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From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, September 13, 1982
WHEN BOBBY ALLISON WON THE FIRECRACKER 400 AT DAYTONA ON THE Fourth of July, he got out of his Buick, smiled at the cameras and declared, "I love apple pie, Chevrolet, Ronald Reagan and Bear Bryant." It wasn't a political message but an expression of Allison's faith and optimism. � Try this for faith and optimism. Allison is 44. He has been a race driver for 28 years. He's one of the four greatest stock car drivers of all time. The other three—Richard Petty, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough—have won the Winston Cup seven, three and three times, respectively. Allison has finished second four times, and his car was often the fastest on the track, but his racing philosophy didn't mesh with that of the team's owner or crew chief. So he quit and signed last December with a new team, DiGard/ Gatorade. DiGard is the 22nd team Allison has driven for; this difficulty in finding a comfortable niche, he acknowledges, is one of the reasons he hasn't won the Cup.
But Allison and DiGard have been good for each other. The collaboration has brought Allison six wins so far this year, and Allison has brought stability to DiGard, not to mention the Daytona 500, which Allison won in his first race for the team. Says crew chief Gary Nelson, "DiGard is finally enjoying the potential we've always had."
Nelson could go on and on about Allison's pluses. Bobby is firm but patient with mechanics. He's the best in the business at setting up a chassis. Because Allison has run his own team so many times, he understands a crew chief's problems. Because he has so many racing miles behind him, he has seen every on-track pitfall there is and knows how to avoid them. And, most important to a crew chief, he never gives an inch on the track.
Here is where we have the Bobby Allison paradox. Off the track he's as warm, generous and patient as race drivers come. But on the track he has a ruthless streak as wide as the racing groove. His racing mottoes are, Whatever it takes; and, Don't give any, don't ask for any.
Fender rubbing is part of the stock car racing game, and every driver has had his share of incidents. Allison has had more than his share. In one race this year he was involved in three incidents. Said Morgan Shepherd, who smacked him twice, " Allison drove like an idiot."
Allison concedes he has crowded other drivers unintentionally, or slid into them when he might have been trying too hard, but he pleads innocent to anything else. "I always felt like I was right," he says. "Then I was put in a position of retaliating or defending myself." Another Allison motto might be, Don't initiate, retaliate.
Off the track Allison plays by apple-pie rules. He's devoutly religious—a lifelong Catholic—and a faithful family man. He rarely denies requests for appearances for special causes, often turning up at schools for handicapped children and Boy Scout meetings. He's unfailingly obliging to his fans, and last year, for the fourth time in his career, he was voted the most popular Grand National driver in a poll among NASCAR members. "Not fans, friends," he often says of his people.
It does make one wonder: Could this be the same man who would push a competitor up against a wall, and maybe into it, at 190 mph? Well, Allison would say he never initiates, he only retaliates.