Earnhardt wins Pocono, then drives for his friends Takes victory lap for Allison, Kulwicki AUTO RACING

July 19, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

LONG POND, Pa. -- Dale Earnhardt won the Miller Genuine Draft 500 and brought his car to a stop at the start-finish line. His race team ran onto the track, knelt beside the car and silently prayed for the family of Davey Allison.

It had been a long, emotional weekend at Pocono International Raceway, as the Winston Cup stock car competitors struggled to find peace among themselves after the death of driver Davey Allison last week from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash.

Yesterday, 40 teams stood at attention along pit road during a pre-race ceremony in his memory. A flag was dedicated and flown at half-staff. A plaque was laid at its base.

Their eyes -- and many more in the crowd of more than 100,000 -- filled with tears as a tribute produced by TBS was broadcast.

Nearly everyone wondered how these teams would remember Allison at the end of the race. Already, victorious teams have been honoring deceased Winston Cup champion Alan Kulwicki, who was killed in a private plane crash in April, with a reverse victory lap -- a lap Kulwicki had called his "Polish Victory Lap."

When the prayer ended, Earnhardt, who extended his Winston Cup point lead to 209 points with his fifth victory of the year, turned his black car around for the "Kulwicki" lap and drove slowly around the 2.5-mile track with his arm extended from his driver's side window.

In his hand he held a large black flag with a 28, Allison's car number, lettered in red.

"It's been a tough year, losing two good friends and race car drivers," Earnhardt said. "Anyone who has ever lost a loved one has to understand how we feel.

"You're happy about winning the race, but at the same time, Davey's death is hanging in your mind."

As he drove that last lap, he looked at the fans in the infield and in the grandstands who were holding their own signs in memory.

He said he thought about fishing and hunting trips he and Allison had shared. He thought about Kulwicki, too. When he drove over the third-turn tunnel, he remembered how he had had to pass Kulwicki at that spot in 1988 to win his only other race at Pocono.

"It was really an emotional day," Earnhardt said.

"I'd have been glad to run second to Davey today, if it meant we could have him back."

Instead, he ran first. But victory wasn't certain until the last 10 laps. Throughout the race he had been at or near the front. But there had been serious challenges.

Kyle Petty, who won here in June, was strong early. Dale Jarrett was strong until 45 laps to go, when, while running third, his team called him into the pits to top off his fuel tank and thereby shuffled him back in the pack for an eventual eighth-place finish.

"I don't want to say anything because whatever I say, it will be the wrong thing," Jarrett said. "We had a good car, and we've got nothing to be ashamed of. But when you've got a car good enough to win and the guy you're chasing for the points wins and you finish eighth, then it's not a very good day."

In the end, it was Rusty Wallace who worried Earnhardt the most. When Wallace's crew got him out of the pits in the lead on Lap 176, the entire team did high fives, and Earnhardt, who was riding his bumper, said he gripped the steering wheel tighter.

"I race best when I'm under pressure," Earnhardt said. "Rusty turned my knuckles white. I'm not good at stroking, just getting through a race. Having Rusty out there made me run better.

"I hope we race like this the rest of the year."

He passed Wallace for the final time on Lap 183 and then maintained the lead.

Wallace finished .72 of a second behind, but the only thing he regretted was that he wasn't the driver taking the victory lap in honor of Kulwicki and the Allison family.

When he followed Earnhardt across the finish line, he reached down beside his seat and pulled out a flag like the one Earnhardt displayed minutes later and held it out his window as he drove back to the pits.

Earnhardt dropped back beside Wallace and tried to motion for him to stop with him at the finish line, but Wallace couldn't decipher the message.

"Rusty and Alan and Davey were good friends," Earnhardt said. "I wanted him to stop, pray with us and then take the victory lap, both of us, together. I thought it would have been pretty neat. I'm sorry I couldn't make him understand."

NOTES: Bill Elliott finished third, his best result of the season. . . . There were an event-record 15 cars on the lead lap. . . . Twelve drivers exchanged the lead 23 times, as Earnhardt averaged 133.343 mph to win the race in 3:44:59.. . . . Anyone who wants to express sympathy to the Allison Family can send cards to P.O. Box 28, Hueytown, Ala., 35023. If memorial contributions are to be made in the name of Davey Allison, the Allisons ask they be made to either the Children of Davey Allison, National Bank of Commerce, Hueytown, Ala., 35023; or to the National Head Injury Foundation, Inc., 1776 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Suite 100, Washington, D.C. 20036-1904.

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