As NASCAR struggles with developing a concussion policy entering the 2013 season, one of its greatest drivers cannot remember one of his iconic victories.
The Sporting News reported legendary driver Bobby Allison still cannot remember his Daytona 500 victory over son Davey Allison 25 years ago this week. He became the oldest Daytona winner at age 50.
The elder Allison, now 75, can’t recall the race because of head injuries he suffered in a crash at Pocono Speedway four months after the Daytona victory. That was 13 years before Dale Earnhardt’s death, which spurred the mandatory use of head and neck restraints.
He can’t remember his son inching alongside him coming out of Turn Four on the last lap. He can’t remember beating his son off that final corner and then taking the checkered flag. He can’t remember his son pouring beer — Miller was Bobby’s sponsor — on him in victory lane.
First he lost the memory.
Then he lost the son.
Davey Allison died in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, 11 months after Allison’s other son, Clifford, died in a racecar crash at Michigan International Speedway.
Bobby’s concussion was severe. It caused long-term amnesia.
The Sporting News set up a viewing party with Bobby and, among others, his wife Judy. They have rarely seen the race, at least for Judy because it is tough to see son Davey alive. For Bobby the race turns the subject back to his own past.
The crash at Pocono nearly killed him. Doctors were surprised it didn’t. He had broken bones, internal injuries and severe head trauma. For years afterward, he struggled, physically and emotionally.
“I sat and cried. Like a 2-year-old. The world was really mixed up to me,” he says. “Early on, I was really mad that they let me live.”
Allison says a handful of close friends, several of them priests, helped him get through the tough times, which is not to say those tough times are over — or ever will be.
“I decided I would appreciate what I had and I wouldn’t grieve what I didn’t have,” he says.
That’s a continuing process, 25 years after the accident, 22 years after Clifford died and 21 years after Davey died. The accident ruined the family financially, and Bobby and Judy separated for four years before reuniting 12 years ago.
“I’ve seen a lot more tragedy and agony since I began recovering than I’ve had fun and games and success,” he says.
Bobby cannot remember much about the race until the end when he sees himself talking about Davey in a post-race interview
Even if Allison never regained memories of his racing career, if he got back in a racecar, he’d drive it the same way, because that is a procedural memory and would likely still be intact.
This is true, too: If Bobby Allison could not remember the deaths of his sons — if he could not remember that he had two sons — Klein’s research shows he would still describe himself as heartbroken.
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor