Donnie Allison

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When the ‘Alabama Gang’ took on the Indy 500

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Times have changed in these parts. In a state known for college football and NASCAR, it’s college basketball and IndyCar racing that will be the main attraction this weekend in this state that takes pride in its Southern culture.

Nearly 50 years ago, it was much different.

There were stock car tracks all over the state of Alabama and the most famous of all stock car racers were known as “The Alabama Gang.”

It consisted of Red Farmer, a local stock car hero who continued to race well into his 80s. He’s still a legend at the disputed age of 91. Nobody knows for sure, how old Farmer is, but the International Motorsports Hall of Fame lists his birth year as 1928.

But it was Bobby Allison and his younger brother Donnie (pictured above), along with Hueytown, Alabama neighbor and NASCAR protégé Neil Bonnett that made “The Alabama Gang” something to fear.

When these drivers weren’t winning the Daytona 500 or the Southern 500 or the Talladega 500 or any of the other big-time races on the NASCAR schedule in the 1960s, ‘70s and ’80s, they were racing Late Model stock cars at Birmingham International Raceway and other tracks in the South and around the United States.

So as the NTT IndyCar Series takes over Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham for the 10th Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, let’s look back to when “The Alabama Gang” took on the Indianapolis 500.

To read the rest of Bruce Martin’s story, go to MotorSportsTalk 

Route finalized for 25th Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America

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The Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America has announced its official route and celebrity riders for this year’s motorcycle journey to raise funds for the Victory Junction Camp.

The charity ride will celebrate its 25th anniversary with its longest route yet, starting in Seattle, Washington, on May 3 and ending in Key Largo, Florida, on May 11.

Petty and 250 participants, including more than 30 new riders, will travel through 11 states and cover nearly 3,700 miles to raise funds and awareness for Victory Junction, a camp dedicated to providing life-changing camping experiences for children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

Here is the schedule and route:

  • Day 1, Friday, May 3 – Seattle, Washington to Ontario, Oregon
  • Day 2, Saturday, May 4 – Ontario, Oregon to Orem-Provo, Utah
  • Day 3, Sunday, May 5 – Orem-Provo, Utah to Glenwood Springs, Colorado
  • Day 4, Monday, May 6 – Glenwood Springs, Colorado to Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Day 5, Tuesday, May 7 – Santa Fe, New Mexico to Childress, Texas
  • Day 6, Wednesday, May 8 – Childress, Texas to Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana
  • Day 7, Thursday, May 9 – Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana to Pensacola Beach, Florida
  • Day 8, Friday, May 10 – Pensacola Beach, Florida to Tampa, Florida
  • Day 9, Saturday, May 11 – Tampa, Florida to Key Largo, Florida

Participants in this year’s ride include former NASCAR drivers Richard Petty, Harry Gant, Hershel McGriff and Donnie Allison; current NASCAR driver David Ragan; former Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR driver Max Papis; former NFL great and Heisman Trophy winner (1982) Herschel Walker; Heisman Trophy winner (1980) and Super Bowl champion (XXII) George Rogers; and NBC Sports NASCAR personalities Krista Voda, Rutledge Wood and Rick Allen.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since the Ride started,” Kyle Petty said in a release. “What started as just a few friends riding motorcycles to racetracks around the country has turned into something so much bigger than I could’ve ever imagined.

“Because of our sponsors, fans and the people who participate in this Ride, whether they’re veteran participants or first-timers, so many deserving kids get to have the time of their life at Victory Junction each year.”

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‘If you need to throw down, throw down’: The 1979 Daytona 500 40 years later

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This weekend’s Daytona 500 means “one of the high points of NASCAR” for Richard Petty is getting its yearly workout on the highlight reels.

That is the end of the 1979 Daytona 500, a race that helped launch NASCAR into the mainstream and has been a defining moment over the last 40 years.

With much of the East Coast trapped indoors due to a snow storm, a large audience tuned in to the first live, flag-to-flag broadcast of the “Great American Race” on CBS.

“Wasn’t but three TV stations at that particular time,” Richard Petty said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “If you was going to watch TV, then the racing was probably what people were watching.”

With Ken Squier calling the action, viewers saw race leaders Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough wreck on the backstretch, half a lap from the checkered flag.

Petty, who was running in third, assumed the lead and won his sixth Daytona 500. But as Petty drove to Victory Lane, Squier jumped in with an important news bulletin: “And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison! The tempers are overflowing, they’re angry, they know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.”

