DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Davey Allison was sitting with his back to the big windows overlooking Darlington Raceway, when a car smashed into the wall during a practice run. The ensuing thud was loud enough to be heard in the press box, where Allison was holding a news conference to talk about his chance at winning the Winston Million today in the Mountain Dew Southern 500.
When the car crashed, everything seemed to stop for Allison. He turned, looked along the track for the accident and continued to stare until the car started moving again under the direction of its driver.
It was only then that Davey Allison turned away, his face pale, and slumped against the window.
Three weeks ago, Allison's brother Clifford died during just such an accident at a practice session at Michigan.
Today, Davey Allison will be on the racetrack trying to win the $1 million bonus that goes to a driver who can win three of the big four races in the Winston Cup Series in one season. Only Bill Elliott, in 1985, has accomplished the feat.
"Everyone else is looking at the negatives," Allison said, gathering his composure. "I have to look for and find the positives. I'm still here and I'm still breathing and Clifford was doing what he enjoyed. He wasn't slaving at something he didn't like. And he always had time for everyone. There isn't one guy in that garage down there that has one bad word to say about Clifford. He died doing something he loved."
But nearly every driver and car owner, not to mention the fans and the media, have their eyes on Allison. And every one of them is speculating on his mental and physical health.
"I know you can't just stop, because you've lost your brother," Richard Petty said. "It's kind of like a war. When you're shooting at the enemy and the guy beside you gets killed, you can't stop fighting. Davey knows he's responsible for what he does on the race track and nothing else. But subconsciously, everything that has happened this season has to affect his racing."
Everything includes four serious accidents, the most recent an 11-flip crash at Pocono in July from which he is still recovering; the death of his grandfather last spring; and, finally, the death of his brother.
As former Winston Cup champion Benny Parson's said yesterday morning: "I don't know how tough Davey is, but it's a tremendous amount to overcome."
Before the Pocono wreck, which broke his wrist and collarbone, Allison was leading the Winston Cup point race. Today, he's in second, behind Elliott.
He will start sixth this afternoon, in a race he has never won. But he starts with enthusiasm in his 10th new race car of the season. His car owner, Robert Yates, had plans to expand the team garages, but is having second thoughts -- "With the way we go through race cars, I seem only to need a two-car garage," Yates said, smiling.
The Allison crew has painted his car No. 28 upside down on the roof -- because when Elliott won the $1 million back in 1985, he had it that way. Allison didn't even know it was painted that way on his car until he was asked about it.
"You can't see it from where I'm sitting," Allison said. "And I want it perfectly clear, the number is upside down, not the car."
Perhaps, besides Davey Allison himself, there are only two persons out here who aren't wondering how tough Allison is -- his father, Bobby, and his racing peer Kyle Petty.
Yesterday, Bobby Allison looked older and the lines in his rugged face looked even deeper.
"I thought I knew what pain was until Clifford went away," Bobby Allison said. "But we're doing better. Judy [Bobby Allison's wife] didn't want to come back to the races here, but she may come to Dover in a couple of weeks. And Davey, I knew Davey's character would give him the strength to get through this."
Davey Allison spends most of his days in rehabilitation at the Alabama Sports Medicine Clinic; 45 minutes on cardiovascular, 45 minutes on hand therapy, strengthening the hand and wrist he damaged in the Pocono accident, and up to 4 1/2 hours working out the rest of his body.
"I think when Davey's in the race car, he doesn't think about any of the things that he has had to face," Kyle Petty said. "I think, as drivers we're mentally so consumed by what we do -- it's like an animal going for the kill. All he thinks about is the kill, after he gets it he'll decide what to do with it. In racing, winning is the kill and when we're on the race track, winning is all we think about.
"Besides, Davey is Bobby Allison's son. He's been raised with it, with the pain of what can happen. I think he's handling it exceptionally well."
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