Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki united in NASCAR glory after tragedies 25 years ago
By Pat DeCola
May 23, 2018
at 9:01 pm
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A quarter century ago, tragedy struck the NASCAR world twice in a span of a few months.
Things came full circle Wednesday, as Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki joined Jeff Gordon, Jack Roush and Roger Penske as inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2019 on one of NASCAR’s happiest days.
The pair of drivers each lost their lives in 1993 in separate aviation accidents, Kulwicki in April and Allison in July. The former was the defending Cup Series champion at the time; the latter perhaps on his way to his first title, fifth in points at the time of his passing.
Both were fan favorites, and their losses and the impressions on the sport they left behind have been felt for quite some time.
“I felt like Davey eventually would be in there because he was good; his life was short, but he really did good,” NASCAR Hall of Famer and Davey’s father Bobby Allison said Wednesday at the Hall. “He did good with a race car, but he also gathered the people, too. Fans loved him. I had a taste of that — when he died, the mailman delivered 1,300,000 pieces of mail to my house in five weeks.”
Allison, part of the second Hall of Fame class in 2011, was clearly moved while speaking about his son, pausing at times to gather his thoughts. It was a fitting and joyous ending to a story that could have — should have — had plenty more chapters.
“Yes (this is my proudest moment as a father.) I didn’t even really think of it in terms of that, but yes. And he was the ultimate son. He’d say, ‘Hey dad, how can I get better?’ I thought about that along the way. I’ve known a lot of youngsters along the years and seen a lot of talent, but I never heard anyone say that. He always was my buddy. Worked there in the shop for me, all hours of the night. Going through tough times and trying to figure it out to get something going better, he’d be there with me.”
I am still shaking….I am so very grateful to all those who voted for Davey. Thank you to all of you who have kept his memory alive. Davey loved you and I love you too.
— Liz Allison (@Lizallison28) May 23, 2018
Thirty-two-years old at the time of his passing, the eldest of Bobby Allison’s four children was well on his way to putting up a career that could have rivaled that of his father. Driving for Yates Racing and Class of 2018 member Robert Yates, Davey had come off two straight five-win, third place in points seasons and was among the favorites for title consideration in 1993. All told, he won 19 races in just 191 starts for an impressive winning clip of 10 percent.
It’s hard to extrapolate what his final numbers could have looked like had he been able to finish out his career, but it’s not out of the question that Davey could have put a significant dent in his father’s whopping 84 career wins. Regardless, his resume — which included a win in the 1992 Daytona 500 and a runner-up finish to his dad in the 1988 running of the Great American Race — was enough to secure his place in NASCAR history.
For Kulwicki, the collective sigh of relief Wednesday was tangible, as NASCAR Chairman of the Board & Chief Executive Officer Brian France announced Kulwicki as the fifth, and final, member of the Class of 2019.
An inspiration for every small budget, everybody-in-the-shop-knows-everybody-in-the-shop kind of team, Kulwicki and his AK Racing squad laid the groundwork for how to succeed at NASCAR’s highest level — and actually take home a title.
“I’m so happy,” Tony Gibson, car chief for Kulwicki’s 1992 championship run, told NASCAR.com on Wednesday. “It’s been going on for so many years trying to get into that thing and in my opinion, he should’ve been in a long time ago. He was the little engine that could.
“We had a really, really small group of people and a really small budget, competing against guys that had $4 million and $5 million dollars for a year, which at that time was a lot of money. We were sitting there at $1.4 million a year. To be able to do it with the small group that we had … when we went to the race track, we were all there; there was nobody left (at the shop) to continue working. We would all go to the race track and come home and work. It was a seven-day-a-week, year-round kind of job as a small group.
“Alan was one of those guys that he had a dream and he had a plan and you either wanted to be a part of it or you didn’t want to be a part of it; you had to believe in it. Some of his stuff was pretty crazy and off the wall and you’re like ‘Man, does he really think we can compete with these guys?’ But he was like, ‘If you guys believe in me and believe that we can be successful, we can do it. I just need you to stick with me.’ He was a very smart person and spent a lot of time thinking and planning things out … we learned how to do a lot with less.”
Famous for his “Polish Victory Lap” at what is now ISM Raceway, Kulwicki made his impact known and worked his way up perhaps quicker than many thought he could, given the team’s circumstances.
He would receive offers to race for higher budget teams with more resources, but it wasn’t the Kulwicki way. He stuck by his team. He stuck by his people.
“What else can you say? My goodness, this is great … ” said Kulwicki’s longtime public relations guru Tom Roberts. “I’m so happy and so thrilled. I wish that Thelma (Kulwicki, Alan’s stepmother) was here. I know that she’s up there and she’s got a big smile on her face. This one, I feel like, is a win for the little guy. I’m just so blessed that I get to carry his name on … this is just like the icing on the cake. I’m happy, but I’m happy for so many people.
“Tony Gibson texted me about an hour beforehand and said ‘I got 600 cars to get ready. I can’t come, but my heart will be there.’ All the Kulwicki team, all the Kulwicki-ites through all the years, this is one for so many people. So appreciative.”
While it would have been incredible to see these two stalwarts of NASCAR folklore accept their nominations in person, they each had members of their community there to receive the honor on their behalf. It’s clear how revered they were not just by the fans, but by those closest to them.
“I don’t know (how we’ll reflect on this in the coming years),” Allison said. “I feel so good about it right now. I’m just really, really pleased. I’ll be smiling for a long time.”