Woody: Years Don’t Diminish Loss Of Davey
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments