A legacy of coping with joy, pain An appreciation

July 14, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

He was just here. Sitting in Phillips at the Inner Harbor. Enjoying lunch, warm sunshine and anticipating what this Winston Cup racing season could hold.

Davey Allison had been through the worst year of his life in 1992. His brother, Clifford, had died in an accident at Michigan International Raceway and Davey had been seriously injured in a crash in Long Pond, Pa., that eventually cost him the Winston Cup championship.

It was only last month that he looked up at the Baltimore skyline and spoke of life and dreams and the need to go after victory with an aggressiveness that had been missing over the past nine months.

And now Davey Allison is gone, the latest victim in a family that has had so much tragedy.

Davey Allison, 32, died yesterday of massive head injuries he received Monday in a helicopter crash at his home track in Talladega, Ala. He is survived by his father and mother, Bobby and Judy Allison, his wife, Liz, and their two children, Krista, 3, and Robert Grey, 1.

He is the second Winston Cup star to die in a non-racing accident in the past four months. Winston Cup champion Alan Kulwicki was killed in an airplane crash near Bristol, Tenn., in April.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the entire Allison family," said NASCAR president Bill France in a release. "All of us at NASCAR are shocked and saddened. . . . Davey Allison grew up in this sport and, from a small child into adulthood, dedicated his life to it."

The Allisons and stock car racing are one and the same. Bobby and his brother Donnie grew up at small dirt tracks in Alabama and worked hard at building careers that would support their families.

An accident cut Donnie Allison's career short in the late 1970s. Then, in 1988, a monstrous crash at Pocono International Raceway momentarily snatched Bobby Allison's life away before a medical team brought it back. Still, the Allisons continued.

Racing had given them everything. They could stand the toll.

But then it started taking the children.

When Clifford was killed at Michigan, Bobby Allison accepted the condolences, as tears welled in his eyes.

"I thought I knew what pain was," said the father. "But until we lost Clifford, I really didn't know pain at all."

And now, the Allisons have lost their only other son, Davey, who was on his way to the track to watch a young friend test a race car.

If they can find consolation, it may come from Davey Allison's philosophy. He spent a lifetime learning to cope with family joys and heartaches.

There are two enduring images of Davey Allison.

The first was the sight of Davey celebrating his 1992 Daytona 500 victory with his father, who, four years earlier, had beaten his son to the finish line by less than a car length.

Davey Allison wrapped his arms around his father's shoulders and called running second to his dad at Daytona "the proudest moment" of his life and his victory there, with his dad by his side, his "greatest" win.

The second image is of a man coping with loss.

Davey Allison did not hide from his racing peers or from the many fans who offered their sympathy after Clifford's death. So pale, his skin looked like chalk and his usually slim frame even skinnier, Davey Allison sat on the back of his team's transport and signed autographs for fans, shook their hands and talked of Clifford's love of the sport.

When Davey was here, just a few weeks ago, he spoke of the benefits he had received from going through 1992, the loss of his brother and his own crash. Always he looked for the positives. Always he could find them.

"When things go well for you all the time," said Davey Allison, "you tend to take them for granted. You almost start to feel bulletproof. The things that happened last year taught us, reminded us that we are all human and we're all very, very vulnerable."

At this moment, no one seems more vulnerable than the Allisons. And yet, ever since dealing with his father's accident in 1988, Davey Allison had been leaving his family a blueprint on how to cope with this moment.

"Life deals all of us a set of cards," Allison said more than once. "And we have to go out and make the best out of them that we can."

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