It was Neil who scrambled into the helicopter wreckage to rescue Farmer (who suffered fractured ribs and a broken collarbone) and then went back in for Davey, who was unconscious. Seven months later Neil would die of injuries suffered in a crash during practice at Daytona. He was an ever-cheerful sort who could lighten any burden. In 1990 he had suffered a brain injury of his own in a crash. "I went over to Bobby's house to get some advice," he said later. "Between Bobby trying to think of what he wanted to say, and me trying to remember what he'd just said, we had a helluva time." When Neil died, it was "another hard hit," says Bobby. "But by that point I had two things I had been through, to build my strength."
The 32-year-old Davey, like his father, was an excellent pilot of fixed-wing aircraft. But the jet helicopter was a new toy he had bought with money he earned as he hurtled toward the pinnacle of NASCAR. The helicopter was highly sophisticated, treacherous to a novice. After it crashed, the National Transportation Safety Board investigation concluded there had been pilot error.
Davey's widow, Liz, has taken her multimillion-dollar inheritance to Nashville, where she lives with their two children and dates country singer Joe Diffie. Bobby is not bitter about that. He goes on.
Occasionally he slurs a word, like someone who has had a few drinks. He walks slowly, arrhythmically, deliberately. Every step is unimaginably hard. But Bobby's injured brain and shattered left leg have healed vastly beyond his doctors'—maybe even his priest's—expectations.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.... You might wonder how many hundreds of thousands of Hail Marys have been said for Allison. And by him. And you might wonder why he has never uttered Ernest Hemingway's prayer of the desperate: Hail nothing, full of nothing, nothing is with thee.
Father Dale Grubba, a priest from Princeton, Wis., who has been a friend of the Allison family for nearly 25 years, is writing a book comparing Bobby and the Biblical figure Job. "The difference," says Father Grubba, "is that Job never had a head injury, with all the frustration, the confusion, the self-doubt that come with it. God left Job his clarity, so that he could reason through his trials."
In the end God restored Job's wealth. Allison drives a '77 Mazda pickup between his mother's house and the hangar at the Bessemer, Ala., airport where lie keeps his weathered twin-engine 1981 Aerostar. (Some neurosurgeons said there was no way Allison could rehabilitate himself enough to regain his pilot's license with full instrument ratings, but he did so in 1993.) He still owns a condominium at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but it is of little use to him now that his racing team, which was based nearby, is on the verge of collapse. He still has his two daughters—Bonnie and 29-year-old Carrie—but, Carrie says, "I don't think it's possible for us to replace anything about Clifford and Davey: their time or anything else they shared with Dad."
"We've tried," says Bonnie, who lives six miles from Church Avenue with her second husband and their three children. "We've been there, gone to races with him, but it's just different."
Carrie, who is divorced and lives alone near Charlotte, works as a marketing representative for Bobby Allison Motorsports, although the team survives in name only, with no driver, no sponsor and no plans to enter a car at Daytona this year. "I think Dad enjoyed having Carrie travel with the team," says Bonnie, "but that team wasn't working together."
Carrie could see that the team was causing her father more pain than joy. "I think he felt he really wasn't needed there," she says.