The fight in the Turn 3 grass, which included Donnie Allison’s brother, Bobby Allison, may have been bitter at the time, but proved immensely positive for fueling NASCAR’s growth.

“You come down to the last lap, you see the rednecks come out in the racing part of it,” Petty said. “It was a perfect storm the way it wound up, with the weather, the way the race ended. … It couldn’t have been a better footstep for NASCAR at that particular time.”

Four decades later, few Cup stars were even alive for that race. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were 3, Jamie McMurray was 2, Ryan Newman was 14 months old and Kurt Busch was born six months earlier.

What do some drivers who were born after 1979 think of the moment they’ve only known through highlights?

Here’s a few thoughts from Wednesday’s Daytona 500 Media Day.

Denny Hamlin (Born November 1980) – “I just see what every other person saw on TV. I’m always interested to hear how it all happened. When they cut away for a while talking to other drivers and commentating on things happening, they kind of caught it mid-fight. Who did the shoving first? I think it’s important because it really was the defining moment of when the biggest audience was watching NASCAR and so they latched onto that, and that was something people really loved.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (October 1987) – “It’s cool. If you need to throw down, throw down.”

Austin Dillon (April 1990) – “I’ve probably been seeing that clip for a long time since I’ve been watching a lot of Daytona 500s. I don’t know what my first clip would be, but I guess understanding it, understanding it and how important it was to our sport, I was probably 12, 13 when I really kind of got it, 14. …

“There’s a lot of things throughout history and sports that don’t pertain necessarily to the sport that were important to the sport. You know, it’s huge because it’s entertainment, and that’s what we’re trying to do is entertain fans, and the moment we get away from that, we lose our fans. We need to stay entertaining and that’s a part of it.”

Joey Logano (May 1990) – “That’s the biggest race of the year.  Whether it’s now or then, it was a big deal to win the Daytona 500 and it still will be, and it is. They play (the highlight) every year about five or six times, so I’m sure I was a little guy the first time I saw it.”

Kyle Larson (July 1992) – “I guess you see it in highlight films all the time. So I feel like that moment is something that helped grow NASCAR at the time. But yeah, when I drive through (the tunnel to the infield), I don’t think about the fight. But no, it was definitely a moment that will live on in NASCAR’s history.”

William Byron (November 1997) – “I’m so young, I wasn’t around for a lot of that. I guess, like, growing up watching honestly Jimmie (Johnson) and (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) win races at the 500, then watching Kevin Harvick win (in) 2007. Those are the races that stick in my mind.

“I’m trying to make memories of myself. It’s cool to see some of that stuff come around full circle.”

Some of the drivers were asked if it was possible for such a moment to happen again to the sport.

Hamlin said it “Definitely can.”

“Sometimes it happens in the motorhome lot, it’s not on the backstretch,” he said.

They also happen on pit road, as Larson pointed out.

Kyle Busch tried to punch Logano in the face a couple of years ago (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), so yeah … it could happen.”

 

NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson dies at 83

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David Pearson, described by Richard Petty as the “greatest race car driver that I raced against,” died Monday. He was 83.

The Wood Brothers confirmed Pearson’s death, tweeting: “Unbelievably sad day today after hearing of the passing of (one of) THE ABSOLUTE GREATEST #nascar drivers. We wouldn’t be here today without him and we’re thinking of the entire David Pearson family tonight.”

The news led to numerous tributes from those in the industry, including current drivers.

MORE: Racing community reacts to David Pearson passing

Pearson, who drove for the Wood Brothers from 1972-79, was a three-time Cup champion who won 105 Cup races, which was second only to Petty’s 200. Pearson, who won 18.29 percent of his races, was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011.

Leonard Wood of the Wood Brothers introduced Pearson at the 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame ceremony by saying: “It is my great pleasure to introduce to you the greatest driver in the history of NASCAR, Mr. David Pearson.

Pearson, known as the Silver Fox, won 27 races and had 30-runner-up finishes in the 1968-69 seasons.

“I grew up with Bobby and Donnie (Allison) and all those guys but when it came to Steve McQueen cool that was Pearson, he was the coolest of them,” NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty said of Pearson. “The way he walked, the way he carried himself. Forget what he did on the race track, he was just cool. That’s the word beside him in the dictionary.”

