How Bobby Allison’s Horrific 1987 Talladega Crash Led to the Birth of Restricted Plate Racing

  • Bill Elliott He raced at 212.809 mph in qualifying for the Winston 500 at Talladega in 1987.
  • Bobby Allison He qualified second at 211.797 mph and was running in the main draft on race day when his Buick went into a sudden 180-degree spin caused by a blown engine.
  • Reporters watched from the glass press box at the top of the runway and were horrified as Allison’s car sailed through the air.

    There was rarely a braver sponsor than Harold Kinder, on the day that Buick pulled off Bobby Allison at the turn three at Talladega and flew toward him at the start/finish line. He didn’t quite get to his knees, but Kinder knelt as low as he could in the Shepherd’s Nest, hung a caution flag and resolutely alerted drivers to what looked like the imminent.

    The year was 1987. Bill Elliott had raced a speed of 212.809 mph in qualifying for the Winston 500 on the 2.66-mile oval, a NASCAR record that still stands. Allison qualified second at 211.797 mph and was working on the main draft on race day when his Buick went into a sudden 180-degree spin caused by a blown engine and a cut right rear tire.

    1982 Daytona 500

    NASCAR official and affiliate Harold Kinder had a close call at Talladega in 1987.

    Robert AlexanderGetty Images

    It was already clear that 110-inch wheelbase cars could at once take off above 190 mph as evidenced by Cal YarboroughFour years earlier at the Airline Qualifying Course in Daytona.

    But this was something entirely different given the fastest draft speed at Talladega, averaging 208 mph on the day. Reporters watched from the glass press box at the top of the runway and were horrified as Allison’s car sailed through the air. Given the sight lines, the Miller High Life Buick looked as if it was going to clear the fence and land somewhere in the capacity crowd.

    Fortunately, the track curves between the triangle and the start/finish near Turn 1 and Allison’s car went relatively straight, landing her wheels over the fence and just shy of the kneeling Kinder, firmly holding on to the steady yellow at rest. A handle on the edge of the flag stand with its head down. The Buick crashed back onto the track and slid on its flat tires into the parking lot, where Allison quickly jumped out of his battered car. It wiped out about 100 feet of a fence, but only two other cars collided in the accident. Several fans were removed by stretcher from the track, but there were no reports of serious injuries.

    When asked later that day if the cars were going too fast at Talladega, Allison replied, “How fast is too fast?” Allison’s son Davey also seemed to enjoy the high speeds, as the race was shortened by 10 laps due to the time it took to fix the fence and the light to fade.

    Bobby Allison's 1987 NASCAR Talladega wreck

    Bobby Allison’s #22 slides along the main road after being knocked out of the duel near the start/finish line at Talladega in 1987.

    single raceGetty Images

    The speeds reflect a new era of NASCAR aerodynamics and a lighter minimum weight of 3,500 pounds. Ron Poirier, general manager at Stavola Brothers, said the team did more aerodynamic testing than any other team. When asked about the work on the underside that might have released the Buick once it turned about 180 degrees, Poirier replied, “We have excellent aerodynamics in all classes as evidenced by the fact that we qualified second.”

    NASCAR officials saw more than enough as well as the France family, the owners of NASCAR and the Talladega track known at the time as Alabama International Motor Speedway. When the teams went to Daytona and back at Talladega that summer, the smaller Holly 390 carburetors were mandated at both tracks, followed by restrictor plates in 1988.

    The crash wasn’t the worst of his life, Allison said, citing a short-track accident in Elko, Minnesota, that broke 11 bones. But the following year, when his car flipped sideways at Pocono and was hit in the door, the resulting head injury nearly took his life and ended his career.

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