Davey Allison would have turned 50 Friday.
Allison, the son of NASCAR champion and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, died on July 13, 1993, as a result of injuries sustained in a helicopter crash. He was 32.
Allison scored 19 Cup wins in 191 starts, including the 1992 Daytona 500. This past weekend was eerily similar, seeing Fords finishing up front. When Allison raced into Victory Lane, Ford teams fielded by Robert Yates, the Wood brothers, Bud Moore and Alan Kulwicki swept the top four spots and a young, popular driver won his first Daytona 500.
Memories of Allison came pouring back to Doug Yates at Daytona — particularly with the celebrations surrounding the life of Dale Earnhardt on the 10-year anniversary of his death.
Yates, the chief engine builder at Roush Yates Engines, experienced the genesis of Robert Yates Racing from drivers Allison to Ernie Irvan and finally a Cup championship with Dale Jarrett.
The 1992 Daytona 500 win was the first of three in that event for RYR and five for the younger Yates as an engine builder.
“The race this weekend reminded me a lot of when we won with Davey in ‘92 and obviously carrying on his dad‘s legacy,” Yates said. “This time it was another fresh face with Trevor (Bayne). I thought a lot about it as I was getting texts and messages with congratulations — including some of the people that had worked on the 28 car. Davey was loved by everyone. That’s a tough role. Earnhardt was loved, also feared, but Davey — everyone just loved him. You couldn’t help but want to be around the guy.
“We felt like we had a bright future, together. Really, Davey is the reason my dad bought the team. Some people know that story, when Harry Ranier decided to sell the (28) team, Davey was the guy that said, ‘Hey, if you decide to do this I’m with you and we’ll make it work.’ He was a bright star and I really miss him. But this race made me think a lot about him.”
Allison, 31, had the points lead entering the 1992 season finale at Atlanta. He lost the championship to Alan Kulwicki by 65 points after finishing 27th after Irvan collected the No. 28 Ford on the frontstretch. Allison finished third in the points standings behind Kulwicki and Bill Elliott.
Allison’s passing the following year left a void in NASCAR‘s Cup division similar to the recent drought of superstars between Kyle Busch and Bayne. He came after the generation of racers that included Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd with an era of drivers such as Kyle Petty, Mark Martin, Ward Burton, Brett Bodine and Irvan. Bobby Labonte and Michael Waltrip were a couple years behind that group and Jeff Burton was six years younger than Allison — creating a huge gap of talent at the Cup level.
Yates admired what Allison could accomplish behind the wheel, but he appreciated the man out of the car as well.
“The thing about Davey, he was a very intelligent race car driver,” Yates said. “The guys you’ve had as race car drivers since, that’s who you kind of compare him to. Ernie was just all-out speed — get out of my way kind of guy, a little bit like Earnhardt, actually a lot like Earnhardt. He was very intimidating. Davey was very intelligent. He was going to get the most out of the car, but he wasn’t going to abuse it or use it up.
“When he had it right, we had some very dominating days. The days where he had to bring the car home, he brought it home. That’s the trait of a champion. You see that with guys like Matt Kenseth, who knew how to finish. And Davey definitely knew how to do that.
“Obviously, his dad was one of my heroes. He was one of the greats of the sport. He wanted to be better than his dad. He wanted to take that to the next level and he was on his way. I believe in my heart he would have (won) a championship in our sport. It was just a matter of our team maturing. When Larry McReynolds came along we were on our way — it just got cut short. It‘s a real shame. He‘s really a big reason why we're here, why Robert Yates Racing was ever conceived. If it weren’t for Davey, it might never had happened.”
Both Yates and Donnie Allison have noticed similarities between Bayne and Davey.
While Allison is hoping his own grandson, Justin, 18, the most recent champion in the Allison Legacy Series, continues the family’s tradition in NASCAR, he’s also rooting for another kid who calls him “Uncle Donnie."
“At this age, Trevor would be a little ahead of Davey in talent,” Allison said. “But the desire and the will to do it, there was no one like Davey Allison. Every time you saw Davey, there was that smile. Every time you see Trevor, there’s that smile. It’s been that way since the day I met him. Strangely enough, Trevor calls me Uncle Donnie. Every time he sees me, it’s Uncle Donnie.”
Yates has met his share of drivers over the years, but Bayne made a lasting impression when former NASCAR owner Ed Rensi introduced the aspiring 14-year-old racer to him and his father.
“You never know how far someone is going to go — but his personality, his integrity and who he is as a person, you could tell early on he was a quality individual,” Yates said. "I couldn't help thinking, 'If he could make it on the track he was going to be something special.'”