News & Media

Retro: Allison beats the heat, field at Dover

May 13, 2011, Mark Aumann,

Bobby Allison wants to let you in on a little secret. You know that often-told story about him driving around Hueytown, Ala., with the windows up and the heater on in the middle of summer to simulate what it's like in a hot race car?

The 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee admits now it was mainly for show.

"I did do that, but let me bring that all the way up to speed," Allison said. "I did that more when somebody was riding with me than I did when I was riding by myself. I really got a kick out of making other people sweat.

"Dover was built by a man who became one of my best friends all the way to the day he died: Melvin Joseph. That made me appreciate the track maybe more than I would have under some other circumstances. "


"Of course, I would say, 'I'm in training, so if you want to ride with me, you've got to put up with the heat.' I actually would turn the heater on and everything. I did some cruel things. But it did help me. My endurance, especially at the hot places, was incredibly good all the way to the end of my career."

And one of the hottest races on the circuit back in the day was the June race at Dover Downs International Speedway. The track was originally asphalt and a 500-lap race would take nearly five hours to complete, which meant the Florida native was in his element.

"It was a place where the heat really got to the drivers a lot," Allison said. "And I really liked and gravitated toward the hot weather in my younger career. I came from South Florida originally and the warm weather was kind of normal for me.

"And I found out that it was an asset in racing, because when the temperature got up, when the weather got hot and it got hot inside the car, I could put up with it better than a lot of the guys could."

Allison won seven times at Dover, a mark he shares with Richard Petty, with the first one coming in the 1971 Mason-Dixon 500. That race came down to a four-car battle between Allison, Petty, Fred Lorenzen and Bobby Isaac. The lead swapped 22 times, mainly between Allison and Lorenzen over the second half of the race.

Allison finally cleared Lorenzen's STP-sponsored Plymouth for good on Lap 461 and eventually won by over a lap. Forty years later, he still swells with pride at that accomplishment.

"My very first win there, I dominated all day and won the race," Allison said. "It was in the Holman-Moody Mercury. Ralph Moody was the crew chief. It was one of those special days."

The track was special to Allison for another reason.

"Dover was built by a man who became one of my best friends all the way to the day he died: Melvin Joseph," Allison said. "That made me appreciate the track maybe more than I would have under some other circumstances. The idea that I was so successful there just was a bonus for our relationship and how I felt about it."

If not for a stripped thread on a lugnut when the series returned that fall, Allison could have added one more Dover win to his resume, and perhaps left Petty one victory shy of 200. Allison won the pole for the 1971 Delaware 500 and just like in the spring, had the dominant car. He led 394 laps -- including 250 in a row -- and built a two-lap lead over Petty. But on his final stop, the stripped lugnut forced a lengthy pit stop and he eventually wound up fourth as Petty took the checkered flag.

In addition to his seven wins, Allison had 18 top-five finishes at Dover, including four seconds, two thirds and five fourths.

There have been drivers feuding ever since NASCAR dropped the first green flag. Like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick at Darlington, Allison had his share of confrontations with the likes of Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip, but he doesn't remember holding a grudge for long. However, he definitely had a rival: Richard Petty.

"It went on and on and on," Allison said. "What we did, we made the fans stand up. And while they were standing, they'd say, 'Boy, I'd better go buy a ticket for next week, too.'

"I had a really intense rivalry, but I never felt any animosity about it. There were times when I left the race track annoyed and maybe with a torn-up car that I felt like shouldn't have been torn up, but it was always back to business the following week."

And just like the story about him driving with the windows rolled up, Allison wants to set the record straight on the King.

"I can say this now -- which I couldn't say during my career -- I actually admired Richard Petty," Allison said. "But I couldn't let him know that because to me, that made me surrender a little bit of competitiveness. So I couldn't let him know that I thought he was doing good."