Part 2: On Bobby Allison
'I still have my same dad, but he is not the same person'
By Godwin Kelly
Three months after 50-year-old Bobby Allison won the 1988 Daytona 500, by fending off his son Davey to the finish line, his career ended in a split second at Pocono Raceway. On the first lap of the race, Allison had a tire going flat and radioed back to his team that he was heading back to the pits.
He never made it. The tire exploded.
Allison’s No. 22 Buick spun into the Turn 2 wall. The cars behind him dodged left and right, except for Jocko Maggiacomo, who could not see Allison because of the thick tire smoke.
Maggiacomo hit Allison’s stock car square on the passenger side door. The impact knocked both drivers unconscious.
Maggiacomo quickly awoke, was treated for a cut on his chin and released, while Pocono safety workers took nearly 30 minutes to get Allison out of his mangled machine.
Allison suffered numerous broken bones in addition to a tremendous jolt to his brain. He wasn’t expected to survive the night, but somehow held on.
“My father will tell you Bobby Allison died in that wreck,” said Bonnie Allison Farr, Allison’s daughter. “I will tell you Bobby Allison died in that wreck. I still have my same dad, but he is not the same person.”
Bobby Allison was rushed to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for treatment then spent more than two months at the medical facility.
“He was in Allentown for nine weeks and we were doing anything and everything we could to communicate,” Farr said.
“We would read the newspaper to him every day. We had to help him eat. We had to help him get out of the bed, which was tough because he had a broken leg.”
When his medical condition stabilized, Allison was moved to a rehab facility in Birmingham, Alabama, near his home in Hueytown.
Even after the move, Allison was in a state of semi consciousness with a medial eye condition (eyeballs deviate away from the nose), until one night when he “woke up” and thought he was being held captive.
Allison, tried to “escape” but landed on the floor and he crawled toward the door.
An attendant heard noise from the room and opened the door, striking Allison on the head.
“His eyes went the opposite direction (cross-eyed),” Farr said. “Daddy says it was still bad, but it got better than it had been before. It’s a funny to story to us but it wasn’t to him at the time.”
Twenty nine years later, the NASCAR Hall of Fame driver, who will turn 80 on Dec. 3, continues to struggle to lead a normal life.
“I’m doing pretty good, I think,” Bobby Allison said when he was in Daytona Beach this past summer. “I’m confident. I feel good. I’ve been busy with people having me do things. People are treating me good.”
But the unseen scars linger.
If Allison, who won the 1983 NASCAR Cup Series championship, turns his head or stands up too fast, it will bring on a dizzy spell. His daughter says he has severe mood shifts, which she attributes to Pseudobulbar affect, commonly referred to as PBA, although he has not been officially diagnosed with the condition.
“We got his brain scanned and they said they couldn’t find anything wrong,” Farr said. “They said all his blood flow through his brain was perfect.”
But some of the switches in his brain have been damaged or turn off, according to Farr.
“If he starts laughing, he can’t stop laughing,” she said. “If he starts crying, he can’t stop crying.
“It’s like any normal emotion is times 10 (worse) after a brain injury. He does have those (PBA) symptoms.”
Farr took on more responsibility for her father when her mother, Judy Allison, 74, died two years ago from complications of surgery.
“It’s still tough thinking about my loss,” Bobby Allison said.
The Allison family has endured much grief through the years.
Davey died in 1993 after crashing his helicopter at Talladega Superspeedway. His younger brother Clifford perished in a stock-car crash at Michigan in 1992.
So Farr keeps an eye on her father, who remains active in the sport as a spokesman and ambassador, but tussles with the aftereffects of that violent crash three decades ago.
“My mom was going to get him diagnosed (for PBA), but she passed away,” Farr said. “My daddy has never hardly taken medication his whole life. He doesn’t get sick normally.
“In the last few years he has, and start taking medication, and he doesn’t like it. Trying to convince him to go to the doctor to get medication for some of this stuff, would not go over well.”
Farr says her father has exceptional long memory recollections, except for isolated circumstances, such as the father-son Daytona 500 finish in 1988.
“I’m told I beat one of the finest young racers in NASCAR that day,” Bobby Allison said. “I can’t remember it happening to this day.”