The Allisons are one of American auto racing's most famous families. Brothers Bobby and Donnie and Bobby's son, Davey, all had successful careers with the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). The Allison family was originally from south Florida, but early in their racing careers Bobby and Donnie settled in the Birmingham suburb of Hueytown. Although this first family of racing in Alabama enjoyed many triumphs over the years, it also endured much tragedy, including the death of two of Bobby's sons and serious injuries sustained by Bobby and Donnie.
Bobby Allison was born on December 3, 1937, and his younger brother Donnie was born on September 7, 1939 in Miami, Florida, to Edmund and Katherine Patton Allison; the brothers were two of 13 siblings, only eight of whom lived to adulthood. The brothers grew up and went to high school in Miami and began racing on tracks in south Florida, particularly at the now defunct Hialeah and Hollywood Speedways. Bobby Allison met his wife Judy in the late 1950s; they were married in 1960 and had two daughters, Bonnie (born in 1961) and Carrie (born in 1967), in addition to two sons, Clifford and Davey.
Their quest for better prize money and for more racing opportunities lured the Allison brothers to Alabama in the early 1960s. The Allisons raced modified stock cars at famed Alabama tracks such as Dixie (Midfield) Speedway and Montgomery Speedway. Before permanently settling in Alabama, the brothers would return to Florida to race in the winter months. Eventually, they set up shop in the racing hotbed of Hueytown with fellow Miami-based driver Red Farmer. The trio became known as the "Alabama Gang," which would later also include Hueytown residents Neil Bonnett, David Bonnett, and Hut Stricklin, who married Donnie Allison's daughter.
Bobby's first Grand National (the top NASCAR division at the time) event was the 1961 Daytona 500. In the early 1960s, he built up his resume by winning numerous races in the Southeast. He did not begin to race regularly in NASCAR's major-league division until 1965 and won his first Grand National race at Oxford Plains (Maine) Speedway on July 12, 1966. In 1971, Bobby won 11 Grand National events, and in 1972, the same year that the Grand National was renamed the Winston Cup, he won 10 races and finished second in the championship. He was Winston Cup runner-up four more times before finally capturing the NASCAR Championship in 1983 at the age of 46. Bobby won the 1978 Daytona 500 and was victorious again in 1982. He remained competitive up until the end of his driving career, and at the age of 50, won the Daytona 500 for the third time in 1988, with his son Davey finishing second. He was successful on road courses and won more NASCAR races (six) at the now-defunct Riverside (California) Speedway than any other driver. He also won the International Race of Champions (IROC) title in 1980.
In Alabama, Bobby scored one win at both Birmingham International Speedway in 1967 and Montgomery Speedway in 1969 and had four victories at Alabama International Speedway in Talladega. Bobby's last race came on June 19, 1988, when he suffered life-threatening and career-ending injuries during a 500-mile event at Pocono Speedway in Pennsylvania. By the end of his driving career, Bobby had amassed 84 official career victories and 58 official pole positions in NASCAR's top division. Bobby was a full-time Winston Cup car owner from 1990 through 1996. Alabama driver Hut Stricklin drove the #12 car for Bobby's team from 1990 through 1992. Bobby was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1984, the Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1992, and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1993.
Donnie Allison also had a prolific career in modified car racing in the Southeast before becoming a NASCAR Grand National Series driver. He never raced a full Grand National or Winston Cup season and competed in far fewer races than his older brother. Donnie's first Grand National start came at Charlotte in 1966, and he won NASCAR Rookie of the Year in 1967. He earned 17 official career pole positions and 10 victories, posting his first win at Rockingham, North Carolina, on June 16, 1968. In 1970, Donnie finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500 and earned Rookie of the Year honors. Donnie also won major events at Daytona, Bristol, and Atlanta and won twice at Talladega. He had a severe, season-ending crash at the Charlotte World 600 race in 1981. After recovering from his injuries, he had difficulty finding sponsors and competed in only 15 Winston Cup events from 1982 to 1988. Donnie was inducted to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.
The Allison family is perhaps best remembered nationally for a race that neither brother won. The 1979 Daytona 500 was the first NASCAR race to be televised live in its entirety. In the closing stages of the race, Donnie Allison was leading second place driver Cale Yarborough with one lap to go. On the last lap the drivers collided, and both cars spun out of control onto the track's infield. After the crash, an argument broke out between the two. Bobby, who got into an earlier on-track incident with Yarborough, pulled off on the infield to check on his brother's condition. A scuffle then ensued between Cale and Bobby, and the drama was captured on live television. The race served as a catalyst in the growth of NASCAR's national popularity, which continued into the 1980s and beyond.
The Allisons also competed in a handful of United States Auto Club-sanctioned Indy car races during their careers, and both raced in a pair of Indianapolis 500s. Donnie fared better between the two brothers; he finished fourth in 1970 and posted a sixth-place finish in 1971 while driving for A. J. Foyt.
Two of Bobby's sons met with tragic ends. Clifford, born on October 20, 1964, as the third of four children, was an up-and-coming driver whose life was cut short in a crash during a practice run for a NASCAR Busch Series event at Michigan International Speedway on August 13, 1992. Clifford had won the Montgomery International Speedway Championship in 1987. Bobby's eldest son, Davey, also died after a brief racing career. Born on February 25, 1961, in Hollywood, Florida, Davey began racing in the NASCAR Winston Cup division in 1985, winning his first Winston Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3, 1987. He won four more races that season and was Rookie of the Year. Davey and Bobby had the opportunity to race each other for a short period of time, most notably when they finished first and second in the Daytona 500 in 1988. Davey won the 1992 Daytona 500. On July 13, 1994, Davey died from injuries he sustained the day after the helicopter he was piloting crashed in the Talladega infield. Red Farmer was also injured in the crash but survived. Davey had 19 career victories, 3 of which came at Talladega. He also had 14 pole positions in 191 Winston Cup races. Davey was inducted posthumously into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame on February 25, 1995, what would have been his 34th birthday. He was also inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1998.
As a stock car owner after his retirement from racing, Bobby Allison enjoyed only mixed success. Although Hut Stricklin drove
for Bobby Allison Motorsports from 1990 to 1992, the team failed to secure a driver for more than a couple seasons at a time.
The team also struggled to secure consistent sponsorship throughout its existence, resulting in well-publicized financial
difficulties that forced Bobby Allison Motorsports to shut down in 1996. He occasionally serves as a commercial spokesman
and has appeared in rail-crossing safety commercials for CSX Corporation.
Bolton, Clyde. "From Hialeah to Hueytown." Stock Car Racing (December 1969): 30-33.
Bourcier, Bones. "Donnie Allison: In His Own Words." Speedway Illustrated (July 2000): 24-25.
Golenbock, Peter, and Greg Fielden. Stock Car Racing Encyclopedia. New York: Macmillan, 1997.
———. Miracle! Bobby Allison and the Saga of the Alabama Gang. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006.
Phillips, Benny. "One Tough—but Classy—Character." Stock Car Racing (January 2006): 88-91.
Daniel J. Simone
University of Florida
Published May 14, 2009
Last updated October 3, 2011