1988 Daytona 500 was a true family affair
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 14, 1988) - Judy Allison, the wife of Bobby Allison and the mother of Davey Allison, was confronted with quite a quandary on the day of the 1988 Daytona 500. Was she supposed to root for her man, or for her boy?
“I knew him first,” said Judy, speaking of her 50-year-old husband, Bobby. “Also, Bobby pays the bills. As long as Bobby was ahead, I was rooting for him. If Davey had been leading, maybe it would have been the other way around. It was a wonderful feeling, though, to watch the finish.”
And what a finish it was. For the first time at the Daytona 500, and for just the third time in NASCAR Winston Cup racing history, a father-son tandem finished 1-2 when Bobby outlasted Davey to win the Super Bowl of stock car racing.
“I had always dreamed, ever since I was a little kid, of getting into a situation like this with my dad, but in the dreams I always won and my dad was always second,” Davey said after finishing barely a car length behind his father.
“It was a really good feeling being in front and looking back and seeing my own
son, thinking he’s the best young driver I know coming up,” said Bobby, who became the oldest man to win the prestigious race. “It was just a very special feeling, something that’s hard to put into words.”
For Bobby Allison, the shadow of his career was growing longer and longer. He was one of NASCAR’s all-time greats, a man who would wind up winning 84 races and more than $8 million in prize money during an era when the sport wasn’t exactly lucrative. This was his third victory in the Daytona 500 to go along with three runner-up finishes, and he was a one-time Winston Cup series champion and a six-time winner of the most popular driver award.
But it’s all about speed in auto racing, and it was thought that Bobby didn’t have enough of it anymore. He didn’t win a race in 1985, won only once each in 1986 and ‘87, and it seemed clear that he’d be no threat on a high-banked superspeedway such as Daytona.
Instead, Bobby’s Buick was in a roaring good mood all week, and Bobby’s 50-year-old body and reflexes were up to the challenge of guiding that powerful machine around Daytona’s legendary 2.5 miles of asphalt.
He won a 125-mile qualifying race on Thursday of Speed Week, then the Goodies 300 on Saturday before the big race on Sunday. No driver had ever pulled off that hat trick. He’d won two races in three years, but on this wonderful weekend, he’d won three races in four days. Unbelievable.
“I think the biggest reason dad’s still winning is because he doesn’t give up,”
said Davey. “He just keeps digging. There have been times, like in ‘85, when he
could have thrown in the towel, done anything he wanted. But this is what he
enjoys. I think what it proves is he’s a winner.”
This race also proved that Richard Petty was blessed. While the Allisons were conducting their friendly family feud, the King was in a nearby hospital thanking his lucky stars he was still alive. Petty was involved in one of the most spectacular crashes in Daytona history as 135,000 spectators and a national television audience looked on in horror.
Coming out of turn four midway through the race, Petty lost control of his Pontiac and was slammed from the rear by Phil Barkdoll. That pushed Petty to the inside of the track where A.J. Foyt caught him flush and Petty’s famous blue No. 43 went airborne and did a pirouette on its nose as it slid along the wall before barrel-rolling six times. Debris was still flying when Petty’s car came to a standstill only to be smashed again, this time by Brett Bodine.
“I don’t know whether Richard got loose or I bumped him or what caused it,” said Barkdoll. “But I hit him in the rear end and turned him around. I went on by him and saw him spinning in my mirrors.”
Incredibly, Petty was virtually unharmed, suffering only a bruised ankle and a slight concussion. Six drivers – Petty, Foyt, Barkdoll, Bodine, Alan Kulwicki and Eddie Bierschwale – were knocked out of the race and the yellow caution was out for 21 laps which prompted Petty to quip afterward, “If there had been a long enough caution we could have gotten back and finished the race.”
Because there were some lengthy caution periods, Bobby Allison’s average winning speed was 137.531 mph making this the slowest race at Daytona since 1960 when Junior Johnson averaged 124 mph. But that didn’t deter from the excitement.
There were 26 lead changes involving 12 drivers, and with horsepower scaled back because of a new NASCAR carburetor restrictor rule, the drivers had to rely more on their maneuvers than their car’s power. A record 17 cars were on the same lap when Bobby took the checkered flag and there were 31 of the 42 starters still running.
With 50 laps to go, the order was Darrell Waltrip, Buddy Baker, Dale Earnhardt, Davey and Bobby. Two laps later, the Allisons were positioned 1-2. “I was looking for someone to work with, and Dad was the only one willing,” Davey said.
Waltrip regained the top spot and appeared to be running strong, but both Allisons passed him on lap 183 when his motor began to fizzle, and he eventually faded to 11th place, unable to keep up the pace. The rest of the way father and son led the pack, and Davey never found the avenue to make a pass.
“I didn’t think of him being my dad until after the checkered flag,” said Davey. “I definitely was not settling for second. My whole concern, my entire thought process was toward winning.”
As Davey was offering this viewpoint, Bobby, who had just arrived in the press room, took his turn as a journalist and asked his son, “Would you have
really passed me if you could?” Davey didn’t hesitate: “Without a doubt.”
When asked how long he expected his father to keep winning, Davey said: “I’ll
probably still be watching him when I’m retired. The old man doesn’t give up.”
Sadly, that was not to be the case. Four months later, Bobby was involved in a violent crash at Pocono that effectively ended his career as a driver. He sustained multiple broken bones and internal injuries as well as a severe concussion that left his mind foggy for more than four years.
It only got worse for the Allison family in the years to come. Bobby’s father died of cancer in April of 1992; four months later Bobby’s son Clifford died in a crash at Michigan Speedway; and in July of 1993, Davey died when his own helicopter crashed while trying to land at Talladega Speedway where he was going to watch a friend test out a car. A few years hence, Judy and Bobby divorced after 36 years of marriage.