Allison is a pleasant, articulate conversationalist. He smiles easily, and when he does his hawklike face crumbles into wreaths of wrinkles. But on the rare occasions when he loses his temper his brown eyes close to sharp slits, his mouth hardens and, 165 pounds or not, he suddenly becomes a person you would not want to meet in a back alley—or on the No. 3 turn. "He is basically a hard-nosed guy," says Alf Knight, superintendent of the Atlanta International Raceway, the best-managed major track on the NASCAR circuit. "He don't back off from nobody."
Allison has had plenty of opportunities to substantiate that remark. At Atlanta's Peach Bowl Speedway—a third-of-a-mile asphalt oval run by Ernie Moore, a NASCAR flagman who was once knocked cold when a shock bracket came off a car at the International Raceway south of town and skulled him as he stood in his cage not 10 feet above the start-finish line—Allison is a tremendously popular and respected driver. The popularity is due to his success and his personality. The respect comes from a series of memorable duels, which Moore and other stock car insiders recall with relish, with Joe Lee Johnson (who was a Grand National driver until a day at Darlington when he came into the pits and parked his car in mid-race on learning that his chief mechanic and good friend, Paul McDuffe, had been killed by an out-of-control car).
Bobby Allison: "The first time I raced at the Peach Bowl, in 1959, Joe Lee and I had trouble. He bumpbumpbumped me around and then the caution flag came out and Joe Lee got out of his car and came after me and Ernie stopped him. Then the race restarted and Joe Lee did the same thing until the caution came out again and Joe Lee bounced from his car and Ernie stopped him once more. So finally in 1964 the same thing happened all over again and we stopped and got out of our racers and went at each other. Joe Lee's a pretty big fellow, but all I had to do was throw one good punch and there were 50 guys ready to climb over my back to get at him."
Later, at Huntsville, Ala., Allison ran across four drivers one night who joined in a team to get him good. They stayed with him at all times, weaving in and out, blocking him and bumping him. Allison went to the starter after the evening's first heats and said something about wasn't it strange that they qualified at 14 seconds per lap but were running only 18 seconds in the heats.
"I don't see anything," the starter said, straight-faced.
"Thank you," said Allison. "That's all I need."
He went to each of the four drivers and gave a little speech. "Look," he said, "I'm not asking you to give way, but when I come up behind you pick your lane and stay there. This track's wide enough for two cars. If I can get by you, fine. If I can't, fine. Just give me room."
"I don't know what you're talking about," each of them said.
In the remaining heat races it became apparent the four did indeed know what Allison was talking about. They knocked him all over the place and blocked him and cut him off, and in the consolation race their hotshot drove Allison into the wall.
Allison didn't say a word. He went to the starter and said, "I want to run the feature. Give me 10 minutes and I'll have my car ready."