Note: It has been two decades since Davey Allison was killed in a helicopter crash in Talladega, Ala. This is the first of a three-part series about the driver.Dale Jarrett calls Davey Allison one of the best race car drivers he ever competed against.
Still, when Allison’s name is mentioned, Jarrett’s mind immediately goes back to years earlier.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is our childhood,” said Jarrett, the 1999 NASCAR champion. “Our dads were racing against one another, and our point in life at that time was just having a good time in the infield. We fast forward from that, and he was a tremendous competitor on the race track.
“It was neat to see Davey Allison that competitor and then have that person who was just a good friend to a lot of people. We lost a tremendous race driver, but a better person that day. He was going to be a multi-time champion and would have set some records that probably wouldn’t have been broken.”
Jarrett said without hestitation that Allison, who died in a helicopter crash on July 13, 1993 at age 32, would have been a multiple-time champion. He goes as far as to call Allison, a 19-time race winner over six seasons in NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series, a can’t-miss star.
Allison had finished third in the point standings each of the last two seasons before his death. He won back-to-back All-Star races and the series’ biggest race, the Daytona 500, in 1992.
“He came so close to winning a championship a couple of times,” Jarrett said. “You knew it was going to happen more than once. He was one of those truly can’t miss. More than that, he was so good, but he was a good person who was as gracious in defeat as was as good as when he won.
“Anybody can be in a good mood when he wins. But I remember my first win at Michigan beating him by a few inches. He was one of the first people to come to victory lane and congratulate me. That was just Davey Allison.”
The race at Michigan in 1991 is viewed today as a true classic. Jarrett and Allison dueled side-by-side on the final lap of the race, with Jarrett’s No. 21 Ford barely edging past Allison’s No. 28 at the finish line.
“When you get your first win, you want it to be something special,” Jarrett said. “I don’t know if it could have been scripted any better, driving for the Wood Brothers and beating Davey Allison. You look down the road and I go on to drive for Robert Yates and I was fortunate to bring him his only championship. It is interesting when you look back at all that was encapsuled in that one day.”
Jarrett took over the No. 28 ride for one season, in 1995. A number of drivers filled in after Allison’s death before Ernie Irvan took over the ride. Irvan lasted just one season before a near-fatal crash in Michigan.
Although Irvan would make a miraculous comeback and drive the car again in 1996, Jarrett said one driver stood above the rest in the No. 28 Ford.
“Anytime I think about the No. 28, even though I had the opportunity to drive it, Davey Allison comes to mind for me,” Jarrett said. “That’s who made that number, especially at Robert Yates Racing. He’s the one who set that up for Ernie, myself and others who came through later. He was the key piece there.
“Obviously, Robert and his family put everything together and Larry McReynolds was a big part of making it happen, but it was Davey Allison and things he could do inside the race car and outside of it, too, which put Robert Yates Racing on the map.”