Simply put, Bobby Allison is racing legend. And I’m a race car driver, and a car and speed nut, so I was honored to meet him. Allison represents everything that is great about NASCAR and racing, and is ranked as one of the 50 greatest drivers to ever race in the NASCAR circuit. During his career, he won an astounding 86 NASCAR races. He won the big race – the Daytona 500 – on three separate occasions: in 1978, 1982 and again in 1983. He has also owned a few NASCAR cars over the years.
Might as well start at the beginning. What was your first car?
My first car was a ’38 Chevy. Well, that actually wasn’t my first car, but that was my school car, which became my first race car. I was 16 and I had a Florida driver’s license-you could drive atthe age of 14 back then. I had my restricted license and I was driving around – I had just turned 17 and I was a race fan. They had just built a track at Hialeah Speedway and I had gone out to watch the races. They decided to have an amateur division. I got a ’38 Chevy Coop because it fit the rules for the amateur racing division. I had to use it for school, but it had a seat belt in it and a crash helmet. I would drive it to the race track and put the number on the door with shoe polish – I was number 41.1 went out for the first outing of the amateur division at Hialeah Speedway in 1955. About 30 cars were in the race and I finished seventh.
The next week, I had the second race and there were about 40 cars in the race. I finished seventh again. Then, the third week, there were about 50 cars in the race. It had gotten real popular real quick, and I won. I was this little kid in high school. I was little. I never grew tall until I was 19. When I graduated from high school, I was five-foot, four inches tall and I weighed 110 pounds. I didn’t shave, but I had already won a race, which was ultimately important to me.
What did you win as the prize?
I think they paid $8, which was a good bit of money back then. In 1955, $8 would buy a pretty substantial meal at a restaurant-a steak dinner type ofthing-so it was pretty significant by my standpoint at the time. But it was a far ways away from anything today’s world would think about.
What engine was in that Chevy?
It had a stock Chevy six-cylinder – an inline six. It was probably rated at around 80 horsepower and the car itself ran pretty good. It was called what was a standard model, which had the old-style straight axle front suspension, which was the best for racing. The rules said you couldn’t do any modification to the chassis – other than a little bit of reinforcing the spring – and I did have a trick reinforcement for the right front spring. It had a little coil spring that I could jack the car up and the coil spring would fit in between the frame and the axle. It was right at a place where there were some U-bolts that would keep the thing located so I could just jack it up, put my spring in, and let the jack back down and go race.
I won twice between February and the end of May, and then about the middle of June, I got an opportunity. I was graduated from high school and I got the opportunity to go to Wisconsin – from Miami to Wisconsin. I had never seen snow, but this was summertime. I went to live with my aunt and uncle and three girl cousins in Wisconsin. My uncle was a national salesman who worked for Mercury Outboard Motors and he got me a job in the proving grounds. So, here I was, a 17-year-old kid, drove a boat on the lakes and rivers of Wisconsin all day, every day, and got a paycheck on Friday. I didn’t race any in Wisconsin, but I discovered when I got there that almost every little town in Wisconsin had a race track, and during the summer months, they raced sometimes seven nights a week. So I went to a lot of races and watched, and I became a fan of a fellow by the name of Miles Melius. His nickname was The Mouse – Miles “The Mouse” Melius. He always had a really nice- looking car and he won frequently. He didn’t dominate, but he was a frequent winner. I became a fan of his really early on, and I got to induct him in the Wisconsin Auto Racing Hall of Fame last November, which was a real honor for me here all these years later.
That is very cool. Sounds like, to me, that the tables were kind of turned.
Yeah. I watched races there and then went south when it froze over in Wisconsin. They shipped four of us youngsters and a couple of the older men – season veterans or whatever you would refer to them as – to the old winter proving grounds for Mercury Outboard Motors that were at Siesta Key, Florida, which is a little key off the south side of Sarasota.
From there, I went to Charlotte, went to work in a race shop. The turnover help was incredibly high there because the owner himself was personally involved and he was really, really tough to work for. He’d fly off the handle about somebody and go into a rage, cuss people out and fire them, all over something that somebody else did a couple stations down at work. I lasted two months there and went to 18 races. Back in those days, they ran several weeknights every week, as well as a lot of Sundays at the little tracks around the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia and all. I went to 18 races in a two-month period of time and never saw a car that wasn’t one of our cars out of our
shop win a race. One of our cars won every race they went to during that period of time. Then I went back to south Florida and got back into the low ranks of the racing thing, went from amateur into limited sportsman, then into sportsman and then from sportsman into modified.
Were you driving at this time?
Yes. As soon as I got back to Florida from Charlotte, I was driving again. I didn’t drive any during the year that I was in Wisconsin, my first time in Florida or Charlotte.
What year did you retire from racing?
In 1988.1 was 50 years old and I got injured severely at Pocono – a head injury and broken bones and stuff, and that ended my career.
