Ghosts of Talladega
Earnhardt, Allison made many Talladega memories
TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) -- Bobby Allison just shakes his head when he thinks about Dale Earnhardt's remarkable comeback victory at Talladega last October.
Earnhardt was 18th with five laps left in the Winston 500 and somehow won.
"I thought that was incredible," said Allison, the third-winningest driver in NASCAR's Winston Cup history.
Michael Waltrip takes it a step further.
"It was the most amazing comeback I've seen," said the 2001 Daytona 500 winner.
The fans' response was also pretty impressive. They held up three fingers to honor Earnhardt's No. 3 car and thousands chanted his name as he made his way to victory lane.
"That was fun," he said, grinning.
Earnhardt's fatal, last-lap crash at Daytona in February leaves a gaping void for Sunday's Talladega 500 that hasn't been felt since the 1993 death of Davey Allison, Bobby's son and another popular driver.
Allison, a rising Winston Cup star, died in a helicopter crash at the Talladega Superspeedway. It's a death that still looms large for Robert Yates whenever he visits the track.
"I was around them all their lives," said Yates, owner of the 28 car that Allison rode to victory here in 1989. "They were different people, but both had the same desire to win and they both loved competition.
"Earnhardt was telling me at Daytona he wondered about how well Davey could have done. He earned Earnhardt's respect."
Both drivers had a knack with the fans.
"Davey never looked down on the ground and blew them off," said Yates, who now owns the cars driven by Winston Cup series leader Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd. "There were so many fans around Earnhardt, sometimes he couldn't look up.
"If the fans could say, 'I'd like to see two guys not with us anymore race,' they'd probably say those two guys."
Earnhardt was the winningest driver at Talladega, claiming 10 Winston Cup races, three IROC wins and one Grand National. A huge No. 3, in Earnhardt's red, white and black racing colors, was painted this week on the track's outer bank.
Fans snap up an estimated $100 million in Earnhardt memorabilia annually, according to NASCAR. The racing souvenir industry has even hired private detectives to try to clamp down sale of counterfeit Earnhardt items at the track this weekend.
He was more than just a cottage industry to NASCAR, though.
"Dale built his career and continued building his career until be became the ultimate racer," said Bobby Allison, part of the famed Alabama Gang along with his son, brother Donnie and friend Red Farmer. "He passed us all. He got all the way to the top."
Earnhardt's mastery of restrictor plate racing helped him pull off his comeback win last fall, the biggest in track history.
"Some drivers are better at it than others, but I've never seen anyone better at it than Dale Earnhardt was," said Tony Glover, crew chief for Sterling Marlin and four Talladega race winners. "What he did to win that race last October at Talladega was truly amazing.
"He was so stubborn, he'd figure out a way to get to the front no matter where he was running."