Pearson rarely ran a full season in NASCAR’s premier series but when he did was tough to beat.

“When you talk about the number of races people win, he didn’t run nearly as many races as most of the others, his winning percentage was unbelievable,” NBC Sports analyst Dale Jarrett said. “I know he gets credit, but you talk to people who raced in his era and watched, they considered him if not the best one of the top two or three that ever did this.”

That’s what Kyle Petty remembers about Pearson.

Petty said during a stop on the Kyle Petty Charity Ride in Lake Charles, La., years ago, Pearson was on the ride with them.

“My dad just told a story about Harry (Gant) and my next question is who is the best driver you ever raced against,” Kyle Petty said. “My dad said I would have to say my dad, I would have to say Lee Petty but I’m going to have to say David Pearson. David Pearson is probably the greatest race car driver that I raced against and I admired what he did.

“And so I said, David, what’s your answer. (He said) I’d just about have to agree with Richard.”

During his 2011 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony speech, Pearson thanked Richard Petty. “I want to thank Richard Petty, too. He’s probably the one that made me win as many as I did. I’d run hard because he’d make me run hard. … I’ve had more fun running with him than anybody I’ve ever run with.”

Richard Petty and Pearson engaged in one of the sport’s greatest finishes in the 1976 Daytona 500 when they crashed coming to the checkered flag. Pearson prevailed for his only Daytona 500 triumph.

Richard Petty issued a statement Monday night:

“I have always been asked who my toughest competitor in my career was. The answer has always been David Pearson. David and I raced together throughout our careers and battled each other for wins – most of the time finishing first or second to each other.

“It wasn’t a rivalry, but more mutual respect. David is a Hall of Fame driver who made me better. He pushed me just as much as I pushed him on the track. We both became better for it.

“We have always been close to the Pearson family because they were in the racing business, just like us. We stayed close, and I enjoyed visits to see David when going through South Carolina. We will miss those trips.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Pearson family and friends.”

Darlington Raceway also issued a statement Monday night. The track was the site of many special moments for Pearson. He won there a track-record 10 times.

“Darlington Raceway expresses its deepest condolences and sympathies to the family and friends of David Pearson. His record 10 wins at Darlington Raceway put him in a league of his own. His fierce competitiveness and passion for the sport endeared him to the NASCAR faithful. His Hall of Fame career will go down as one of the most prolific in the history of the sport. A native South Carolinian, he was a wonderful ambassador for our sport and for the Palmetto State. He will be missed and will always be remembered.”

Jim France, interim NASCAR Chairman and CEO, issued a statement on Pearson’s passing:

“David Pearson’s 105 NASCAR premier series victories and his classic rivalry in the 1960s and ’70s with Richard Petty helped set the stage for NASCAR’s transformation into a mainstream sport with national appeal. When he retired, he had three championships – and millions of fans. Petty called him the greatest driver he ever raced against. We were lucky to be able to call him one of our champions.

“The man they called the ‘Silver Fox’ was the gold standard for NASCAR excellence.

“On behalf of the France Family and everyone at NASCAR, I want to offer sincere condolences to the family and friends of David Pearson, a true giant of our sport.”

 

Friday 5: Questions about size of future Hall of Fame classes

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After NASCAR celebrates the ninth Hall of Fame class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), questions may soon arise about how many inductees should be honored annually.

NASCAR inducts five people each year. When NASCAR announced eligibility changes in 2013, a former series executive said that the sanctioning body would “give strong consideration” to if five people should be inducted each year and if there should be a veteran’s committee “after the 10th class is seated.’’

The 10th class — which Jeff Gordon will be eligible for and expected to headline— will be selected later this year and honored in 2019. That gives NASCAR a year to determine what changes to make if officials follow the schedule mentioned in 2013. NASCAR has discussed different scenarios as part of its examination of the Hall of Fame.

Among the questions NASCAR could face is should no more than three people be inducted a year? Should only nominees who receive a specific percentage of the vote be inducted? Should other methods be considered in determining who enters the Hall? 

Only one of the last five classes had all five inductees selected on at least 50 percent of the ballots. Five people in the last three classes each received less than 50 percent of the vote.

The challenge is that if NASCAR reduced the number of people inducted after the Class of 2019, it could create a logjam in the coming years.

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (provided Edwards does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2020.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth (provided Kenseth does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2021.

