobby's downfalls was that he was paranoid. No matter
how well he was doing, he thought everybody was against him.
Particularly NASCAR--the officials."
Says Donnie Allison, "I honestly believe Bobby felt that nobody
could beat him legally. I never heard him say, 'I got beat.' He
always thought he was outcheated, or whatever. It became an
obsession with him. And it's a sore spot with him today. Right
Waltrip suspects that Allison's grievances are based on races in
the early '80s, when Waltrip collected most of his victories and
all three of his Winston Cup championships. "I was driving for
the one man Bobby hates more than he hates me: Junior Johnson,"
Waltrip says. All Waltrip knows for sure is that with the last
words he heard Allison utter as a NASCAR driver, "he called me
an a------." And Waltrip thinks Allison was gunning for him on
that fateful afternoon in 1988 at Pocono. He believes Allison
was still angry over their wreck at Riverside, Calif., the
previous Sunday. (Each man still blames the other for the
Allison smiles about the only moment he remembers from that
Pocono weekend. "Sunday morning," he says. "Drivers' meeting.
They asked if there were any questions. I raised my hand. I
said, 'What are you supposed to do if some a------ spins you
out?' [Driver] Michael Waltrip spoke up, 'I'm not the a------.
I'm just his brother.'"
"Before the race started," Darrell Waltrip says, "some of the
guys who worked on Bobby's crew came up to me. They said,
'Please watch out for Bobby. He's had a terrible week, and he's
crazy. He says he's gonna wreck you, and he's gonna wreck you
big.' Bobby had qualified poorly and was starting toward the
back of the field. I was starting up near the front. On the
parade lap, I radioed my guys and said, 'Let me know if Bobby
gets anywhere near me. I gotta keep an eye on him today.'
"We took the green flag, made the first lap at speed
and"--Waltrip's eyes suddenly change from fiery to misty--"there
he was. Sitting there. Wrecked." Allison's car had spun sideways
because of a flat tire and had been T-boned on the driver's side
by the car of Jocko Maggiacomo.
Waltrip throws up his hands. "I know how Bobby feels," he says.
"Doesn't matter. Bobby Allison is the only man in all of racing
I can walk up to and just start crying. It breaks my heart,
knowing what's trapped inside that body. A man of tremendous
pride. A great competitor. A leader. An innovator. I have a
great deal of admiration for him. And a great deal of
compassion. My emotions for him run the gamut."
Allison cannot remember his intentions as the Pocono race
started, but he doubts he was gunning for Waltrip. "Never in my
career did I allow myself to carry a problem from one track to
another," he says. "If I didn't take care of the situation then
and there, to have waited until the next race to retaliate ...
would have been wrong."
His most notorious instance of taking care of business on the
spot was with Yarborough at Daytona in '79. Yarborough and
Donnie Allison wrecked while dueling for the lead on the final
lap. They got out of their cars and argued but didn't fight.
"Then Bobby drove up," Donnie recalls. "It is partly true that
Bobby stopped to see if I was O.K. But if you could open up
Bobby's head and look inside, you'd see that what was really on
his mind was the first wreck that day," a less serious one that
had involved all three men.
Moments after the race ended, "I was sitting in my car, strapped
in," Bobby says. "Cale came over and hit me in the face with his
helmet. I saw blood dripping down on my uniform. And I thought,
If I don't take care of this right now, I'll be running from
Cale Yarborough the rest of my life."
"How Bobby got out of that car that fast I'll never know," says
Donnie. "But I knew what was going to happen. I'd seen that look
on Bobby's face before. Bobby beat the s--- out of him. Hit him
about three good times right in the face. Cale tried to kick
him, and Bobby grabbed his foot and turned him upside down." At
that point officials broke them up.
"Cale never challenged me again," says Bobby contentedly. But
Donnie and Yarborough wrecked again in the next race, at
Rockingham. Controversy swirled around Donnie for the rest of
the season, and he never got another competitive ride. In 1981,
driving a mediocre car at Charlotte, he was broadsided and
suffered a life-threatening head injury. "For all practical
purposes," Donnie says, "that ended my career."
Bobby didn't stop his car at the wreck scene at Charlotte that
day--indeed, he went on to win the race. "If I could have done
something constructive, I'd have been there," he says. "But I
At Pocono in '88, Davey followed family tradition, racing on
after Bobby's crash even though his father might be dying or
already dead. "I had watched how he handled it with Donnie in
'81," Davey later recalled.
