"Racing didn't take Davey. Judy was really bitter about the helicopter. She said racing bought it for him. I said Davey would have mowed grass to buy that helicopter. Judy said racing bought Davey the helicopter. I think one of the things that happened to Judy and me was that we were not able to give each other the support we should have in this incredible tragedy." Even before the formal separation, Bobby continues, "we would go in separate directions a lot. She would go stay with her sisters. A friend of mine had a house in Pensacola, and I would get in my plane and go stay with him, and we'd get on his boat. Somehow I could hide."
Judy, who lives in an apartment in nearby Hoover, Ala., says she isn't bitter toward racing. "And I didn't really leave," she adds, measuring her words in light of the ongoing divorce proceedings. She will not discuss the reasons for the separation except to say, "I do not feel it was the deaths of the boys." Of Allison family life and its attendant tragedies, she says only, "I think this whole situation has been oversimplified [by the media]. It would take a whole year's issues of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED to get all of this the way it should be."
"This has been going on, and off, for about 25 years," says the Allisons' eldest daughter, Bonnie, 34, of her parents' marital strain. "But through it all, Dad and Mom were so strong in their faith that divorce was out of the question until Davey and Clifford died."
A searching, groping look troubles Bobby's face as he tries to make something add up in a mind that is hazy in some places and totally dark in others, where certain precious memories should be. This is the result of brain damage he suffered in a crash at Pocono (Pa.) International Raceway on June 19, 1988. "Life-threatening" inadequately describes the accident, which was sickening to behold. Death had Bobby Allison in that wreckage on the backstretch, had him firmly, until a paramedic climbed into the car and performed the tracheotomy that gave him a thread to hang by.
Davey Allison would later recall how that night, after emergency neurosurgery was performed on his father, "the doctor called me over into a corner. He said, 'Son, tonight you're going to have to make yourself be the man of this family. Because if your daddy lives through the night, he'll probably never be able to do anything again.' It took the breath out of me. It took my legs out from under me. I fell straight down onto the floor."
But somewhere deep in his coma, Bobby's enormous will took charge. He fought off death, fought through unconsciousness, rose and walked. But, says Judy, "Bobby went all the way back to being a baby. He had to be retaught everything: going to the bathroom, brushing his teeth, taking a bath, getting dressed, everything. Who do you think did that [with him]?" Gradually Bobby recovered the majority of his mind. This last miracle he accomplished during the eight agonizing months between the crash and the day he limped triumphantly onto the track at Daytona in February 1989. Clifford and Davey were both competing in that year's Speed Week. "I...am...very...glad," Bobby said then with terrible difficulty, "that...both...Davey...and Clifford...are...out there...racing...because...
there is...a lot...more good...out there...than...bad."
"I meant that," Bobby says now. "I still believe that."
As he slowly recovered physically, other things got worse. And worse. And worse. First he realized that he would never race in NASCAR again. Then two insurance policies failed to protect him, and he had to pay $160,000 of his medical bills himself, mainly by selling machinery he had bought after the crash to help build racing engines because, he says, "at least that was something I could still do." (A rehab center in Birmingham let him work off a debt of about $60,000 by making public appearances and speeches.)
"I have been hurting," Allison says, "for 8½ years." He tosses a hand as though it were nothing, this physical pain. "I'm hurting right now, sitting here, talking to you." His face goes somber. "But when I walked up to that car, as close as from me to you, and saw that boy was dead—knew that boy was dead"—his voice begins to dwindle—"there began a pain that I had never known before, never imagined. And it kept hurting. Kept hurting. Kept hurting.... "And has never gone away, the echo of his whisper says. Clifford still stares at him from that wreckage at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 13, 1992. "He had a wound on his face that never even bled—that's how fast his heart stopped," Bobby says. Clifford was 27.
"If I get killed in a race car," Davey Allison once said, his brown eyes blazing with certainty, "I'm gonna die with a smile on my face." Davey died with no expression on his face, in a coma, in a Birmingham hospital on July 13, 1993, just hours after his helicopter crashed into an infield parking lot at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. He and Charles (Red) Farmer, a veteran racer and longtime family friend, were flying into Talladega to watch the race car test session of David Bonnett, son of Neil Bonnett, another close family friend and an original member of the storied Alabama Gang of drivers Bobby once led.