I have a number of cars now. The last of my career was in Buicks, and I became fond of the cars and the organization. I was friends with quite a few of them, so I became attached to Buicks. My personal car is a 2007 Lucerne with a Northstar engine, which is a modern-day marvel.
Yes, that’s a nice engine.
I had Buicks along the way, but out there in the garage is an ’88 Riata, which has been my pet. Another car I have is an ’85 Buick Regal Coupe that is decorated like my ’83 Nascar Championship car. That’s a favorite. I take it around for races and special occasions. It’s not a hot-rod, but it’s attractive to look at. I ride it to places where people can enjoy looking at it.
What kind of music do you listen to when you drive?
I like country music.
Do you like classic country?
Yes. Classic country is what got me into it. Real early on, I became a fan of Eddie Arnold, Jim Reeves and Marty Robbins. Then I met Marty Robbins and became friends with him. He was a frustrated race car driver. He loved racing, so after I had a friendship with him for three or four years, I prepared a car for him – a Dodge Charger I had. I painted it up for him and took it to the race track. Had a couple people prepare it mechanically.
What year was that?
That was ’71. Yeah, ’70 or ’71.
Do you have a favorite color combination when it comes to cars?
Well, my race cars always had some red, a combination of red and gold from real early on. My first NASCAR car was red and white, but it became red and gold. I had several different colors and drove for several different people. I won in nine different makes of car and raced for 14 different race teams in my career. I guess I had a hard time keeping a job, but I had some success anyway.
Did you get a lot of speeding tickets?
I did not, except for one period early in my career. I went through a period-’58 to’60,1 guess-where I did get several speeding tickets. Most of them were stupid. I was speeding a bit too much late at night, when I was easy to spot. Early on, I realized that it wasn’t smart to go fast on the highway because it was so different from racing on the track. Anyway, one really didn’t relate to the other and I could go fast on the race track. On the highway, I finally got it in my thick skull that going fast resulted in paying big tickets.
So you took your winnings from the track and spent them on your fines. How fast do you think you went on the highway?
On the highway? Probably 110. Not for a great length of time, just stepping on the gas. Back in that period of time -’59 and ’60-the speed limit was all overthe place. If you went 90 and were way, way over the speed limit, 90 isn’t much to someone who goes 150 on the track. Ninety didn’t seem that fast. I did a lot of driving because we lived in south Florida and raced in Alabama, but after a few years of making mistakes and having to pay those tickets, I decide it wasn’t smart and it would be better to get there 30 minutes later and be safe, and $100 richer.
Yes, safe and no fines. Have you ever had a dream car?
My first race car was a ’54 Chevy Coupe. At that period of time, you could find and buy cars from people’s backyards that were pretty nice, that you could drive around in. But
my first modified race car was a’ 54 Chevy Coupe that was strictly a race car. I liked it and had success with it. During that time, it was the late ’50s and early ’60s, so we had gone through the ’55-’56 Chevy thing. When I was 18, I bought a ’56 Chevy brand new – a BelAir Sports Coupe.
What color was it?
Black and chartreuse. It was a neat car. I really liked it, but after I did the thing with the Key Caper Swing, I got back into south Florida and wanted to go race. I had no need for ( a car and a big need for a pick-up, so I sold the car and got j a truck. I had a few pick-ups that were pretty neat, a ’58 Chevy pick-up that performed pretty good. It was a blue – not dark – but deeper than medium blue. I had a friend who was an artist – not a pro – but he drew a little drawing on each door of my truck of a little bitty race car with a guy sitting on top of it, which represented me on top of racing. It was a little bitty cartoon thing, and I thought that was neat. Then that truck ran its course and the trucks became a working tool, so they stayed very stock. Later trucks were just something to do the job, but in the early ’60s, I had a number of ’55 Chevys – never another ’56 – but ’55s and ’57s.
Trucks or cars?
Cars. Of course, those are like little two-door sedans that had a hot-rod engine. Then I had Chevelles. I had a ’66 Chevelle and a ’67 Chevelle that had been an
- got it in a dealership because the engine went bad and I put a 350 in it. Other than that, it was stock. I drove it a lot. Then I began to collect old cars. My very favorite was a ’50 Studebaker pick-up truck that was really, really special. I had a 16-inch Metropolitan. Then I had a chance to buy a 1933 Buick Sedan that became my all-time favorite. I have a pretty nice picture of it. I had a number of cars that I began to buy –
Jr. His dad and I were friends. Dale Sr. didn’t have a lot of close friends, except for Neil Bonnet. He was close to Neil. But I was friendly with Dale Sr. I did favors for him in the early days, then later on he flew me around when he got into the Lear jets and really fancy stuff. I sit here and there’s a dozen or more I really admire, and respect their talent, and so consequently, when I get asked to pick a favorite, I can’t.
David Ragan is another interesting driver. He is a young guy with such an old soul.
Yeah, and David’s father was a personal friend of mine 20 years ago.
I am so honored to have Bobby Allison in my book. Bobby and his wife were very gracious to have us in their home and I thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon interview. Such a wonderful man, such a story, such an amazing legend.