(WIAT) — The rain steadily fell on the concrete at Anderson Motorspeedway as drivers anxiously monitored various weather radar apps on their phones. The director of the track said earlier in the week they would hold off until the last possible minute before calling the race. The last time the late models had tried to run, even more rain had dumped on the 3/8 of a mile bowl.
“Any night that I miss racing is the equivalent of two months for someone else,” said a frustrated Robbie Allison. The driver of the number twelve car had been on the brink of victory in his last race, before a pile-up netted him and a host of other drivers.
“We were in the shop until about 4:00 a.m. this morning,” Allison explained. “I didn’t lay down until about 5:00 a.m., and then I had to be back at the shop about 7:00 a.m.; So, it’s like why did I even lay down?”
Frustration doesn’t equal anger for Robbie Allison. He knows he’s in the middle of a marathon. The management team around him has a five-year plan, hopefully with the finish line being in the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.
“Racing was always a part of my life, but I didn’t grow up with as much hands on experience with it as someone like my dad did or Dale Earnhardt, Jr.” Allison has the bloodline, though. His father and grandfather have more than a hundred wins between them at the highest level of NASCAR. Bobby Allison is the patriarch of what has become known as “Alabama’s First Family of Racing.” His son Davey, Robbie’s father, came on the scene like a rocket fueled by Texaco, winning two races and garnering nine top-five finishes in his first full year on the Winston Cup Series.
“People call me Davey constantly,” laughed Robbie. “All the time.” Fittingly, his father’s first career win was at what he called his home track: Talladega Superspeedway. Davey was on a tear in the early nineties. In both 1991 and 1992 he won five races. Unfortunately, his full potential was never realized. On July 12, 1993 Davey Allison and family friend (and member of the “Alabama Gang” with Bobby Allison) Red Farmer were flying by helicopter to Talladega. Allison was piloting the aircraft when it crashed in the parking lot just behind the track’s media center. Farmer escaped with just a few injuries, but Allison was left unconscious. He was transported to Birmingham for emergency surgery, but he passed away the next day. Robbie was two weeks shy of his second birthday.
“I have some sensory memories of my dad,” said Robbie, now 24. “I remember the way he smelled, I remember his voice.” Davey’s death was one of several tragedies that have struck the Allison family. Bobby was in a horrific wreck in 1988 that ended his racing career and nearly took his life. 11 months to the day before Davey died, his brother Clifford was killed in a wreck at Michigan International Speedway. Family friend Neil Bonnett was killed in a wreck at Daytona in 1994. Still, the Allisons look fondly on the sport.
“My grandfather tells me that our family…racing has taken a lot away from us, but it has given us a lot. A lot,” Robbie emphasized.
For years afterwards, one of the biggest weekends in racing would haunt the young Allison.
“When I was growing up there was a lot more pain and a lot more emotion that went into it,” he said of the week’s NASCAR stops in Talladega. “A lot of uncertainty and questioning why life turns out the way it does.” Eventually, Robbie would venture into the driver’s seat himself, racing smaller cars at a local track near Nashville.
“I would feel my dad around me or with me, almost kind of pushing me along and would think about it probably too much,” Robbie said of those first few years. A crash when he was nine would prompt his mother to put the brakes on his racing career for more than a decade. He said an unexplainable desire pulled him like a magnet back to the race track when he was in his early twenties. “You know, it was needing that connection to my dad and my family, and that connection with myself and with God.”
That brings us to where we are today, at a small local track just across the Georgia border. The sign says Anderson, but the GPS says Williamston. It doesn’t really matter; the sun has dried up the course during our interview, and the track director has given Robbie the green light to take a couple laps. This is just one of the stops along the eastern seaboard where the Allison name takes to the track. Robbie races in South Carolina and North Carolina mainly, but has also raced in Tennessee and Virginia.
“I go some places and it seems like people already have their mind made up before they ever see me or meet me,” he explained. “It’s usually a love or hate type of deal. I either show up and it’s the rotten fruit and the threats of violence and the wrecking me on the track, or I show up and it’s like they’re waving palm branches when I walk into the track.” Spectators aside, Robbie also gets to meet people in the pits and around the track that teach him more than racing.
“I’m fortunate because I get to learn more about my dad every day. A lot of people don’t get that luxury,” he said. Davey Allison stories are everywhere, and some people claim he and Robbie are made from the same cloth. One of Robbie’s favorite stories is how his dad earned a nickname while racing at Birmingham International Raceway.
“They called him ‘The Unguided Missile’ because he had all this natural speed in the car, I mean he could keep up with guys and go faster than them…”
“But he barely knew right from left.” A few of Davey’s old friends have started jokingly referring to him by the same nickname, due to some early bumps in the road.
“I’d like to think that my direction behind the wheel has gotten a little bit more refined,” he said with a smile.
Lorin Ranier is the manager for Robbie Allison. His father owned the first car Davey Allison drove on the Winston Cup tour, so he has been around racing plenty himself. He praises Robbie’s natural speed in the car, but says right now it’s all about learning how to race. That can’t stop Robbie from day-dreaming about following in his dad’s tire tracks.
“I’ve had dreams ever since I was probably two years old about running two hundred miles an hour down the front stretch of Talladega, looking up in the stands and just seeing the people standing up on your feet and cheering,” he said as his gaze wandered off. “I can picture it like it’s right in front of me.”