Davey had absorbed his father's toughness since childhood--at
times from a distance. "I coached both of Bobby's boys in little
league football," says Donnie. "He didn't. Oh, he might show up
for a game once in a while."
When Petty's son Kyle decided to become a racer, Petty made sure
his son was placed in the finest equipment Petty Enterprises
could offer. When Davey Allison expressed a desire to race, as
Bobby once told it, "I said, 'There's the shop. There's all the
tools. Go to work.'"
"Davey's first good race car, I gave him," says Donnie. "I had
told his daddy, 'Why don't you give that boy a car he can go
race with?' Bobby said, 'He'll do all right.' And that was it.
That boy was at a stage where he needed help. And for whatever
reason, he didn't get it. Davey came and got my car on a Tuesday
afternoon. He won in it that Friday night."
Up through the ranks Davey went, on his own, and by February
1988 he was the best young driver in NASCAR. As the laps waned
in that year's Daytona 500, only two drivers were left dueling
for the win: Davey and a wily, savvy veteran--his father. Fender
to fender they went, bumper to bumper, at nearly 200 mph.
Surely, some observers thought, the old man will give the kid a
break and let him win. But on the last lap the old man put the
kid in his mirror. It was Bobby's third and last Daytona 500
victory. "It's the happiest day of my life," Davey said upon
accompanying his dad to the winner's interview. "It's better
than if I had won myself.... He's always been my hero."
Bobby remembers nothing of that race. It is part of the
months-long blank in his memory caused by his injury later that
year. "I've watched the videotape several times," he says. "It
only annoyed me, because I couldn't remember." Might it have
been the happiest day of his life too? "Had to be," he says, and
that searching, groping look troubles his face again. "Had to be."
In 1992 Davey got his first and only Daytona 500 victory. He
dedicated it to his father.
Bobby behaved differently with Clifford. Perhaps he tried to
give Clifford something he hadn't given Davey. Or perhaps
Clifford simply charmed him more. "When they were little boys,
Clifford could be guilty and talk himself out of a whipping,"
says Bobby. "Davey could be innocent and talk himself into one.
I was always enterprising, willing to work for everything, and
that's how Davey was. Clifford felt like, why should he work
when he could trick Davey into doing the work for him?"
Bobby carries one photograph with him always. "This tells the
whole story," he says, opening his wallet. He holds out a
picture taken in the spring of 1992 of his sons seated together
at dinner. Behind Davey's head, Clifford holds up two fingers.
"There's Davey, doing what he's supposed to do, smiling for the
camera," Bobby says. "And there's his little brother, giving him
a set of horns and loving it, and Davey doesn't know it."
From 1989 into the summer of '92 Bobby nurtured Clifford's climb
through Busch Grand National racing, NASCAR's version of Triple
A baseball. "And Clifford was stimulating me so much," Bobby
says. The old man's recovery from his accident was quickening.
"He was living through Clifford," Judy says.
"Working with Clifford was his therapy," says Kitty Allison.
"But when Clifford died, it stymied Bobby."
"He had just turned a really fast lap in that practice session,"
says Bobby. "He came into the garage, and his crew made some
minor adjustments. As he backed out of the garage to go back out
on the track, he looked at me and grinned and said, 'We're gonna
get 'em, Dad.' His last words to me were, 'We're gonna get 'em,
Dad.'" Bobby's voice dwindles to a whisper. "'We're gonna get
"He went back out. Then suddenly his crew chief threw down his
radio headset and said, 'He crashed.' I said, 'Is he O.K.?' The
crew chief put the headset back on and said, 'Clifford? Are you
O.K.? Clifford, can you hear me? Clifford? Clifford?'
"I started walking. All the safety vehicles came tearing down
the pit road the wrong way--very unusual. Out on the track I saw
Bobby Labonte stop his car, get out and look into Clifford's
car. Then Labonte stepped back, climbed back in his car and
drove away. I kept walking. A NASCAR official came up and said,
'Bobby, they don't want you out there.' I said, 'That's my son.
I'm going.' He said, 'I'll walk with you.' And I walked up to
"After that, Davey became really attentive to me. He would
always say, 'Come on, Dad, go with me in my plane.' Or, 'Come
on, Dad, let's go get a bite to eat.' I rode home with him from
the '93 New Hampshire race in his Cheyenne airplane. I sat in
the copilot seat. We talked about all kinds of things. Some old
things. Some current things. His outlook. His ambitions. The
next morning I had a [physical] therapy session and then went to
my office, down the hill there from the house. I was on the
phone. Another line rang. Donnie Johnson [Allison's
brother-in-law and former business manager] answered it. He
listened, and he looked at me and said, 'Hang up the phone.' He
had never said such a thing to me before. I looked at him. He
said, 'Hang up the phone. And get that other line.' The other
line said Davey's helicopter had crashed at Talladega.
