The Daytona 500 is regarded as the most important and prestigious race on the NASCAR calendar and no driver has more history at Daytona than Robert Arthur Allison.
Born in Miami, Florida, on this date in 1937, Bobby was one of thirteen children born to Edmund and Katherine Allison. He entered his first race as a 17 year old senior at Miami’s Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame High School, needing a signed permission slip from his parents in order to race. Bobby’s brother, Donnie, is two years younger than Bobby. The two began racing on tracks in South Florida, including the now-defunct Hialeah and Hollywood Speedways. After graduating high school in 1955, Bobby Alison worked for Mercury Outboard Motors in Wisconsin for a year before returning to Miami in 1956. Three years later, the Alison brothers were joined by family friend Red Farmer and moved to Hueytown, Alabama, near Birmingham, to pursue racing on the small dirt tracks of central Alabama. The trio called themselves the “Alabama Gang” and found immediate success, with Bobby Allison becoming a known driver who would go on to win the national championship in the modified special division in 1962.
Allison moved full-time to the Grand National [now Sprint Cup] circuit in 1965 and earned his first victory at Oxford Plains Speedway on July 12, 1966—the first of three wins he would enjoy that season. The following year, he would win six races and finish fourth in the Grand National points standings. In 1972, Allison won ten races and took 11 poles, including a record five straight, in route to being named national Driver of the Year. He won his first Daytona 500 in 1978 and took the checkered flag at the Firecracker 400 later that season, becoming the fourth driver ever to win both races at Daytona in the same year. In 1979, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarbrough got into a fight on the track following the Daytona 500 after Yarbrough had collided with Donnie Allison on the last lap, knocking both cars out of the race. Bobby Allison intervened and famously exchanged blows with Yarbrough—putting NASCAR onto the front page of the New York Times and into the national spotlight. Bobby Allison won eight races in 1982, including his second win at Daytona, and finished the season in second place. The following season, he won the only Winston Cup title of his career. Following several horrific crashes in 1987, NASCAR mandated restrictor plates at Daytona and Talledega to keep speeds under 200 miles per hour as a safety measure. In February of 1988, Bobby Allison won the Daytona 500 by a car length over his son Davey to become the first driver to win that storied race both with and without restrictor plates. Bobby and Davey Allison are the only one-two father/son finish in the Daytona 500 and, at 50 years old, Bobby Allison is the oldest driver to win that event. Four months later, Bobby Allison was involved in a violent crash on the first lap of the Miller 500 at Pocono Raceway and nearly died, sustaining significant brain injuries that forced his retirement as a NASCAR driver.
Bobby Allison won 84 Cup Series races, tying him with Darrell Waltrip for fourth place on the all-time wins list. He started 718 races in his 25 year career and finished in the top ten in points 18 times. Allison was voted Winston Cup Series Most Popular Driver seven times and was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998. He is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and both International and Motorsports Halls of Fame. Allison raced on the NASCAR Grand National East Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and twice competed in the Indianapolis 500. He had two sons that were drivers, both of whom were killed in tragic accidents within one year of each other in the early 1990’s.