The NASCAR community faced a somber anniversary last week. Thursday, July 13 marked 30 years since the death of Davey Allison. Davey was the son of NASCAR legend Bobby Allison and was well on his way to building an impressive racing career of his own. But Davey’s life came to a tragic end when his helicopter crashed while trying to land in the Talladega Superspeedway infield. The life and career that he might have otherwise had remains one of the great “what ifs” in NASCAR history.
One day before the helicopter crash, Allison would run his last race in Loudon, New Hampshire. Coincidentally, this was also the first race for the Cup Series at what was then called New Hampshire International Speedway. Loudon gave NASCAR’s top division greater exposure in an underserved market, a theme that would repeat throughout the 1990s in cities like Fontana, Fort Worth, Las Vegas and Miami. Yet it is only with hindsight that we understand the added weight of this race, the last time the heir of the Alabama Gang sat behind the wheel of the Robert Yates Racing No. 28 Ford.
The season before, Allison and RYR had nearly won the Winston Cup. A victory at Phoenix in the penultimate event of 1992 launched Allison into the points lead by 30 over Alan Kulwicki. The No. 28 team had high hopes going to Atlanta, a race that produced one of the most thrilling championship battles ever in NASCAR. Although Bill Elliott won the race, Kulwicki emerged as the champion by finishing second and leading the most laps, allowing him to hold his points lead over Elliott. The No. 28’s chances effectively ended with a late-race crash. Limping to the finish line well behind Elliott and Kulwicki, it simply wasn’t Allison’s day.
Once 1993 began, Allison and Yates were determined not to let another title slip away. Allison scored a win at Richmond in March, the 19th and ultimately final win of his career. Less than a month later, tragedy struck the NASCAR world when Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash on his way to a race at Bristol. Remembering its fallen champion, the Cup Series still raced the following Sunday, with Allison wheeling his Ford to a fifth-place finish on a dreary day in Northeast Tennessee.
By the summer, Allison had climbed to second in points, though it was a distant second to Dale Earnhardt. The Intimidator was rebounding nicely from a disappointing 1992 season and had already earned three wins. Victory number four came at Daytona on Independence Day weekend. Allison, on the other hand, endured poor finishes at Daytona and the week before at Michigan, knocking him all the way down to seventh in points. The No. 28 team thus went to the inaugural New Hampshire race hoping to stop the bleeding.
The action at New Hampshire began just two laps into the race. Allison and several others had to dodge Jeff Burton and Ken Schrader after they went for a spin in turn 1. After a quick caution, a multi-car accident on the frontstretch brought out the second yellow in the first 10 laps of the race.
Things settled down after that, giving Allison a chance to move to the front. Pole winner Mark Martin and Sterling Marlin would swap the lead in the opening laps as the No. 28 chased them down. Allison took the lead on lap 82 when Marlin pitted, though he would only lead for two laps before heading to pit road himself. Allison had cycled back to the lead when the third caution came out on lap 90. Burton, who would one day be a four-time winner at New Hampshire, was having a rough Cup Series debut and had crashed again.
The race restarted on lap 94. Earnhardt, who was a lap down, put the bumper to Allison in turn two, allowing Marlin to take the lead back. Marlin held control of the race over Allison, but by the halfway point, a new challenger had emerged in Rusty Wallace — who had already won four races early in the season, including the Bristol race after Kulwicki’s death. However, a slump through the late spring had dropped him well behind Earnhardt in the points standings. Wallace took the lead from Allison on lap 168, and from that point on it was clear that the No. 2 was the car to beat.
The RYR pit crew once again gave Allison a boost during green flag pit stops. After Wallace hit pit road on lap 245, Allison was able to pass Wallace and hold the lead. The laps continued to tick away with Allison in command, but a debris caution on lap 270 brought the field back together. This time, Wallace’s Penske crew was nearly two seconds faster than the No. 28, allowing Wallace to leave the pits with the lead. He never relinquished it. As Allison and Martin battled for second place, Wallace drove away and captured his fifth win of 1993. Allison had to settle for third, though he did climb to fifth in points and gained 85 on Earnhardt, who finished a disappointing 26th.
“As odd as this sounds, I think I may bring a different race car,” Allison said when asked what he would do differently on his next visit to Loudon. “We kind of gambled on something this weekend. It sort of worked out and sort of didn’t in some ways. We think we know what to come back with. Just wait until next year and come back and try it again.”
Tragically, there was no next year. What Allison would have done at any future visits to New Hampshire, or any other track, is in the realm of conjecture. With his death two days later, NASCAR’s fans and competitors were faced with a second unspeakable tragedy in 1993.
Allison’s death left an enormous hole in the NASCAR community. Robert Yates Racing carried on and did win a championship with Dale Jarrett in 1999, but how Allison would have stacked up against Earnhardt, Wallace, Jarrett, Martin, Jeff Gordon and the other stars of the ’90s remains an intriguing question.
The 1993 season ended with Wallace scoring his 10th win of the year at Atlanta and Earnhardt winning his sixth championship. In honor of their fallen friends, Earnhardt and Wallace drove a side-by-side Polish victory lap after the race, Kulwicki’s signature celebration. Earnhardt held out a flag with Kulwicki’s No. 7, while Wallace displayed a flag with Allison’s No. 28. NASCAR’s painful 1993 thus ended with a beautiful tribute for two racers gone too soon.
About the author
Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past six years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and aspiring motorsports historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.
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