"I went to the house and told Judy we had to go. We got to the
hospital in Birmingham before the rescue helicopter got there
with Davey. They were gathering doctors. There was one they had
a lot of confidence in for head injuries. They worked on Davey
for about three hours. Then they said we'd have to wait and see.
"I went and found a room by myself. I waited there for an
incredibly long night." Just after dawn Davey died.
The next morning, down at his racing shop at the end of Church
Avenue, Bobby buried his face in the chest of a journalist he
had known for a long time, and he wept as hard as a man can weep
and remain standing. "It hurts!" he sobbed. Then he screamed,
"Ohhhh, it hurts!"
But only hours later, after Davey's funeral, Bobby stood in the
front yard at 135 Church Avenue, smiled and told the same
journalist, "My religion teaches me that I have to forgive
everyone of everything. But no one can convince me that I have
to forgive Darrell Waltrip."
Allison now says that over the years, through long talks with
Waltrip's deeply religious wife, Stevie, he has given up many of
his grievances against Darrell. "I may--I probably will--end up
down there shoveling coal with the little red guy," Allison
says, "but I'm gonna tell you something: I still have forgiven
Darrell Waltrip only three fourths." Maybe those grudges that
give Allison relief really are God-sent.
On a Tuesday morning, Kitty Allison drives home to 136 Church
Avenue from early Mass. She sits down at her kitchen table and
begins to work on her Avon cosmetic accounts before leaving on
her sales calls. She may be the sharpest, strongest, most
active--in other words, the most independent--90-year-old woman
on earth. Bobby has just left for Mobile, where he will see
Jeremiah Denton, a Vietnam War hero, later a U.S. senator and
the author of Bobby's favorite book, When Hell Was in Session.
Denton is recovering from cancer, and Bobby has always kept the
Catholic tradition of visiting sick friends.
Kitty's home is filled with religious articles, mostly statues
of the Virgin. The Mother of God gazes down from the front room
wall at every visitor who enters. Beside Kitty on the sofa is a
newly framed certificate proclaiming the apostolic blessing of
His Holiness Pope John Paul II upon Katherine Allison on the
occasion of her 90th birthday. "There is some reason," she says,
her eyes welling with tears, "some reason all of this has
happened. We don't know what it is. But there's some reason.
Someday we hope to find out." Her face grows staunch, and her
tears disappear. She says, "Don't you realize what a miracle it
Beg your pardon?
"Just seeing Bobby. Don't you realize what a miracle it is? They
never dreamed he would recover to be the man he is. Not one of
the doctors dreamed." Her eyes mist, and her voice cracks. "But
this latest thing, with his marriage, he's going to have to work
out for himself." She prays for a reconciliation between Bobby
Bonnie often stops by to see her father and grandmother, though
Bobby is usually out traveling in his beloved Aerostar. Each
time she visits, she cannot help gazing across the street. "That
big old empty house sitting over there just eats at me, every
day," Bonnie says. "My husband and I would move in--in a
heartbeat--but we can't afford to buy it. Dad gave it to Mom,
and she can't seem to sell it for what she wants. Just seeing it
sitting there, rotting to pieces, is sad." Bonnie's voice
breaks. "Just sad."
But for Judy, seeing the house so forlorn is no more difficult
to bear than living in what, for fans, had become a shrine.
"People wanted to come by there," she says. "They wanted to see
where Bobby lived, where Davey had lived, where Clifford had
lived. They liked to ring the doorbell. They had gone to the
cemetery and left pennies or roses or some memorabilia. And then
they liked to tell you things. A lot of times it was good
things, and that was great. But they also liked to cry on your
shoulder. I don't want them to feel bad about it--they were just
trying to express their sympathy--but people just don't realize,
"The memories of the children in the house are wonderful. But
when you throw in financial problems, and you throw in all these
people coming by fairly regularly, and--where was Bobby? Bobby
was either at the shop or out flying. So he didn't have to
contend with all of this as much as I did. So things just kind
of went in a different direction, and the next thing I knew,
this is where we're at."
"I have learned to launder my underwear," says Bobby. "I have
learned to cook spaghetti. And I will make it."
Just how much can one man bear?
"I am afraid," he says, "to ask that question."