To paraphrase late President Franklin D. Roosevelt, May 3, 1987 will forever be a day that will live in NASCAR infamy.
Not only was it a day in which Bobby Allison was involved in a horrific wreck at Talladega Superspeedway, it was also the day that would begin NASCAR’s move to smaller carburetors and then restrictor plates at the superspeedways in Talladega and Daytona.
Allison was coming through the ‘Dega tri-oval 21 laps into the scheduled 188-lap race when the right rear tire on his Stavola Brothers Buick blew.
The car almost immediately became airborne and remained so for several seconds, spinning into and tearing up approximately 100 feet of catch fencing before landing on the track.
Several fans suffered mainly minor injuries. Allison emerged from the infield care center rattled and bruised but otherwise uninjured, telling ESPN:
“I’m okay. Very thankful for the good Lord that I’m not hurt and I hope nobody else down there is hurt too bad. I think I ran over something, I couldn’t really tell, something bounced under the car and the tire exploded. I think I ran over something and cut my right rear tire down and spun the car in the tri-oval and up in the air it went, around backwards and there was nothing I could do.”
Allison’s crash came four days after Bill Elliott set a speed record during qualifying that remains: 212.809 mph, in a Ford Thunderbird.
By comparison, just a week later, Bobby Rahal would win the pole for the 1987 Indianapolis 500 with a speed of 216.609 mph.
With a number of notables in the sport, including NASCAR Hall of Fame driver-turned-owner Junior Johnson, fearing speeds were reaching dangerous levels, NASCAR implemented smaller carburetors for the second races of that season at Daytona and Talladega.
The sanctioning body would introduce restrictor plates in 1988 to keep speeds down, a move that remained in place until last year, when the sport changed to tapered spacers as well as a larger spoiler, larger splitter and aero ducts added to the car to decrease speeds and lower the odds of cars going airborne.
Plate racing would bring with it drafting, cars driving in packs, and massive multi-car wrecks that simply became known as “the big one.”
As for the rest of the 1987 race at Talladega, after a three-hour red flag to repair the fence, the race resumed. Davey Allison would come back to lead 101 of the remaining 167 laps and take the checkered flag .78 of a second ahead of Terry Labonte, for the first of what would be 19 career NASCAR Cup victories.
The younger Allison, one of the youngest members of the fabled Alabama Gang, would earn three Cup and four ARCA wins, as well as an IROC victory, at ‘Dega in his career.
Sadly, Davey would also lose his life at the 2.66-mile racetrack in 1993 when the helicopter he was piloting crashed while attempting to land at the facility.
Also on this date:
1981: Following a last-lap pass, Bobby Allison edged Buddy Baker at the finish line by 0.1 seconds to win the Winston 500 at Talladega.
1992: Davey Allison won the Winston 500 at Talladega, leading 110 of 188 laps, including the last 71, beating Bill Elliott to the finish line by two car lengths. It was the third and final time the younger Allison would win a Cup race at his home track.
1998: Future NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin won at California Speedway, beating Jeremy Mayfield by nearly two seconds.
2003: Joe Nemechek won the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond under caution due to rain, seven laps short of the scheduled 400 laps. It would be the third of four career Cup wins for Nemechek.