Stewart would appear to be a lock for his year and it seems likely Earnhardt would make it as well his first year.

If the Hall of Fame classes were cut to three a year, and Stewart, Earnhardt and Kenseth each were selected in those two years, that would leave three spots during that time for others.

The nominees for this year’s class included former champions Bobby Labonte and Alan Kulwicki, crew chief Harry Hyde (56 wins, 88 poles) and Waddell Wilson (22 wins, 32 poles), car owners Roger Penske, Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs and Cup drivers Buddy Baker, Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd.

A 2019 Class that might feature Jeff Gordon, Harry Hyde, Buddy Baker and two others would still leave some worthy candidates who might not make it for a couple of years if the number of inductees is reduced.

Of course, there are those who haven’t been nominated that some would suggest should be, including Smokey Yunick, Humpy Wheeler, Buddy Parrott, Kirk Shelmerdine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant and Tim Richmond. That could further jumble who makes it if the number of inductees is reduced.

Those are just some of the issues NASCAR could face as it examines if any changes need to be made.

2. Hall of Fame Classes and vote totals

Note: NASCAR did not release vote totals for the inaugural class (2010 with Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr., and Bill France Jr.). Below are the other classes with the percent of ballots each inductee was on:

2018 Class

Robert Yates (94 percent)

Red Byron (74 percent)

Ray Evernham (52 percent)

Ken Squier (40 percent)

Ron Hornaday Jr. (38 percent)

2017 Class

Benny Parsons (85 percent)

Rick Hendrick (62 percent)

Mark Martin (57 percent)

Raymond Parks (53 percent)

Richard Childress (43 percent)

2016 Class

Bruton Smith (68 percent)

Terry Labonte (61 percent)

Curtis Turner (60 percent)

Jerry Cook (47 percent)

Bobby Isaac (44 percent)

2015 Class

Bill Elliott (87 percent)

Wendell Scott (58 percent)

Joe Weatherly (53 percent)

Rex White (43 percent)

Fred Lorenzen (30 percent)

2014 Class

Tim Flock (76 percent)

Maurice Petty (67 percent)

Dale Jarrett (56 percent)

Jack Ingram (53 percent)

Fireball Roberts (51 percent)

2013 Class

Herb Thomas (57 percent)

Leonard Wood (57 percent)

Rusty Wallace (52 percent)

Cotten Owens (50 percent)

Buck Baker (39 percent)

2012 Class

Cale Yarborough (85 percent)

Darrell Waltrip (82 percent)

Dale Inman (78 percent)

Richie Evans (50 percent)

Glen Wood (44 percent)

2011 Class

David Pearson (94 percent)

Bobby Allison (62 percent)

Lee Petty (62 percent)

Ned Jarrett (58 percent)

Bud Moore (45 percent)

3. Charter Switcheroo

Five charters have changed hands since last season. One will be with its third different team in the three years of the charter system.

In 2016, Premium Motorsports leased its charter to HScott Motorsports so the No. 46 team of Michael Annett could use it.

The charter was returned after that season, and Premium Motorsports sold the charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car of Erik Jones for 2017.

With Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing not finding enough sponsorship to continue the team, the charter was sold to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 team of Chris Buescher for this season. (The No. 37 team had leased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing last year).

So that will make the third different team the charter, which originally belonged to Premium Motorsports, has been with since the system was created.

4. Dodge and NASCAR?

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne excited fans when he said in Dec. 2016 about Dodge that “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.’’

One report last year stated that Dodge decided not to return to NASCAR, and another countered that report.

While questions remain on if Dodge will return to NASCAR, Marchionne announced this week at the Detroit Auto Show that he’ll step down next year, and that Fiat Chrysler will release a business plan in June that will go through 2022. The company will announce a successor to Marchionne sometime after that.

Marchionne said, according to The Associated Press, that the U.S. tax cuts passed in December are worth $1 billion annually to Fiat Chrysler.

A Wall Street Journal story this week stated that Fiat Chrysler makes most of its profit from its Jeep and Ram brands, writing that those brands “have been on a roll as U.S. buyers shift to these kinds of light trucks and away from sedans, which is a segment the company has largely abandoned.’’

5. NMPA Hall of Fame

The National Motorsports Hall of Fame will induct four people into its Hall of Fame on Sunday night. Those four will be drivers Terry Labonte and Donnie Allison and crew chiefs Jake Elder and Buddy Parrott.

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