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Blk3GM's Winston Cup News

The Alabama Gang
May 13, 1999 By GAYLEN DUSKEY - Special to Alabama Live
Be there a heart that beats in a NASCAR fan that doesn't beat a little faster when talk turns to the Alabama Gang? It's doubtful.

At least its doubtful, at least, to NASCAR fans old enough to remember life before Jeff Gordon. At one time the Alabama Gang was one of the hottest entities in all of NASCAR fighting year in and year out with Richard Petty to be the king of the track.

And, while Richard Petty did go on to win 200 NASCAR races --95 more than David Pearson, the next driver on the list -- and become The King, the Alabama Gang went on to fame and tragedy throughout the years.

The Alabama Gang was especially forceful during the formative years of NASCAR as brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison and Red Farmer set up shop in Hueytown, Ala., putting that town on the sports map.

Bobby Allison was the most well-known and successful of the Alabama Gang and is now in the Motorsports Hall of Fame. It was Bobby Allison who was the top challenge to Petty on the NASCAR circuit for a good while. He wound up with 84 career victories in a tie with Darrell Waltrip for third on the all-time list. His big year was 1983 when he won the Winston Cup title.

But that was the highwater mark of his bittersweet life.

Following that he suffered a near-fatal crash, saw two sons die tragic deaths, saw his marriage fall apart and his financial house collapse.

The seeming-unending spiral downward started in 1988 when he was nearly killed in a spectacular wreck at Pocono Motor Speedway. His legs were crushed and his skull shattered wreck. He was unconscious for three weeks and spent months in the hospital. He was then transferred to a rehabilitation center for almost two years of intensive physical and speech therapy.

But his plight was just beginning. His injuries had been to himself and were things that were the inherent dangers of racing, his chosen profession. The other losses were much more devastating.

In August 1992, his youngest son, Clifford, died in a crash at Michigan Speedway. Then, in July 1993, his second oldest son, Davey, died in a helicopter crash at Talladega. Ironically, Davey was flying to Talladega to watch an old family friend, and longtime member of the Alabama Gang, Neil Bonnett, practice. In a further twist of cruel ironies Bonnett was killed shortly thereafter in a crash during a practice run at Daytona.

After that Allison's 35-year marriage to his wife Judy fell apart then his business -- Bobby Allison Racing -- went under.

"You know the expression, 'Cheer up, it could be worse,'" Allison once said. "Well, I cheered up and it got worse. So I'm not going to cheer up anymore."

Perhaps, but few racing entities have been hit harder that the Alabama Gang.

Bobby Allison tumbled from the top to the bottom but he escaped with his life. Two of his sons and one of his racing buddies were not so lucky.

One of his sons, Clifford, never posted a NASCAR Winston Cup victory but another, Davey, was a big winner and on his way to being a superstar when the helicopter crash took his life.

Davey Allison had 19 Winston Cup victories when he died. He had sponsorships and a good car. He was more than competitive in every race he entered. His future seemed as bright as his father's had ever been.

It just didn't turn out that way.

Further irony?

Bonnett, who was re-entering NASCAR racing after a serious accident had put him in the broadcast booth and was having a test drive that Davey Allison was coming to watch, also had 19 career victories. His death the following spring at Daytona was just one more heart-wrenching tragedies of the Alabama Gang.

Fortune has been a little bit better for Donnie Allison.

Probably the greatest crossover driver ever between NASCAR and IndyCar racing, Allison won 10 Winston Cup races. The highest point -- or at least one of the most notable ones -- in his career happened in 1970 when he finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500 and then won the World 600 in Charlotte, N.C., on the same weekend.

He also has the distinction of being the NASCAR Rookie of the Year in 1967 and then being the Indianapolis Rookie of the Year in 1970.

Following his driving career he has remained active in auto racing as the crew chief and team owner for his son-in-law Hut Stricklin. His sons, Kenny, Ronald and Donald, are car builders and Donnie is a noted commentator on auto racing networks.

Others, too, have taken up the cause of the Alabama Gang.

Recently a young NASCAR driver named Doug Reid decided to try to follow in the footsteps of other drivers from Hueytown.

"I don't think I ever realized the kind of impact they had on racing," Reid said. "But for a long time, the Alabama Gang and Hueytown were synonymous with racing. You think about it now, and there's no one left in Hueytown.

"Nobody's ever going to call Hueytown 'Doug Reid country,' but I don't want to do it for me. I want to do it for Red and Bobby and Donnie and Davey. Because right now, when you talk about Hueytown, it seems like people look at you like you don't know what you're talking about. That doesn't really seem right."

Young Mr. Reid has lofty goals but he, perhaps, needs to know that scarcely is there a heart that beats in a true NASCAR fan that doesn't beat faster when the words Alabama Gang are uttered.

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