The disintegration of Bobby Allison Motorsports "might just be the best thing that has happened to me since 1988," Bobby says. He is tired of being a figurehead car owner, dependent on the financial backing of his partners. It isn't just that he can't drive anymore. He can't attract adequate sponsorship—even with his highly recognized name—in NASCAR's boom time of popularity, when most other teams are engorged with funding. He can't even bring himself to give orders in the pits.
He is tired of writing himself little notes of reprimand. "S—-. I should have spoken up," he wrote into his worn little notebook in October, moments after his driver, Derrike Cope, had been caught up in a crash at Rockingham, N.C., destroying one of the few good vehicles the Allison team had left. There went another $100,000. Just before the crash Allison had reckoned the car should be called into the pits for some adjustments. Others on the crew didn't see the need Allison saw, and he kept quiet. "If I'd said something, taken charge, ordered Derrike in, he wouldn't have been out there where the wreck started," Allison says. "But that old thing keeps biting at me. Lack of confidence." Since his own accident and recovery he simply hasn't trusted his own thoughts.
"A lot of people have tried to help him get his confidence back," says Carrie, "and there have been some who, though they haven't meant to, have contributed to his lack of confidence. If he made a suggestion, they'd either ignore him or laugh. They made him feel like he didn't know what to do or what to say."
Bobby Allison was a cornerstone of NASCAR's formative years, from the late '60s to the late '80s. "Yesterday," he says, with all the emptiness a man can put into one word.
But being a living legend paid well for Allison, at least until October, when his towering pride reared its head and he cut off his own paycheck. He had a contract with the Alabama Department of Transportation to do television spots, personal appearances and lectures on safe driving in exchange for up to $75,000 a year. But, he says, "I got criticized." He had been recruited by Governor Fob James, a Republican. Then Allison met, and liked, Jeff Sessions, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. They took some bus tours around the state together, making speeches. Then Alabama newspaper columnists assailed the Republicans and Allison for perceived logrolling—"saying that I had made all this money, and now I was ripping off the state of Alabama," Allison says. On Oct. 23, on another bus tour, Allison picked his spot. He gathered two Birmingham TV crews and announced that he would continue to do the safety appearances, but at no charge. "So far, I think I've earned $48,000," Allison said into the microphones. "The contract called for up to $75,000 a year, for two years."
"So you're giving up more than $100,000?" a reporter asked.
"Whatever it is," Allison said, and he shrugged. The cameras stayed on him. "I can take care of my personal bills." (He makes a little money from public appearances for corporations and from the use of his name by a small chain of cellularphone stores in Florida.) "I have been in a financial pinch for 90 percent of my adult life. I'm pretty fortunate that people like [90-year-old] Mrs. Shepherd, who lives up there at the beginning of Church Avenue in Hueytown, will feed me if I show up hungry."
The interview was aired on Birmingham newscasts that night. Allison had the last word, the cost be damned (although, he says, he and the state recently agreed to resume their arrangement).
"Sounds just like him," says Richard Petty, his grin rife with 30 years of memories of his once bitter rival. "Same old Bobby, saying, 'O.K., boys, you wanna play? I'll play with you. But we're gonna play by my rules.' "
"It was," says Allison, "evidence that a little of the real me has survived all this." By "the real me" Allison means his iconoclastic, vengeful side—which is a big reason why he survives. He holds a precious set of grudges that keep him going as much as his religion does. "The real me" is why Allison shies away from being compared with the righteous Job. He says, "Job was an entirely different kind of man."