The "FOR SALE" sign lies blown down in the yard at 135 Church Avenue in Hueytown, Ala., and the big ranch-style house looks forlorn. Inside it is even grimmer. It was emptied at auction last March. Who knows when it might sell, haunted as it is by all that sorrow?
"We moved in on Christmas Eve, 1969," says Bobby Allison. "Worst day of the year to move. But I thought it would be neat for those kids to wake up in that new house and find that Santa Claus had been there."
Allison now lives across the street in a modular home. He is back with his mother, Kitty, after 40 years as maybe the most independent-minded man on earth. On the dead lawns between the two houses there is silence, save for the wind blowing leaves through what's left of Bobby's life.
He is 59, and Kitty is 90. "This is Bobby Allison. Is my mommy over there?" he sometimes asks neighbors on the phone in a mock childlike tone, cheerfully acknowledging the irony of his living arrangement. Kitty is back to waiting up for him at night and picking up his ice-cream bowls. Everybody else is as gone as the millions of dollars that have passed through his hands.
Down the hill from the big house are two sprawling, empty buildings, Bobby's former racing shops, where his two sons apprenticed to his perilous trade. Beyond the buildings lies the fish pond where Bobby's family and friends used to take short breaks from the long hours of work and cast for bass.
Time was when the melancholy aftermath of Christmas would give way to a happy February in the Allison compound as the family made its bustling departure for Daytona Beach and the bright beginning of a new NASCAR season. This year Bobby will limp out of his house alone and head southeast to hail the resumption of a sport that has left him behind—broke and almost broken, but not brooding. Allison does not brood. He goes on.
For the first time since he started in the sport, Allison goes to Daytona as an outsider looking in. The North Carolina-based racing team he partly owns has fallen apart, sponsorless and driverless. He goes on.
Bobby and his wife of 36 years, Judy, separated nearly a year ago. Their divorce proceedings, which batter the spirit of this profoundly Catholic man, won't be settled until May at the earliest. He goes on.
"Some...incidents...in my life kept the agony, kept the agony, kept the agony on her," Bobby says. Not by accident does he say the phrase three times: Once for his near death and the residual handicaps he still suffers. Once for the death of Clifford, his loving and mischievous son, the one Bobby most cherished. Once for the death of Davey, the determined, self-sufficient, sometimes defiant son, the great success, the one most like his father. "So she packed her suitcase, and she left," Bobby continues. "I felt the agony too. But I handled it differently. I've always had this...this...ability to...go on."
Their sons died pursuing passions that he gave them: driving race cars and flying aircraft. "I still don't know whether I blame myself about Clifford," Bobby says. "But racing took Clifford. And racing was my...my...whole life.