One of the most tragic families in auto racing is the Allisons. Two brothers from Hueytown, Alabama, Bobby and Donnie Allison were NASCAR rebels, involved in one of the most notorious fights in NASCAR history. As members of the famed Alabama gang, the Allison family has endured many tragedies, some of which changed the face of NASCAR’s future.
Robert Arthur Allison was a NASCAR Cup Series champion (1983) who won 84 races in a racing career that spanned from 1961 to 1988, when injuries from a wreck at Pocono Raceway forced him into retirement. One of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers (voted in 1998), Allison had his share of spectacular wins – such as his Daytona 500 win in 1988 over an upstart youngster (his son Davey), but is often remembered for his spectacular wreck in 1987 at Talladega Superspeedway, which sent his car airborne, taking down nearly 100 yards of frontstretch catchfence in the process.
Dunkiny “Donnie” Allison had a NASCAR career of his own from 1966 to 1988. Never a full-time driver on the Cup Series, Donnie did go on to win ten times and collect 115 top tens in 242 races, and also raced in two Indianapolis 500s. Donnie is best remembered for the 1979 Daytona 500, which happened to be the very first nationally televised NASCAR race. He and Cale Yarborough were racing for the win on the last lap when they got together in turn three. When the dust settled, the two racers began to “discuss” things, and brother Bobby came by to defend his younger brother – that’s when the brawl erupted.
Bobby and Donnie were members of the “Alabama Gang,” which also included Hueytown friends Neil Bonnett, Red Farmer, and Jimmy Means, and later Hut Stricklin (Donnie’s son-in-law), Bobby’s sons Davey and Clifford, and Bonnett’s son David.
David Carl Allison got his professional racing start in the ARCA Series in 1983, moving up to the NASCAR Cup Series for some races starting in 1985 and full-time in 1987. Davey qualified second for his first Daytona 500 that year, and would later become the first rookie to win a Cup Series race since 1981 when he took the checkered flag at Talladega after watching his father take down the catchfence in his rearview mirror. In his nine year Cup career, Davey won 19 times and finished third in the championship points twice. On July 12th, 1993, Davey’s helicopter crashed in the infield of Talladega, and the following day, he succumbed to head trauma; Farmer, also in the helicopter, survived.
Clifford Allison, who also started racing in 1983, was an up-and-coming driver with a NASCAR career ahead of him. On August 13th, 1992, while practicing for a Nationwide race at Michigan International Speedway, Clifford crashed, suffering severe trauma, and died on his way to the hospital.
Although unrelated by blood, Neil Bonnett was like family to the Allisons. He also died on-track, during practice for the 1994 Daytona 500; his death followed a Cup Series career in which he won 18 times and was also named one of the 50 Greatest Drivers in NASCAR.
Benny Phillips, “Bobby Allison,” stockcarracing.com
“Clifford Allison Dies in Practice-Run Crash,” nytimes.com