Bobby Allison was part of a transformative era in NASCAR. An era that helped to shape the sport into what it is today. He not only survived those rough and tumble early days of NASCAR, he thrived in them. Simply put, he’s probably one of your favorite NASCAR driver’s favorite drivers.
Widely considered to be one of the best to ever set foot inside of a stock car, Bobby Allison cemented his legacy as a NASCAR legend, even in the midst of terrible hardship and tragedy. Here’s a brief look at the Miami, Florida native’s career and legacy.
Bobby Allison’s NASCAR Career
Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011, Bobby Allison has a number of impressive accolades and accomplishments under his belt.
Having made a name for himself as a member of the Alabama Gang — a group of respected NASCAR drivers in the late ’50s — Allison ran his first NASCAR Cup Series race (back when it was the Grand National Series) at the 1961 Daytona 500. He went on to win 84 races in 718 career races run over 25 years, placing him fourth on the all-time wins list.* Besides winning the Winston Cup Series championship in 1983, Allison is a three-time Daytona 500 winner (1978, 1982, 1988), a four-time Southern 500 winner (1971, 1972, 1975, 1983), and three-time Winston 500 winner (1979, 1981, 1986).
He also ran 43 Xfinity Series races in seven years, earning 15 trips to victory lane and 22 top-10 finishes.
Fun fact: Allison joined Penske Racing (now Team Penske), about a year after it was founded, in 1972. He raced twice in the Indy 500, the iconic race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — a track that Roger Penske now owns along with the entire IndyCar Series.
Over the course of his career, Allison, who drove everything from Chevrolet race cars to Buicks to Dodges to even the AMC Matador, was voted the most popular Cup Series driver seven times. He’s also one of only eight drivers to win what many consider to be a career Grand Slam by winning the the Daytona 500, the Winston 500, the Coca-Cola 600, and the Southern 500. The other seven drivers to accomplish this feat are Richard Petty, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Buddy Baker.
Add in the fact that Allison became the oldest driver to win the Daytona 500 at the age of 50 in 1988, and that only goes to show how much of a dominant force he truly was on the track.
The Notorious Fight with Cale Yarborough
The 1979 Daytona 500 is considered by old school racing fans to be one of the most iconic races in NASCAR history, and not just because it marked Richard Petty’s sixth time winning the race or because it was the first race ever aired on national television from start-to-finish. It was the notorious brawl that pitted Bobby and his brother Donnie against Cale Yarborough that really helped to add to the race’s notoriety.
It all started when Yarborough and Donnie Allison collided into the Turn 3 wall on the final lap as they were battling for the lead. Both of their stock cars went into the infield grass as Petty held off Darrell Waltrip for the win. As The King started to celebrate his win, a fight broke out between Yarborough and Allison.
Bobby Allison joined his brother for the fight, and the Yarborough vs. Allison brothers scrap was caught on camera as viewers from all across the country witnessed the brawl.
The fight made the front page of The New York Times, which in many ways overshadowed the historic importance of the race. But hey, it was a pretty epic fight.
Dealing with Tragedy
Despite having such an illustrious career, Bobby Allison has also had to deal with his fair share of heartbreak.
In 1992, Bobby and Judy Allison’s son Clifford was fatally injured during a practice crash for the NASCAR Busch Series race at Michigan International Speedway. Just a year later, Bobby’s other son Davey was killed in a helicopter accident at Talladega Superspeedway. Bobby himself had a near brush with death, after a severe crash at Pocono in 1988 left him in a momentary vegetative state and eventually led to his retirement.
As a result of the crash, Allison no longer remembers the final victory of his career at the 1988 Goody’s 300 or celebrating with Davey Allison following the 1988 Daytona 500, where the pair racked up the first one-two father/son finish in the Daytona 500.
Even in spite of the toll that racing took on Bobby Allison later in life, he continues to be actively involved in the sport, especially be promoting rail safety for the CSX “Keep on Living” campaign. And so the NASCAR’s legend’s legacy lives on.
*Allison has two uncredited wins due to controversial circumstances: the 1971 Myers Brothers 250 at Bowman Gray Stadium and the 1973 National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.