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Alabama Gang Has Lost Another : Auto racing: Tragic story of Allisons gets another chapter when Davey Allison, 32, dies after helicopter crash.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the second time in less than four months, NASCAR lost one of its most prominent drivers when Davey Allison died early Tuesday morning of injuries he had suffered in a helicopter crash Monday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway.

Allison never regained consciousness after the accident and was pronounced dead of massive head injuries at 7 a.m. CDT in the Carraway Methodist Medical Center at Birmingham, Ala.

Alan Kulwicki, who won the Winston Cup stock car championship last year after a tense battle with Allison and Bill Elliott, was killed April 1 when a small plane in which he was flying crashed in a field near Bristol, Tenn.

“We fly so much, between races, personal appearances and testing, that it’s a wonder it hasn’t happened before,” said one driver, asking that his name not be used. “After Alan died, some of the fellows were saying that the odds were going to catch up with some of the rest of us one of these days. We never thought it would happen this soon. And not to Davey.”

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Allison, 32, who had been flying airplanes for nearly 10 years and helicopters for a little more than a year, was trying to land in the infield at Talladega when the accident occurred. The only passenger was Red Farmer, a former racer and crew chief for Allison’s Busch Grand National team.

Farmer, who was hospitalized with broken ribs and collarbone, told the Birmingham News that he yelled at Allison, “Davey, let’s get out of here, the motor’s still running,” but Allison did not reply.

“Davey was hanging upside down, but I couldn’t undo his seat belts because he’d fall on me. I knocked the glass out and crawled out,” Farmer said.

Earlier reports indicated that Allison was trying to land when his rotor hit a fence, throwing the machine into the ground.

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However, Roff Sasser, a National Transportation Safety Board inspector, told the Associated Press a different story after investigating the crash. Sasser said there was no sign of mechanical failure and no indication that the chopper hit a fence before crashing.

After interviewing 10 people who witnessed all or part of the crash, Sasser said that Allison tried to land in a small, fence-enclosed parking lot directly behind the infield media center. The helicopter came within a foot of touching down when it suddenly shot back up 25 feet, began oscillating and then spinning before plummeting to the ground on its left side, where Allison was sitting.

Allison bought the helicopter three weeks ago, and a construction crew was at work on his Hueytown, Ala., property, installing a landing pad when the accident occurred.

“He loved to fly,” said H.A. (Humpy) Wheeler, president of Charlotte Motor Speedway and a close friend of the Allison family. “It was an addiction to Davey.”

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Condolences poured in to Hueytown, where Davey lived with his wife, Liz, and their two small children, and where Davey’s parents, Bobby and Judy Allison, live. His was the second violent death in the Allison family in less than a year.

Clifford Allison, Davey’s younger brother, was killed in a racing accident last July 19 at Michigan International Raceway.

“All of us at NASCAR are shocked and saddened at this tragedy,” said Bill France Jr., NASCAR president. “Davey Allison grew up in this sport and, from a small child into adulthood, dedicated his life to it.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to Liz and the children, to Bobby and Judy, and to the entire Allison family. We feel like we’ve lost a son and lost a brother ourselves. This is a tremendous loss, not only for motor sports but for everyone whose lives have been touched by Davey Allison.

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“He was a great driver. He was a great competitor. Still, I think he will be most remembered as a great husband, a great father and a great friend. We will all miss him greatly.”

Allison and Farmer had flown the 50 miles from Birmingham to watch a friend, David Bonnett, test a Busch Grand National car for a coming race at Talladega. The Bonnetts, with the Allisons and Farmer, formed “the Alabama Gang” in stock car racing.

Many stores in Hueytown displayed banners in tribute to Allison, among them, “We’ll Miss You Davey--No. 28,” and, “The Winner’s Circle of Peace Belongs to Davey.”

The deaths of Allison and Kulwicki were the latest in a series of fatalities involving racing personnel in aerial accidents.

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Kulwicki had been at an autograph session for his racing sponsor in Knoxville, Tenn., and was headed for a race at Bristol when he crashed several miles short of the airfield. Three others were killed in that accident.

