NASCAR legends Bobby and Donnie Allison visit Joliet's Race Fan Rally ahead of the annual race
Last updated 10/7/2019 at 1:53pm
While several thousand people filled the streets surrounding the Rialto Square Theater in downtown Joliet for the 18th annual Race Fan Rally ahead of the yearly NASCAR weekend, there were two men whose credentials outweighed anyone else there.
Brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison, a pair of NASCAR legends, made a repeat appearance to the rally to sign autographs, take pictures with fans and participate in an on-stage question and answer session with WJOL’s Mike Guglielmucci.
Outside of being known for their superb driving skills and for being two-thirds of racing’s ‘Alabama Gang,’ the Allison’s were part of an event that put NASCAR on the map.
At the end of the 1979 Daytona 500, the first live televised NASCAR race, Donnie was involved in a final-lap crash with Cale Yarborough.
Donnie was leading the race on the final and as Yarborough attempted his signature slingshot pass at the end of the backstretch, Allison attempted to block him but Yarborough refused to give ground. As he pulled alongside Allison, his left side tires left the pavement and went into the wet and muddy infield grass.
Yarborough lost control, hit Donnie’s car and as the two battled for position and control, they crashed into the outside wall in turn three.
The two argued and after it appeared they had settled it, brother Bobby Allison, who was lapped at that point, pulled over and began to defend his brother, resulting in a fist-fight that kept fans coming back for more – ultimately launching the sport into the mainstream.
As Bobby told fans during the on-stage event, “Cale kept beating his face on my fist, and that’s my story.”
Other than the fight, one thing Donnie, now 78-years-old, remembers of the day was that he was leading the race and had a chance to win the Daytona 500, a race he joked with fans that he has not won — yet.
Bobby did win at Daytona three times and officially posted 84 career Cup wins – tied for fourth all-time with Darrell Waltrip.
The racing legends have enjoyed their trips to Joliet.
“We have enjoyed it every time we have been here and I ran some of the short tracks in the area,” said Bobby, now 80 years-old. “I never got to run Chicagoland, but I know I would have liked it. “We have enjoyed our careers. He and I have done a lot of things along the way and helped people and given them a hand if they needed. It has been special to do it with my brother.”
If it is up to the brothers, they may not be done attending events in Joliet.
“I enjoy this a whole lot,” Donnie said of Race Fan Rally. “It is very well organized and a lot of great people and I will definitely be back if I’m asked.
“We never get tired of meeting the fans. This never gets old. This is why we raced as hard as we raced all of our lives – because of fans like this and we are still 100 percent racers. We don’t get rich off this, but we have a chance to sell some memorabilia to the fans and let them have a part of what was so special to us.”
Something else that is special for the Allison family this year was the announcement that Davey Allison, Bobby’s eldest son, will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2019.
He will be joined by Jeff Gordon, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Jack Roush in the 10th class of the Hall of Fame.
Davey competed in NASCAR from 1985 to 1993 when he lost his life in a helicopter crash at the age of 32.
Davey earned a pair of wins, five poles and nine top-five finishes in his first full-season and was named 1987 premier series rookie of the year. He won 19 races and 14 poles, including the 1992 Daytona 500, before his tragic death.
Davey finished second to his father in the 1988 Daytona 500, as the pair became the first and only father-son duo to finish 1-2 in the ‘Great American Race.’
Davey joins his father in the Hall of Fame, as Bobby was inducted in the second class in 2011.
“He had a great career even though it was cut short,” Bobby said. “I am very proud and now we have to get (Donnie) in next year.”