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Memories of Daytona past with Earnhardt and Allison

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There’s no easier way to stir a few emotions or raise quite a few goosebumps than listening to stories of racing past.

When those telling the story have the last name Earnhardt or Allison, it becomes a little more special. Being Fourth of July weekend at the Daytona International Speedway, it was as if those in attendance had been transported back in time.

Thursday Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought forth memories of his childhood and youth. Daytona has long been apart of the Earnhardt family name, for both the good and the bad. When the son of NASCAR’s Intimidator comes back to the beach, the ever-constant eyes that follow him are honed in just that little bit more.

He’s the perennial favorite each and every weekend, Daytona making a case as the capital of Earnhardt country. And so as Earnhardt Jr. discussed what he needed to do in order to win at the speedway for the first time since 2004, it wasn’t long before he turned attention towards his father.

His favorite memory of the July classic and holiday weekend was back in the 90’s, Earnhardt Jr. revealed. He was watching the race from the pits and Greg Sacks was three-wide going through the tri-oval and bouncing off cars. He’s not sure who the other drivers were, trying to remember if one was a Petty car and the other Derrick Cope.

“It’s just a 22 car pile-up right there in front of the pits. And I’d never seen an accident, that large an accident, that close,” said Earnhardt Jr. “We were literally 30 yards away from that happening, so it was just really crazy to see that. I think Dad ended up winning that race.”

As he tells the story it appears Earnhardt Jr. is as caught in the moment as are those listening. He chuckles then when recalling an earlier time, when he and older sister Kelley were with stepmother Teresa, watching the race in the scoring tower near turn one. Earnhardt Sr. wasn’t in contention for the win and was running a lap down.

“We were leaving like 10 laps before the end because Dad’s real fast about getting out of the racetrack,” revealed Earnhardt Jr. “And so Teresa had me and Kelley and we were hustling out of there to get in the car or something and come over to the garage to be ready when Dad was.

“And just as we walked out the door, I turned to watch the cars go through the corner and dad blew a motor going into turn one and hit the wall and he was just sliding across the wall. I don’t know why that memory sticks out to me. But I was trying to get Teresa’s attention to tell her hat Dad was in the fence and she was like c’mon, c’mon, c’mon; I couldn’t get her attention to tell her what was going on.

“But I was the only one that saw it and for some reason that memory stands out to me.”

Since he’s become a NASCAR driver Earnhardt Jr. has made his own Daytona memories. Those as exciting and thrilling as when he watched his father sail around the speedway, including one moment in 2001, months after Dale Earnhardt’s death that captured the NASCAR nation. Earnhardt Jr. said on Thursday that night was “an incredible experience.”

Whether it’s coming through the tunnel or standing and admiring the banking that has delivered drama for more than 50 years, there’s just something about Daytona. Something about this place that have those who come here, not matter for the first or 50th time, with the same feeling each time.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison doesn’t argue. In fact, he admitted as much on Friday afternoon at the speedway where he served as the grand marshal for the Nationwide Series event, the Subway Firecracker 250.

“I had a lot of good races here, I won the July race three times. One of them I don’t remember at all because I still don’t remember any race from 1988. Period,” he said when asked about his favorite July memory at Daytona.

“They tell me I won Daytona that year, too. One year I was kind of behind and made it through a crash but haven’t really reviewed the Fourth of July stuff that much. Hard question for me to answer.”

As far as Allison is concerned, every event at Daytona has been a great one. He’s been coming here since 1961 and he calls it the world’s greatest speedway. When he found out Daytona was being built he was hauling his modified around the south and came to Daytona and walked up to see what it was going to look like.

He came back in 1960 with a modified, a Studebaker, and put a Chevrolet engine in it. Which was allowed at the time.

“That really didn’t work out too good, but at least I was here,” Allison said.

Allison noted that in one race he started and finished 39th, but he was still running and the pride was evident in his voice. Daytona became something that was looked forward to and his success started to grow as the seasons went on.

“In 1978 came here with Bud Moore and it rained on Thursday and we ran the qualifiers on Friday morning. Way late in the second qualifier, which I was leading, another guy got into me and I ended up really, really crashed bad,” he recalled.

“So, I went to the motel and I laid there and felt sorry for myself for about a day and a half. And I came back and Bud Moore had his guys working away and I got back here Saturday afternoon to tell Bud that I was going home and here was that car all patched up and fixed. So then to go on the next day and win that race was really, really big for me.”

As he tells his tales wife Judy is off to the side, fondly watching her husband. They both admit how much their enjoying their time at the speedway and Bobby has a gleam in his eye while talking to the media. But that doesn’t mean he’s holding back as he sets the record straight before having to end story time and head off to another obligation.

“It’s always a tough deal to win here at Daytona. No matter what happened last week or last month or last race or last year,” Allison said, on why no driver since him in 1982 has swept the DIS races and whether the restrictor plate plays a role.

“I never blamed the plate on my success or failure. The plate was one of the conditions that all the competitors were supposed to compete under. Now, that didn’t always happened, I feel NASCAR has gotten way, way better in that part of the deal. But there were days when I was one of the ones that had one when the people I was racing against didn’t have one at least exactly like mine.

“NASCAR straightened that out an awful lot and I did not feel and do not feel that was an advantage or disadvantage that was a condition. And I think it’s still a condition.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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