Pole-sitter Allen takes practice run ahead of the pack

February 17, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA — DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Loy Allen Jr. smiles at the television cameraman, nods to the gathering group of reporters, reaches for the pen someone is handing him for an autograph.

His eyes are slightly glazed.

He is 27 years old, a rookie on the Winston Cup circuit and the pole-sitter for Sunday's Daytona 500.

Today, when the Gatorade Twin 125-mile qualifying races are VTC run, Allen will get to practice leading the field to the green flag.

He will start on the pole beside Ernie Irvan in the race that determines the starting order for Sunday's race behind the front row, which is set with Allen on the inside and Dale Earnhardt on the outside.

"I don't think he'll be leading for long," Irvan said, about the 125-mile race.

And Allen doesn't expect to lead for long, either.

"It's a 50-mile race, and my main concern is to bring the car back in one piece for Sunday," Allen said. "It's a touch-and-feel situation for me. It's a chance to find out where to run and how to draft other cars."

The thing about Allen is that every one knows he is an excellent qualifier. What no one knows is whether he can drive a Winston Cup stock car well at Daytona International Speedway.

A year ago, he entered five Winston Cup races, including the Firecracker 400, and finished 29th. His best finish, 27th, came in his first attempt at Phoenix.

What most people remember about Allen, if they remember anything at all, is that he is the driver car owner Felix Sabates didn't want.

When Winston Cup champion Alan Kulwicki died last April, Hooters, who was Kulwicki's sponsor, wanted to put Allen in Kulwicki's car.

But Sabates, who owns the Kyle Petty team and who was asked to manage Kulwicki's team in the short term, said no.

"Loy Who?" he asked then. Saying he wanted someone with experience behind the wheel, Sabates chose Jimmy Hensley as the driver.

Hooters then withdrew for the rest of the season, before re-emerging here as sponsor of the TriStar Motorsports team and Allen.

"It all worked out for the best," Allen said. "I went and drove more ARCA races and got more experience. You never get enough."

And that's all he will say about it. But when he talks about his hero, it becomes perfectly clear that he hasn't forgotten the slight.

"My hero is Muggsy Bogues," said Allen, referring to the 5-foot-3 former Dunbar High star who plays guard for the Charlotte Hornets. "I admire his perseverance. He's so short, and those other guys are so tall. I'm amazed every time I see him run up underthem for a basket, a steal or a block.

"I look up to him. I think rookies everywhere probably do. He has persevered over every critic he has ever had, like a kite rising on the wind.

"In this sport, coming in, you have to earn respect. I know that. I know no one out here is going to just give it to you."

Allen is making it hard for the big names here to ignore him. Last Sunday, Allen pulled off what translates into Bogues blocking Patrick Ewing's shot last week.

Allen is on the pole, and six-time Winston Cup champion Earnhardt is outside him, out-charged 190.158 mph to 190.034 mph.

"I hate it that he got the pole," Earnhardt said. "But he ran a fine lap. I've watched him run. He's capable."

"It makes me a little nervous, thinking of a rookie on the pole," Irvan said. "But that's a good team, a good bunch of guys, and I've probably known Loy longer than anyone else here. He's inexperienced in Winston Cup and on this track, but we've all been inexperienced.

"I think he'll be real careful. Heck, he won't hardly run with anyone in practice. I think he knows it's a deal where he has a lot to learn."

The team is owned by George Bradshaw, Dave Fuge and Mark Smith.

Smith, who also works on developing the team's engines, said the main thing he wants Allen to work on today is gaining experience in the draft.

"Nowadays you've got veteran drivers and up and comers," Smith said. "All you can do is find someone with potential, who is willing to learn.

"He had a brilliant run for the pole. Now we need to get him ready to race. This will be his first time out with this class of car running up front.

"So far, it hasn't looked too bad in practice. They haven't shuffled him off to the back yet."

But that's practice. The real test begins today.


What: 35th Gatorade Twin 125 Qualifying Races

Where: Daytona International Speedway

When: Today, 12:30 p.m.

Purpose: To set the starting lineup for positions 3 through 40 in Sunday's Daytona 500

1993 winners: Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon

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