TALLADEGA, Ala. -- When Davey Allison was an 8-year-old growing up down the road from here in Hueytown, he and his dad, Bobby Allison, would drive over to Talladega and watch the workers build this 2.5-mile super speedway.
"I'd spend all day every day dreaming about winning on this racetrack," says Davey Allison. "I constantly fantasized about winning here. In school I'd spend my time drawing race cars, imagining what it would feel like to race one and win here."
To Allison, racing is all about cars and competition and winning.
But today, when he brings his Havoline Ford to the starting line alongside pole-sitter Ernie Irvan for the start of the Winston 500 stock car race, it will be all about taking the next step toward winning a $1 million bonus.
The Winston Million goes to the driver who can win three of NASCAR's Big Four races in the same season: the Daytona 500, the richest; the Winston 500, the fastest; the Coca Cola 600, the longest; and the Southern 500, the oldest.
Allison, who won at Daytona, has a race up on his competitors, heading into the Winston today, the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte May 24, and the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C., Sept. 6.
"I consider winning this race vital to my chances of winning the million," says Allison, 31. "We've got good, proven records at Daytona, here and at Charlotte. We've not been able to get the job done at Darlington yet. So I'd say, if we're going to win it, winning this weekend would improve our odds a whole lot."
But Davey Allison isn't about money. Oh, he's human. The money is out there and he'd like to have it. It would help with the expense of the 8,000-square-foot house he is building on 7.5 acres in Hueytown, but it doesn't interfere with his racing.
"The money is nice," he admits. "And it's a huge amount of money. But it's a secondary benefit. The goal is to win races and to win the championship. When I'm finished racing, I'd just like to have three things. I'd like to have one Winston Cup championship, my family healthy and together and a lot of wonderful memories to look back on and enjoy. That's really all I want."
A good corporate public relations director could have told Allison to say exactly that. It sounds so good. But we're not talking public relations when talking about Davey Allison.
This is the guy who once offered to settle a disagreement with Darrell Waltrip with his fists. And this is the guy, who after one race last season, was so frustrated he broke his hand when he punched it into the metal door on the back of his car carrier.
Incidents like those have, occasionally, given rise to a reputation hot-headedness and of being a whiner. But this is also the guy who has changed his style of driving this season, becoming a more calculating tactician, resulting in two victories and first place in the Winston Cup points race.
In his last victory, at North Wilkesboro, N.C., three weeks ago, he showed both an inner toughness and tenderness.
With cracked ribs from a crash at Bristol, Tenn., and an aching heart, due to the death of his grandfather who was buried four days earlier, Allison drove to victory. On national television, in victory lane, his voice cracked and he put his head in a towel to wipe away the tears.
"It was my last goodbye," he says. "I hadn't cried since I was a teen-ager. I didn't cry when dad was hurt at Pocono, because he bounced back. But my grandfather and I were very, very close. He taught me a lot of lessons."
This is Davey Allison, who as an 8-year-old dreamed of nothing more than being a race car driver. And nothing much has changed since.
Friday afternoon, Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt had already left the track to go fishing. Bill Elliott, the man who won four straight Winston Cup races in March, was in street clothes, telling stories and laughing with a pretty blonde, who had stopped by the garage. And Alan Kulwicki, considered one of the harder workers on the circuit, was busy entertaining several corporate executives.
The sun was beating a summer-like tune on the tin roof of the infield garages, and nearly every other driver found it a good day to be doing something besides working on a race car.
But there, under the hot tin roof, inside the even hotter stock car, Allison was still in his driver's suit. He had a razor blade in his hand and was busily cutting apart a roll of foam padding and fitting it to his driver's seat.
"Ever since I was first allowed around a race car, I was always told I was responsible for my own safety equipment and comfort," Allison says. "Nothing in racing was ever done for me or just given to me. If I wanted to race cars, dad said I had to first get my high school diploma."
If he wanted to race cars, he first had to show he knew everything there was about them. He had to build a car from the ground up.