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Woody: Years Don’t Diminish Loss Of Davey

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 15 2010

Davey Allison and Bobby Allison celebrate in Victory Lane after the Daytona 500 in 1988. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Hard to believe it’s been 17 years this week since Davey Allison’s fatal helicopter crash at Talladega.

Seems as though it happened just yesterday:

I got a call the day before from Jim Freeman, PR director at Talladega Superspeedway, inviting me down for a media luncheon with Neil Bonnett. Neil was scheduled to practice as part of his comeback from a recent injury.

I drove down early the next morning, watched some of the practice and ate lunch with Neil and a handful of other sports writers. We chatted with Bonnett about his comeback, then I headed back to Nashville to write my story.

When I walked into the sports department four hours later, everything was in a tizzy. A copy editor looked up from a clattering, clanging Associated Press ticker and asked if I had an update on Davey.

“Davey? Davey who?” I asked. I didn’t know about the crash.

I hurriedly read the wire story and filled in the blanks: Shortly after I’d left the track Allison had arrived in his helicopter with Red Farmer aboard to visit Bonnett, a fellow member of the Alabama Gang. As Davey attempted to set the chopper down beside the infield Media Center something went wrong and it crashed.

Allison and Farmer were trapped inside the wreckage with the engine screaming. Bonnett ran over, crawled inside, and pulled out the unconscious Farmer. He then went back for Davey, but as he said afterwards: “I knew there was no hope.”

Davey died later that night in a Birmingham-area hospital.

His death was part of the most wrenching family ordeal in all of sports. Davey’s brother Clifford perished in a crash at Michigan Speedway and his father Bobby’s career ended with a near-fatal wreck at Pocono. The career of Bobby’s brother Donnie was cut short by a crash at Charlotte.

The grief and stress fractured the 30-year marriage of Bobby and wife Judy. It took a couple of years for the hurt to heal and the couple to reconcile.

Davey’s widow Liz moved to Nashville with their two young children to put some distance – at least physical distance – between them and the painful memories.

When Davey perished he was already one of the brightest young stars in NASCAR and he was just getting warmed up. With his combination of talent, intellect, ambition and charisma there was no limit on how far he could go. He could have become his generation’s Richard Petty, perhaps the best in history.

Today the famed Alabama Gang is no more. After the loss of Davey and Clifford, Bonnett died at Daytona. Bobby and Donnie were forced into retirement by injury. Only ageless Red Farmer forges on, dabbling in some lower-level racing.

All that’s left are faded photos, yellowed press clippings and memories of a bright, dashing young racer and so much promising life unlived.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 15 2010
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Tyler says:

    As most people would agree, the good die young. What a tragedy this was. All of them are still missed.

  • Joe says:

    The day Davey died was the day that the dyed in the wool NASCAR fan inside me died. I went from living and breathing the sport to “tell me who won.”

    If Davey would have lived, Gordon would have about half the wins and championships that he does, which means the Hendrick organization wouldn’t be the freight train that it is now. I neither say that is good or bad, just a point of fact.

    When Davey crashed out of Atlanta, handing the title to AK, I was crushed. The following spring with AK was killed in the plane crash, I remember saying “I’m glad he won. Davey will have other chances.” Little did I know three months later those chances would be gone, and with them my true enjoyment in NASCAR.