On that same day, Chip Mead, a former Indy car and sports car driver from Saratoga, Calif., was killed, along with three passengers, when his rented light plane crashed near Livermore. Mead, 46, was an experienced flyer who owned a San Jose aircraft-sales firm.

Wilbur Shaw, three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was the first famous driver to lose his life in a plane. Shaw was killed Oct. 30, 1954, when a plane in which he was flying crashed during a snowstorm in a cornfield near Decatur, Ind. Shaw, who had been a pilot and flying instructor for 25 years, was a passenger at the time of the accident--one day before his 52nd birthday.

Curtis Turner, who built a reputation as a flying daredevil as well as one of stock car racing’s pioneer champions in the 1950s and early 1960s, was killed when his plane hit a mountainside in western Pennsylvania on Oct. 4, 1970. Tales of Turner’s flying beneath bridges, landing on city streets or golf courses and picking up friends in front of their houses were part or early stock car racing lore.

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Graham Hill, world Formula One champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, was killed only two months after retiring when he tried to land his plane on a London golf course in thick fog on Nov. 26, 1975. Killed along with him were Tony Brise, his Formula One protege and one of the most promising young drivers of the time, and four members of Hill’s crew.

Al Holbert, a three-time IMSA sports car champion and three-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, was killed Sept. 30, 1988, when his plane crashed shortly after takeoff near Columbus, Ohio. Holbert, who had been at a weekend sports car race, was headed back to his home in Warrington, Pa., where he was overseeing the Porsche Indy car program.

Eight officials of the United States Auto Club perished April 23, 1978, when their twin-engine plane crashed in a storm near Arlington, Ind. They were returning to their Indianapolis headquarters from a race in Trenton, N.J. Those killed included Ray Marquette, Frank DelRoy, Don Peabody, Stan Worley, Shim Malone, Dr. Bruce White, Ross Teeguarden and Judy Phillips.

Nearly every regular driver on the Winston Cup circuit flies by private aircraft, although only a few--notably Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd--are pilots.

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“Most of the guys fly in team planes, or have their own personal pilot for their plane,” said Tom Roberts, former business manager for Bobby Allison who now works with Wallace.

“Rusty (Wallace) and I often fly in choppers because it’s such a quick way out of a race track when it’s crowded. Rusty has his own planes, but 95% of the time he has another pilot with him, an experienced one.

“Davey is the only one I know who had his own chopper. David Pearson (former Winston Cup champion, now retired) pioneered the use of helicopters, but most of the guys stuck with small planes.”

Two of Davey Allison’s biggest disappointments were losing the 1988 Daytona 500 to his father and losing the Winston Cup championship last year to Kulwicki after having led the standings going into the final race.

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“Davey was very philosophical and very compassionate about both losses,” recalled Ty Norris, Winston Cup representative for NASCAR. “He told me that he wanted to win Daytona that day as bad as anything he had ever wanted, but later, after Bobby was hurt at Pocono, he said maybe it was for the best that his father had won--that it was supposed to be, that he should win before having his career end. He said he’d have plenty of chances to win for himself.”

The elder Allison suffered massive head injuries in a crash that ended his competitive career in July 1988. He has returned as a car owner.

Davey Allison fulfilled his prophecy when he won the Daytona 500 in 1992.

“Then last year, after he lost to Kulwicki, he said it was a devastating feeling,” Norris added. “But later, after Alan was killed, he said the same thing he had said about Bobby--that maybe it was for the best. He told me, ‘I wouldn’t change a thing. This way, Alan went out a champion, and I have plenty of years ahead of me.’ ”

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Davey Allison’s NASCAR Career

Highlights of the NASCAR career of driver Davey Allison, who died Tuesday from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash at the Talladega Superspeedway on Monday: 1993 NASCAR ranking: Fifth. Top Winston Cup seasons: Third, 1991 and 1992 Car: Ford Thunderbird owned by Robert Yates. Winston Cup debut: Talladega, 1985. First victory: Winston 500, Talladega, 1987. Career victories: 19 in 191 starts, including 1992 Daytona 500, three Winston 500s and 1991 Coca-Cola 600. Earnings: $6,726,974, 10th all-time. Best year: 1992, tied career-high by winning five races and earned a career-best $1,955,628. 1993 victories: Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond. Most recent finish: Third, July 11, Slick 50 300 in Loudon, N.H. Rookie of the year: 1987, won two races and became first rookie to sit on front row at Daytona 500 with lap faster than 209 m.p.h.

