When Petty's son Kyle decided to become a racer, Petty made sure his son was placed in the finest equipment Petty Enterprises could offer. When Davey Allison expressed a desire to race, as Bobby once told it, "I said, 'There's the shop. There's all the tools. Go to work.' "
"Davey's first good race car, I gave him," says Donnie. "I had told his daddy, 'Why don't you give that boy a car he can go race with?' Bobby said, 'He'll do all right.' And that was it. That boy was at a stage where he needed help. And for whatever reason, he didn't get it. Davey came and got my car on a Tuesday afternoon. He won in it that Friday night."
Up through the ranks Davey went, on his own, and by February 1988 he was the best young driver in NASCAR. As the laps waned in that year's Daytona 500, only two drivers were left dueling for the win: Davey and a wily, savvy veteran—his father. Fender to fender they went, bumper to bumper, at nearly 200 mph. Surely, some observers thought, the old man will give the kid a break and let him win. But on the last lap the old man put the kid in his mirror. It was Bobby's third and last Daytona 500 victory. "It's the happiest day of my life," Davey said upon accompanying his dad to the winner's interview. "It's better than if I had won myself.... He's always been my hero."
Bobby remembers nothing of that race. It is part of the months-long blank in his memory caused by his injury later that year. "I've watched the videotape several times," he says. "It only annoyed me, because I couldn't remember." Might it have been the happiest day of his life too? "Had to be," he says, and that searching, groping look troubles his face again. "Had to be."
In 1992 Davey got his first and only Daytona 500 victory. He dedicated it to his father.
Bobby behaved differently with Clifford. Perhaps he tried to give Clifford something he hadn't given Davey. Or perhaps Clifford simply charmed him more. "When they were little boys, Clifford could be guilty and talk himself out of a whipping," says Bobby. "Davey could be innocent and talk himself into one. I was always enterprising, willing to work for everything, and that's how Davey was. Clifford felt like, why should he work when he could trick Davey into doing the work for him?"
Bobby carries one photograph with him always. "This tells the whole story," he says, opening his wallet. He holds out a picture taken in the spring of 1992 of his sons seated together at dinner. Behind Davey's head, Clifford holds up two fingers. "There's Davey, doing what he's supposed to do, smiling for the camera," Bobby says. "And there's his little brother, giving him a set of horns and loving it, and Davey doesn't know it."
From 1989 into the summer of '92 Bobby nurtured Clifford's climb through Busch Grand National racing, NASCAR's version of Triple A baseball. "And Clifford was stimulating me so much," Bobby says. The old man's recovery from his accident was quickening. "He was living through Clifford," Judy says.
"Working with Clifford was his therapy," says Kitty Allison. "But when Clifford died, it stymied Bobby."
"He had just turned a really fast lap in that practice session," says Bobby. "He came into the garage, and his crew made some minor adjustments. As he backed out of the garage to go back out on the track, he looked at me and grinned and said, 'We're gonna get 'em, Dad.' His last words to me were, 'We're gonna get 'em, Dad.' " Bobby's voice dwindles to a whisper. " 'We're gonna get 'em, Dad.'