News & Media


Menzer: Debut of Hall's multi-faceted exhibit tons of fun

January 14, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



Menzer: Debut of Hall's multi-faceted exhibit tons of fun
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Stories abound as five-part display honors those who left the sport too soon

If you haven't yet been able to make it to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, now there are several more legitimate reasons to make the trek.

And we're not just speaking of the smooth but perhaps overdue marketing decision to let folks in for free between the hours of 4-6 p.m. all this week. Although Hall officials deserve kudos for that idea of an "Open House" to encourage more locals to stop by and give it a try, the series of new exhibits unveiled last Saturday at the facility guarantee that even those willing to pay full admission price are going to be getting more than their money's worth.

Artifacts from the careers of car owners Carl Kiekhaefer and Bondy  Long are on display.

The Hall announced last week that it would be unveiling a new exhibit on Saturday. But it actually turned out to be five new exhibits in one, and the method used to unveil it/them served as yet another reminder of what makes NASCAR so unique.

At the end of the day, this is a sit-on-your-stoop, story-telling sport. No venue tells more of the sport's stories better than the Hall of Fame, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that there was some yarn-spinning going on throughout Saturday's unveiling.

The new exhibition that will be on display in the Great Hall -- the large, open area on the first floor of the Hall of Fame -- is being called, "Short Careers, Lasting Legacy." It will remain on display through June and actually consists of five separate exhibits: Davey Allison's 1993 No. 28 Texaco Thunderbird and 1992 Daytona 500 winner's trophy; a case displaying artifacts related to former car owners Carl Kiekhaefer and Bondy Long; Tim Richmond's 1987 No. 25 Folgers Monte Carlo and 1986 Miller High Life 500 winner's trophy; a case featuring Myers brothers Billy and Bobby and the winners of the Myers Brothers Trophy that was established in their honor; and Alan Kulwicki's 1992 No. 7 Hooters Thunderbird, along with Kulwicki's Winston Cup Series championship trophy and ring.

Why it's important

To understand why the exhibition is important, you have to understand that there are those who made their marks on NASCAR and then were snatched away from this life before they had the chance to develop the kinds of legacies that might have ensured enshrinement into the Hall of Fame in a more formal way later. There are so many others, such as in Kiekhaefer's case, who simply didn't stick around long enough of their own volition but certainly should be remembered for having an impact while they were on the scene. This is a classy way of honoring these kinds of folks, who otherwise would be at risk of being forgotten.

And when you roll out the old cars and the trophy cases full of cool artifacts, and you bring in cool folks like 2011 Hall inductee Bobby Allison to help unveil them in front of a crowd of not just media and NASCAR dignitaries but also a respectable gathering of fans, the stories are bound to follow.

They started flowing as soon as Winston Kelley, the Hall's executive director, asked Bobby about how he made son Davey work his way up to the driver's seat in his famous dad's race shop.

"I really thought it was important for him to start at the bottom, to learn the equipment and the people and to work his way up," Bobby Allison said. "I just was so pleased that he was so willing to do whatever."

To which Judy Allison, Bobby's wife and Davey's mother, interjected: "He started by sweeping the floors in the garage."

"Yeah," Bobby added, "and maybe, when I think about it, he wasn't really all that willing."

"He wasn't," Judy deadpanned, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Also on hand was Larry McReynolds, the television analyst who served as Davey Allison's crew chief back in the day. He weighed in with some stories of his own.

"Davey Allison actually made my job a lot easier, because he always knew what that race car was doing and he knew most of the time what it needed to get around the corners and go a lot faster," McReynolds said. "But what meant the most to me was that he was my absolute very best friend off the race track. He was my son Randy's godfather. We had [Davey's son] Robby and Randy baptized together at the Speedway Club [at Charlotte Motor Speedway].

"But Davey got it. He got it at a very early part of his career. And by that I mean that he understood that what he did on the race track was very important, but he also understood the importance of the race fan in our sport."

McReynolds then told about how in 1992, Allison broke some ribs during a race at Bristol early in the season. There was some speculation, at least amongst those who obviously did not know Davey very well, that he might not be able to drive the following weekend in North Wilkesboro.

""So I come across the wall and put the can down and I go straight up to my wife and I say, 'If this thing runs outta gas, you run to our truck and get it cranked up -- and I'll be right behind you. Because they're gonna kill me if I didn't get enough gas in there.' ""

--TONY GIBSON

"The next week, he was hurting so bad that we actually had to get Jimmy Hensley to practice the race car," McReynolds said. "But once Davey climbed in for the race, and Jimmy was standing by there in his uniform, I said, 'Buddy, you're wasting your time here today because he's not gonna get out of that race car.' "

And Allison didn't. Not only did he stay in the car all day, he actually won the race. Then he almost was too spent to get out of the car at the end.

"I remember in Victory Lane, he was hurting so bad that he had to sit there by the side of the race car before the photos and everything else," McReynolds said. "But when Victory Lane and everything else was over and we were in the garage area going through post-race inspection, Davey Allison was out on pit road sitting in the back of his pickup truck -- signing every autograph for every fan until the last fan was gone. That's the type of person Davey Allison was."

One more for the road

There were similar tales told at each of the five display sites, ending with Kelley and Hall historian Buz McKim talking with Tony Gibson and Paul Andrews in front of Kulwicki's car. Gibson, now crew chief for Ryan Newman's No. 39 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, worked in the shop and was on the pit crew for Kulwicki when he narrowly outdueled Davey Allison and others for the 1992 championship. Andrews, now general manager of Cunningham Motorsports, was Kulwicki's crew chief.

They joked about how particular Kulwicki was about his race car.

"I hung all the bodies on the car. ... He would always second-guess you. And even though in your heart you knew you were right, when he walked away you thought you were wrong," said Gibson, chuckling. "We went through that a lot. But he was a brilliant man and a great racer."

The race for the 1992 championship came down to the final pit stop of the last race, when Kulwicki had to come in to make certain he had enough gas to make it to the finish at Atlanta. Gibson was the gas man.

"Tony was just a nervous wreck, worrying about getting enough fuel in there," Andrews said.

Was he ever.

"I'll never forget, but my wife was seven or eight months pregnant at the time, and she was in the pits at that race," Gibson said. "I go across the wall and gas it and I get done -- and I was the only guy to go onto pit road, so I'm thinking, 'If I screw up, I'm done' -- but I come back and everyone else [on the team] is like, 'Did you get enough in? Did you get enough in?' And I was like, 'I don't know! I don't know!'

"So I come across the wall and put the can down and I go straight up to my wife and I say, 'If this thing runs outta gas, you run to our truck and get it cranked up -- and I'll be right behind you. Because they're gonna kill me if I didn't get enough gas in there.' "

He did indeed get enough gas in there. And the rest, as they say, is history. You can see it, feel it, even live it a little, every time you visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

That can hit different folks in different ways. As Judy Allison said of the new display honoring her son, "It tugs at the heart." That much was evident as she understandably dabbed back tears. But then she and her husband went on to say how proud they were to see their son honored in such a way that generations who maybe didn't even get to see him race would enjoy.

One other thing about wading in waist-deep on all this racing history at the hopping Hall: It's pretty darn fun.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.