Aircraft Crash Deaths

A list of athletes, coaches and officials who died in aircraft crashes: Oct. 18, 1925--Marvin Goodwin, Cincinnati Red pitcher, in Houston. March 31, 1931--Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne in Kansas. May 4, 1949--22 members of Torino, the Italian soccer champions, in Turin, Italy. Oct. 27, 1949--Marcel Cerdan former world middleweight champion en route to fight Jake LaMotta in Spain. July 1, 1954--John McBride, Alabama halfback, killed in ROTC training flight in Texas. Oct. 30, 1954--Wilbur Shaw, President of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in Decatur, Ind. Sept. 20, 1956--Tom Gastall, Baltimore Oriole catcher, in Maryland. Nov. 27, 1956--Charlie Peete, St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, in Venezuela. Feb. 6, 1958--Eight members of the English soccer champion Manchester United, in Munich. Aug. 14, 1958--Six members of the Egyptian fencing team, in the Atlantic Ocean. Oct., 1958--Philip Scrutton, British Walker Cup golfer. Dec. 14, 1958--Blaine Staats, a sophomore tackle for West Virginia, in Waynesburg, Pa. April 29, 1959--Joaquin Blume, Spain’s European gymnastics champion, in Madrid. Oct. 10, 1960--16 members of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo football team, in Toledo, Ohio. Feb. 16, 1961--18 members of the U.S. figure skating team, in Belgium. April 3, 1961--Green Cross, a first-division Chilean soccer team, in the Las Lastimas Mountains. March 1, 1962--Johnny Dieckman, world fly-casting champion, in Chicago. April 12, 1962--Roon Flockhart, Scottish racing driver, in Melbourne. Feb. 15, 1964--Ken Hubbs, 22, Chicago Cub second baseman, in Utah. July 24, 1966--Tony Lema, 1964 British Open champion, in Munster, Ind. April 28, 1968--Six members of the Lamar Tech track team, in Beaumont, Texas. Aug. 31, 1969--Rocky Marciano, retired undefeated heavyweight champion, in Newton, Iowa. Sept. 26, 1969--25 members of Bolivian soccer team “The Strongest,” in the Andes. Oct. 2, 1970--14 Wichita State football players, in Colorado. Nov. 14, 1970--37 Marshall University football players, in Huntington, W.Va. Nov. 13, 1971--Bill Hannah, Dallas Moon and Joe O’Hara, Cal State Fullerton assistant football coaches, near Santa Barbara. Oct. 11, 1972--30 members of a Uruguayan rugby club, in Chile. Dec. 31, 1972--Roberto Clemente, Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder, from San Juan, Puerto Rico en route to Nicaragua to aid earthquake victims. June 24, 1975--Wendell Ladner, New York Nets forward, in New York. Dec. 13, 1977--14 University of Evansville basketball players and coach Bobby Watson in Evansville, Ind. Aug. 2, 1979--Thurman Munson, New York Yankee catcher, in Canton, Ohio. March 14, 1980--14 members of the U.S. amateur boxing team in Warsaw, Poland. Aug. 16, 1987--Phoenix Suns center Nick Vanos in Romulus, Mich. Dec. 8, 1987--17 players of the Alianza Peruvian first-division soccer team in Lima, Peru. July 19, 1989--Jay Ramsdell, Continental Basketball Assn. commissioner, in Sioux City, Iowa. April 1, 1993--Alan Kulwicki, NASCAR’s 1992 champion, in Blountville, Tenn. April 28, 1993--18 players and five team officials of Zambia’s national soccer team in Libreville, Gabon. July 13, 1993--NASCAR driver Davey Allison in Birmingham, Ala., the day after a helicopter he was piloting crashed on the infield at Talladega Superspeedway.

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