Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bobby Allison, forgotten for a day

It was 1998, and I was in the Darlington Raceway infield when I ran into Bobby Allison. I'd talked to him many times, and he'd begun to remember me (despite his memory loss from a 1988 wreck at Pocono).

We wanted to talk, but it was way too hot outside, so we decided to go to the media center. I had a media pass, of course, but Bobby didn't. The young guard didn't recognize Bobby, naturally, and the legendary driver sighed. I smiled. It took some talking, and I think Bobby finally showed him something that let him in. Otherwise, we might have had to talk in that little area between the front door and the media center itself.

When we sat down to talk, I mentioned that to Allison and said, "That guy doesn't know the history of the sport." He sighed again. I asked, "Does that bother you?"

"No, people forget," he said. As for a sense of racing history, "It doesn't mean as much to him as it does to you and me."

We had a nice interview that day, and I think Dick Trickle edged Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Busch (now Xfinity) race. Bobby Allison and Dick Trickle ... now that's a pair.

Remembering Dale Earnhardt

Here's an excerpt from Angel in Black: Remembering Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

From Humpy Wheeler, then the president of Lowe's Motor Speedway (now Charlotte Motor Speedway):

"Behind that macho facade was a real sensitive individual who did a lot of things for a lot of people and didn't want any publicity in return. He was part of a very loving family and was truly an extraordinary human being. To think he is not around anymore is incomprehensible."

Coping with Earnhardt

Derrike Cope, who won the 1990 Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt blew a tire on the last lap, says he's glad Dale finally won NASCAR's biggest race in 1998:

(From Angel in Black: Remembering Dale Earnhardt Sr., page 160) In some respects, I felt tied to Earnhardt. Until his win (in 1998), I was one of the main obstacles between the Daytona 500 and him. It's almost to the point to where you feel bad that you won it, to some degree, just because he had done everything else in racing that he could possibly do.

Thank God he did win it, because to do what he had done and to get killed in the fashion he did, it would really have been unfair. I'm just very appreciative that he won it.

More blog entries from this writer:
• Angel in Black: Remembering Dale Earnhardt Sr. (a book of great stories)
• Then Junior Said to Jeff... (the book of great NASCAR stories)

Earnhardt's intimidating visit...

Here's an excerpt from Angel In Black: Remembering Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

Jerry Gappens , the longtime publicist for Lowe's Motor Speedway, recalls track president Humpy Wheeler wanting to get Earnhardt for a couple of functions, but Earnhardt's schedule didn't permit it. Wheeler, who had a good relationship with Earnhardt, was a little upset, and that got back to Dale. That's when Gappens got an intimidating visit.

This is the most I've ever been intimidated by Earnhardt: I was trying to hook up with him for a press conference and an autograph session for one of our big Auto Fairs. Typical bad luck: every time I wanted him to do something, he had a conflict and couldn't do it. I was working through his publicist and Don Hawk, his business manager at the time. Humpy wanted to know about Earnhardt, and I said, "He was busy and couldn't do it, blah, blah, blah." That kinda made Humpy mad.

Well, Earnhardt always comes here to get his tickets. He had a condo here, and Humpy would give him his tickets. Earnhardt'd make a tour through the speedway offices, say hi to people, pick up his tickets, sign stuff for employees. After I told Humpy about not being able to get Earnhardt over this three-month stretch, it made him mad. Dale had a lot of respect for Humpy; he and Humpy were very close. Humpy said, "I'll talk to him the next time I see him. He's not too big to help out."

I'm on the phone one afternoon, and the door was open. All of a sudden, Earnhardt walks through my door, followed closely by Don Hawk. Eanhardt stops, shuts the door, and locks it. I think, Oh, my goodness, this is big here. He's towering over my desk, so I say, "How are you doing?" He said, "I'm doing fine. I just want to find out what our problem is. I just went to Humpy's office, and I'm sideways with Humpy." That's exactly how he said it, "sideways with Humpy. He said. "I don't need to be sideways with Humpy. He mentioned some press stuff that didn't get done. I want to try to straighten it out."

I gave him the three situations we were talking about. He says, "Here we go: If you need a press conference, call J.R. Rhodes, my publicist. If you need an autograph, call Don Hawk. Hawk, give him your numbers." Hawk gave me his business number, his home phone number, his cell-hyone number. I had about six numbers for Don Hawk.

He said, "Jerry, all I ask is that you give me enough advance notice so I can get it on my schedule, because my schedule is cramped." I said, "I understand," and he said, "I don't need to be sideways with Humpy. This is my home track, and I don't want to be sideways with anybody here. I want to help out, just like I always have. We have an understanding. And I understand my role it that." So he says, "Are we square?" and I say, "Yes sir." And he reached over and pinched my nose, twisted my nose a little bit. If he liked people, he always pestered them a bit.

I'd just been put in charge of public relations. Eddie Gossage had just gone to Texas to be the general manager there, and I though, Here I have one of Winston Cup's best drivers in my office, and he's going to whip my butt right here. It was a real businesslike conversation, and he that me that real crappy Earnhardt-like grin. After it was over, he even asked me about my pictures of my kids, what they did, what they liked. He looked around the office because of the racing mementos.

After that, he always helped us out, but I understood where he got the name "the Intimidator."
More blog entries from this writer:
(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

More blog entries by Tom Gillispie

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie