No Strangers To Tragedy
Tragedy ran in the Allison family. In 1988, Bobby Allison nearly was killed when his car crashed at Pocono, Pennsylvania. He suffered permanent damage to his memory and his balance, and had to stop racing, although he stayed in the sport as an owner. At the time of his death, Davey Allison had only recently returned to racing as a driver, having suffered a concussion and broken an arm and ribs a year earlier, also in Pocono. Almost a year before Allison's helicopter crash, his younger brother, racer Clifford Allison, then 27, died in a car crash during practice in Brooklyn, Michigan. And Donnie Allison, Davey's uncle, was in a life-threatening crash in 1981 that ended his career.
Allison had purchased the ill-fated helicopter less than a month before he died. If there was one passion he had besides auto racing, it was flying airplanes. He obtained his private pilot's license in 1987, and subsequently received night and instrument ratings. He became certified to fly helicopters in 1992.
It was not unusual for a stock-car driver to also be a private pilot. As Darrell Waltrip, a star driver explained to USA Today's Dick Patrick, "We have a lot of places to go, and we try to make it easy as we can. It's just a way of life. It's part of our business."
At the time of the crash, Allison was headed from his home in Hueytown, Alabama to the Talladega Super-speedway, to watch driving friend David Bonnett practice. Bonnet, along with his father Neil Bonnett and Allison himself, were all part of a tight-knit racing cadre led by Bobby Allison and dubbed the Alabama Gang.
Witnesses said Allison was guiding the aircraft in for a landing in a small parking lot adjacent to the speed-way. Only a foot off the ground, and seemingly about to touch down, the machine leapt back into the air, and 25 feet up, spun out of control. It crashed to the blacktop on its left side, where its full weight came down on Allison.
Fellow driver and longtime family friend Red Farmer, 60, was also on board. He suffered broken bones but survived the crash probably, he later told reporters, because his racing instincts kicked in and he braced himself just before impact. Allison was still wrestling with the controls as the helicopter went down.
Allison underwent surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, but to no avail. The official cause of death was acute subdural hematoma—severe bruising of the brain and the resulting swelling of the brain's delicate tissues.
Allison's father suffered the same injury in the auto accident that ended his career. After Bobby Allison's accident, he joined the board of directors of the National Head Injury Foundation. This nonprofit group's mission is to help victims of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the families of victims. After Allison's death, the National Head Injury Foundation established a fund in Allison's name to educate people about TBI.
Allison left behind his wife, Liz, their daughter Krista Marie, then 3 years old, and their son Robert Grey, who was 23 months old at the time of Allison's death, as well as his parents, Bobby and Judy, and two sisters.