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Retro Racing: Allison pulls amazing comeback in 1987 Firecracker

July 01, 2011, Mark Aumann,

Charges from lap down, passes 11 cars in final four laps for 1987 Firecracker win

There was a point during the closing laps of the 1987 Pepsi Firecracker 400 when Bobby Allison might have been the only person at Daytona International Speedway who knew he was leading the race.

Allison's No. 22 didn't show up on the scoring pylon, which meant most of the 68,000 in attendance had no idea he had made up the lap he had lost earlier in the day. That included announcers for both the radio and tape-delayed television broadcasts; second place Buddy Baker, who passed Ken Schrader on the final lap; and Schrader, who finished seventh despite crossing the finish line on his roof.

Bobby Allison celebrates his victory in the 1987 Pepsi Firecracker 400. (Racing Photo Archives/Getty)


1987 Pepsi Firecracker 400
2. Buddy Baker Oldsmobile
3.Dave Marcis Chevrolet
4. Darrell Waltrip Chevrolet
5. Morgan Shepherd Buick

"I thought I had won," Baker said. "I didn't know [Allison] had unlapped himself."

Allison might not have had the opportunity to add to the confusion, if not for a crash with eight laps remaining involving Rick Wilson, who was running second at the time behind Dave Marcis.

"I felt without that caution we didn't have much of a chance," Allison said. "I just sat there and prayed for a caution. I didn't want anybody to have any hard luck or anything like that, but we've had enough this year and I knew we needed a yellow."

That not only allowed Allison to close the gap between himself and the rest of the lead-lap cars, but he was able to duck onto pit road for four fresh tires, a decision that ultimately led to him picking off 11 cars over a four-lap trophy dash.

But not everyone was clear what exactly was happening on the track, as NASCAR timing and scoring -- in an era before electronic transponders -- was still trying to reconcile Allison's status.

Blame that on an early race incident stemming from Sterling Marlin's decision to exit pit road at speed, and right into the middle of the lead pack. Marlin bumped Cale Yarborough, who in turn, made contact with Allison.

"Sterling was totally out of control and forced me up to within a fraction of an inch of whoever was beside me," Allison said. "When I lifted off the throttle, Cale didn't expect it and hit me in the left rear. It looked like certain disaster."

The damage was severe enough to force Allison into the pits for extended repairs to the left-rear fender. But it also gave the crew time to work on the chassis. And when Allison returned to the track, he was fast enough to make up an entire lap under green, getting past Marcis just a few laps before Wilson's crash.

When the race restarted, Marcis jumped out to a big advantage and seemed destined to record his sixth Cup win. But Schrader and Baker hooked up in the draft and ran down the leader with two laps remaining. At that point, Darrell Waltrip was fourth and Allison fifth.

"I made some hellacious moves to get where I got," Baker said.

Schrader went below Marcis in the tri-oval and they ran side-by-side all the way back to Turn 3, where Allison caught them both, passing Schrader just as he passed Marcis. But Keith Jackson, handling the broadcast for ABC, wasn't certain it was for the lead because of the timing and scoring issue.

"Check it and see if Allison is a lap down," Jackson said. "I thought he unwound himself earlier. He is still a lap down. He is now back on the lead lap. He did not show up on the board."

As his lead continued to increase, Allison took the white flag. And when he reached the backstretch, Jackson announced to the audience that the pylon finally had Allison posted as the leader, which was a relief to the man behind the wheel of the red and white Buick.

Baker eventually got past Schrader for second, and then Schrader lost control and flipped just as the lead pack headed into the tri-oval. His car landed on its wheels and he eventually climbed from the car, unhurt.

"I didn't even lift off the accelerator when I was upside down," Schrader said.

It was the first superspeedway race with smaller carburetors, mandated by NASCAR after Allison's car, traveling at speeds in excess of 200 mph, tore down a large section of catchfencing and nearly went into the grandstands at Talladega two months earlier.

"These smaller carburetors might not be such a bad deal," Baker said. "We haven't run this close in a long time. It was a great race."

It dropped the race speeds by nearly 10 mph and made for a very competitive race, with 24 changes for the lead. But proving that it's most important to save the best for last, Allison only led once for two laps -- the final two.