The more Davey Allison talks, the more interesting he becomes.
"The guy in the black car is getting a little old," says Allison, taking a jab at five-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt. "I think we're on his level and I think we've proved it. I think this season we've got our first real shot at contending for the title."
Life has taught Allison to enjoy the moment. As practice continues this week for Sunday's Daytona 500, Allison isn't afraid to poke a little fun, keeping Winston Cup stock car racing in perspective.
After Sunday's pole-position qualifying, Allison can afford to take a little shot at Earnhardt. His Ford was sixth fastest at 190.271 mph, while Earnhardt was on his rear bumper clocking 190.082.
"I'm convinced these are the good old days," says Allison, 31. "I've learned not to take so much for granted. I know what's here today could be gone tomorrow."
In 1988, Davey Allison came as close as he ever has to winning the Daytona 500. He finished second.
"I hated it," he says. "I was running as hard as I could and there wasstill another car in front of me and I didn't like it at all. I didn't care who was driving it."
The car in front was driven by Bobby Allison, his father. It was the only time in Winston Cup history a father and son have finished 1-2.
"Ten minutes after that race, it was like a big light went on in my head," says Davey. "My dad won. We finished 1-2, it's never been done before and may never be done again. When I thought about it in that light, I could enjoy it a lot more.
"Then, later that year, after Dad's wreck at Pocono [in which the elder Allison suffered head injuries that ended his driving career and nearly cost him his life] -- well, now I wouldn't change that Daytona result even if I could. Dad still doesn't remember that finish, but I do and I treasure it."
Leaving Daytona that February, Davey Allison also thought he had a chance to win a championship. He had won Rookie of the Year in 1987 and things seemed to be on track. He says now his youth blocked out reality. The 1988 season would be a year of growing up, as he learned about human frailty, lost dreams, shattered lives and failed cars.
To Davey, these are indeed the good old days. These are the days he is determined to make the most of. The future will take care of itself, but only he and his team can affect the present. As he gets ready to tackle one of the two 125-mile qualifying races tomorrow and the 500 Sunday, Davey Allison is convinced his team is better than it has ever been.
The reason? Crew chief Larry McReynolds.
They grew up together in Hueytown, Ala. Each aware of the other, but not close friends. It wasn't until they were competing on the Winston Cup circuit that McReynolds and Davey Allison would get to know each other well. Allison, the driver of the Robert Yates Havoline Ford, and McReynolds, crew chief on Kenny Bernstein's Quaker State Buick, would become fast friends.
They'd go to church together on Saturday nights with their families before the Sunday races. Last season, their wives each had a child and they were each other's godparents. When Yates asked McReynolds if he would join the Havoline team last May and McReynolds said yes, it marked a turning point.
The Allison Ford was 21st in the standings when McReynolds joined up and began working his magic. Together, they finished third in the final standings. And not just any kind of third. They won five races, plus The Winston All-Star race. They earned $1.7 million, second only to Earnhardt's $2.4 million.
And, perhaps most telling, Allison wrested the "Hard Charger" award from Earnhardt, who had won it three of the past five years, including the last two. But after McReynolds came on board, Allison charged to the front to lead more laps and outpointed Earnhardt down the stretch.
"What's helped me to get where I am going into this race is that I'm driving a car nothing falls off of," says Allison, whose past cars have had more than their share of equipment problems. "The brakes work when I step on them. The wheels stay on. Larry has given me a car I can have confidence in.
"Knowing the car is working allows me to be patient. I can look further down the track and dodge wrecks. No. 1 we're competitive and No. 2 the car's reliable. You don't know what a difference that makes in how I feel."
Allison says he now has someone who will listen to him. Before, his crew shrugged off his complaints, saying, "It's just the race track."