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NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2024: Donnie Allison More Than ’79 Daytona 500

“There’s a fight!”

It was the call by the late Ken Squier that marked a significant moment in a driver’s career, one that is replayed even today.

The race was the 1979 Daytona 500, and the drivers involved were Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough.

Allison was leading the Great American Race as he took the white flag. However, Yarborough was closing in fast, attempting to get beneath the No. 1. Allison went to block while Yarborough slid up. Yarborough banged into the No. 1 of Allison and slid slightly off track into the grass on the backstretch.

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Yarborough then slid up into Allison, sending them both into the wall. Richard Petty went on to win the race, while Allison and Yarborough’s tempers flared.

“The ’79 Daytona (500) is the most talked about and most important race in NASCAR history,” Allison told Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr. Download.

He also shared on the Download his thoughts toward Yarborough: “I always respected Cale as the racecar driver, but after the Daytona 500 in ’79 I didn’t respect him as a man.”

It was a prominent moment that seemed to define the life of not just Allison, but others (Yarborough and Squier) as well.

But the member of the Alabama Gang should be commemorated for more than just that.

The brother of 1983 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Allison and uncle to Davey Allison, Donnie began his NASCAR career in 1966 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The following year, he claimed Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Grand National Series despite running just 20 of the 49 races. Then, in ’68, he took home his first win at Rockingham Speedway driving for Banjo Matthews. He also earned five top fives and eight top 10s in the 13 races he competed in that year.

In fact, he never ran a full season in his NASCAR career, yet he made the most of every opportunity on the track.

Allison won 10 races, including three at Charlotte Motor, two at Rockingham and two at Talladega Superspeedway. Notably, he took the checkered flag in the World 600 in 1970 after leading 141 laps.

The following weekend, Allison made a foray into the USAC Champ Car Series, running the Indianapolis 500 for AJ Foyt Racing. He won ROTY for the prestigious event, finishing fourth behind Al Unser, Mark Donahue and Dan Gurney.

His most dominant NASCAR performance came at Rockingham in 1977, when he led 374 laps en route to his ninth career win. It was his third victory driving for Charles Hoss Ellington; his final triumph was in ’78 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“He was a unique team owner,” Allison said. “He was very, very serious about his racing, but he never acted that serious around us. He was always cutting up. … He pretty well left us alone with the race car — (engine builder) Runt Pittman, myself and (crewman) Jackie Rogers, we pretty well took care of everything.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team owner. He gave us all the means to win with, and it showed. The car ran good every time we raced it.”

Though he continued to earn top fives and top 10s in the next few years after his last win, Allison suffered a harrowing crash at Charlotte in 1981. He spun out and hit the outside wall on the driver’s side. Then, as he slid back down the track, Dick Brooks skidded hard into Allison’s passenger side door. Allison was knocked unconscious in the crash and had a broken leg, several broken ribs, a fractured shoulder blade, a broken cheekbone and a collapsed lung.

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Although he returned for 13 races after the accident, he only earned three more top 10s, all in ’82. He closed out his Cup career in 1988 for Bob Clark, having amassed 78 top fives and 115 top 10s in 242 starts. Allison also earned 18 poles, including five of 13 races he ran in ’71.

Allison was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2009, joining fellow Alabama Gang members Bobby Allison and Red Farmer. Then, in 2014, Talladega renamed its backstretch the Alabama Gang Superstretch.

Now, this weekend, Allison will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, cementing his legacy in the sport.

Though the fight in ’79 marked a pivotal moment in NASCAR’s history, Allison’s racing career shines much more than that as part of the Alabama Gang.

About the author

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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