RIVERSIDE — Bobby Allison has been coming out to Riverside International Raceway once or twice a year since 1965 to drive Winston Cup stock cars around the 2.62-mile road course.
During that period, he has run 41 races here and won six, more than any other driver. Dan Gurney, Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip have won five each, but when Allison won the Winston Western 500 in 1981, he moved ahead of the pack.
Those six are part of the 83 he has won to share third position with Cale Yarborough among all-time NASCAR winners. But they don't include the 617 other times he has taken the checkered flag in almost every imaginable type of stock car race.
With the Riverside track expected to close some time next year as housing developments close in about it, Allison took a few nostalgic moments away from practice for today's 27th annual Winston Western 500 to talk about how the twists and turns of Riverside have twisted and turned his legendary career.
"I'm going to miss it, I know that," he said. "I've had a lot of good times here, and some not so good, too.
"When I first started coming out here, there weren't any driving schools to learn how to run on a road course. We had to learn from trial and error and for a while it was mostly error."
Until last year, when Watkins Glen, N.Y., was added to the NASCAR schedule, Riverside was the only road course--the only place where drivers had to make right-hand turns as well as left.
"My first win here was in the June race in '71 and it was a pretty big thrill for me just to finish," he said. "The hardest thing we had to learn was not to over-rev the engines. We'd miss a shift and tear up the transmission and we'd never finish.
"When I conquered that, and drove a whole race without tearing anything up, I won the race."
Today, in the 28th race of the 29-race season, Allison will start in the sixth row with a qualifying speed of 115.540 m.p.h. in the Stavola Brothers' Buick.
Starting on the pole will be Geoff Bodine, the 1984 race winner, who drove his Chevrolet a lap at 117.934 m.p.h. With Bodine on the front row will be Ricky Rudd, the 1985 winner, who did 117.696 in a Ford Thunderbird.
Allison, who will be 50 Dec. 3, has always had a remarkable faculty for recovering from severe injuries or spectacular accidents, such as the Winston 500 last May at Talladega, Ala. That was the race in which his car became airborne, tore out more than 100 feet of protective fencing and ending up spinning down the track like a whirling dervish.
"That might have looked exciting, but for hurt, it didn't compare to the hit I got here during an IROC (International Race of Champions) in 1974," Allison said.
That was the weekend his back was broken in a crash with Bobby Unser in a pair of Camaros on Saturday. He came back on Sunday to win the main event.
Allison recalled the incident:
"They took me to a hospital in Riverside and took my clothes away and gave me one of those front-side only smocks. They took some X-rays and put me in a room and told me to wait for the doctor.
"It hurt more when I laid down so I sat up. About two hours later, I was still waiting when some friends from back home came to see how I was.
"I told them if I had my clothes, I'd leave. I was tired of waiting. They told me the clothes were out in the hall, so they got them for me and I got dressed and left. I guess it was about 5 o'clock then.
"About an hour later, I was back in my motel room and the doctor called.
" 'Where are you?' he said. I told him he ought to know because he'd called me.
"He said to get on back to the hospital, that the X-rays showed I had a broken back and he hadn't released me.
"I told him, 'You had me and you lost me and I ain't coming back.'
"The doctor said it would take about 30 days to heal, that I'd better take it easy.
"All afternoon it had been eating on my mind that if I made it back to the track the next day, I'd get the black car for Sunday's race. In those days the cars weren't really equal and we all knew the black one was the best. And being I was the first one out Saturday, I'd get to start on the pole Sunday.
"I was hurtin' pretty good but I couldn't pass it up. I showed up the next day and won, wire to wire.
"It was hurtin' so bad that I couldn't fly home for four or five days, but it would have hurt a whole lot more if I hadn't won the race."
That was considerably better, Allison said, than what happened the previous year, when they ran Porsches in the first IROC.
"When I got invited, I went out and bought a Porsche 911 so I could get accustomed to driving it on the roads back home," he said. "When we got to Riverside I felt I was ready and during practice the only one quicker was Mark Donohue, and he was the guy who set the cars up.
"We drew for cars and when I went down pit road to qualify, mine started missing. I came in and told the mechanics what was wrong, that it wouldn't shift properly.