Bestselling sportswriter Golenbock (Amazin’, 2002, etc.) chronicles the terrible toll stock-car racing has taken on NASCAR legend Bobby Allison and those close to him.
Allison fought for every shred of respect he garnered on the Winston Cup circuit. He was a crack mechanic before he ever got behind the wheel of a race car, and no factory team would sponsor him as a driver until he proved himself by winning in the heaps he patched together himself. Allison and his Alabama Gang—brothers Eddie and Donnie, Neil Bonnet and Red Farmer—strutted their racing savvy on the southern speedways, but they were infuriated by racetrack officials’ habit of cutting slack for reigning champ Richard Petty. Allison conducted plenty of bitter feuds with fellow racers (not to mention his stormy ups and downs with wife Judy), but he had a singular rivalry with Petty: “They would race side by side, trading paint, gaining advantage . . . it was as close to motorized ballet as NASCAR ever presented.” But ballets don’t end with participants literally crashing and burning; car races sometimes do. Donnie Allison was nearly killed in 1981, and in 1988 Bobby sustained career-ending head injuries. During the long process of piecing himself together, he lost two sons: Clifford died while racing, and Davey, also a driver, was killed in a helicopter crash on the way to the track.
The Allison story, told with thrusting energy, even while tragedy after tragedy sucks the air out of the room.