NASCAR driver Davey Allison was the proud new owner of a Hughes helicopter when, just a foot from landing at his beloved “home track” of Talladega Speedway, the craft nosed up and crashed. Allison, rising star of the legendary Alabama racing family, was skilled at controlling cars capable of going more than 200 miles an hour, but he lost control of the copter at a crucial moment and he died the next day of his injuries.
That day, July 13, 1993, was 20 years ago today. Davey Allison was just 32.
Race car drivers and their families live with the danger of high-speed driving, the ever-present possibility of a high-speed crash. An in-air accident was not how anyone had imagined Davey’s fate. It was an unreal and surreal ending to a racing career that included crashes, broken bones and concussions – as well as recoveries and ongoing victories – on the track. Just the year before, in fact, his car flipped 11 times at Pocono but he was back behind the wheel the following week. This was after 1992’s Winston all-star race that saw a victorious Allison be pulled unconscious from his car after a finish-line crash.
Not long after those accidents, his brother, Clifford, 27, died in a stock car crash in Michigan, His dad Bobby Allison, then 55, was still recovering from a career-ending – and near-fatal – wreck at Pocono International Raceway in 1988. In February 1988, father and son had finished first and second in the Daytona 500, making racing history.
More than 4,000 onlookers paid tribute as some 600 racing fans and friends gathered to say goodbye to Davey Allison at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Bessemer, Ala. His crew chief and fellow racer, Red Farmer, survived the helicopter crash and, as of last year, was still competing at Talladega Short Track.
If there is any question that Davey Allison could be forgotten, there is a road called Allison-Bonnett Memorial Drive in his hometown of Hueytown, Ala., and in the NASCAR 99 and NASCAR 2000 video games, he shows up as a NASCAR Legend with the Texaco Ford he drove from 1987-1989. A portrait of him was in the Texaco headquarters (before the company was bought by Chevron), and he was posthumously inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1998.
Davey Allison's 1989 car - The Robert Yates Havoline Texaco Ford #28 (Wikimedia Commons/us44mt)
Ten years ago, the mayor of Hueytown declared Davey Allison Day on April 28. The celebration coincides with Talladega’s spring race.
Davey Allison’s son, Robbie, who was 23 months old when his dad died, has pursued a stop-and-go racing career; his mother, Liz Hackett (Davey’s widow), isn’t too keen on his racing, but she’s in the game, too: as an author and track announcer at Nashville Superspeedway.
Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."