DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There's an old Army saying that only innocent recruits volunteer for anything.
Davey Allison has never been in service, so he didn't know the difference when he was a teen-ager and volunteered to help his dad in the garage. Or, when he got older, to volunteer to test a race car for a friend who was hurt.
The first time he volunteered, it changed him from the cleanup crew to a race mechanic. The second time changed him from a part-time race driver to a NASCAR Winston Cup competitor who would sit on the front row in his first two Daytona 500s.
When Davey's father, Bobby Allison, was attempting to campaign his own Matador on the NASCAR circuit in the late '70s, help was hard to find. The car performed so poorly and apparently was so difficult to work on that the elder Allison couldn't keep mechanics.
Davey was 16 at the time, and for four years his job had been to sort nuts and bolts, sweep the floor, clean the toilets, carry boxes and do other assorted handy work for 50 cents an hour.
"I was doing all the mechanical work myself, and it was killing me," Bobby said. "Davey volunteered to help, and I figured I might as well try him. By mid-summer, he could do a complete tear-down. I mean he could build an engine, put it on the dyno, prep it, test it, tear it down, put it back together, everything needed to get the car ready."
Davey even did more than his dad realized, he said recently.
"After everyone left the shop, I taught myself how to weld," Davey said. "Dad gave me a key to the shop, and after he closed it up, I would go back, pick up scrap metal and weld it together, practicing every night.
"The toughest part was making sure I knew where the settings were on the welder, so I could put it back so no one knew I had been messing with their equipment."
Davey was in high school in Hueytown, Ala., at the time, but all his thoughts were focused on racing.
"I don't remember ever thinking of anything else," Davey recalled. "I was intrigued by the idea of cars racing side by side, wheel to wheel.
"The only time I ever tried anything else was in the ninth grade when I went out for the football team. But the coach said I had to gain 40 pounds to play. He didn't want me on the team unless I weighed 130 pounds. I quit. I enjoyed sports but I only went out for football to pass time until I was old enough to go racing.
"I hated school. I never liked it, and I still don't, but one thing Dad insisted on was graduating from high school. He said he'd never let me race if I didn't graduate. I still have nightmares about taking tests. All the time I was in school, I felt like I was in prison."
Before he was old enough to race, even before he was old enough to go to school, Davey tagged along to races with his dad.
"I guess I was about 4 when I went to my first race. The whole family used to go, but after my brother (Clifford) was born, Mom began to stay home and I went alone with Dad. We'd get to a track, Dad would sit me up in the stands and tell me where to be, and I'd stay there. When the race was over, I'd run down to the pits, climb in the truck and go to sleep."
Later, when he was in high school, Davey got the job of driving the truck with the race car.
"A lot of my friends envied me because they thought it was so glamorous to go to the races with my dad, but it sure didn't seem glamorous to me. He was up in his airplane, and I was in the truck with the car. One year we logged 150,000 miles on one tow vehicle.
"Hueytown is pretty far to travel for Winston Cup races. Dad would give me a place and a time to be, and I'd better be there. There's nothing glamorous hauling a race car all night."
The day Davey turned 18, he showed up at Birmingham Speedway with a '72 Nova in tow, ready to race.
"Uncle Donnie had retired the Nova, and he said I could use it. I had to change it to fit the Birmingham rules, so Kenny (Donnie's 14-year-old son) and I stripped it down and got it ready in Dad's shop. He said I had to do it after hours. That meant I worked 8 to 5 on his car to get the privilege to use the shop. Kenny and I did all the work before 8 and after 5."
The first night Davey didn't run, but a week later he made his first start and finished fifth.
Bobby, who wasn't there, remembers the night:
"I was racing for Bud Moore that year, and I was in Martinsville. Naturally, I was anxious to know how he did so I called home. Bonnie (Davey's sister) answered the phone. She's Davey's biggest fan. She told he did great, that he started last and finished fifth. I asked her what happened and she said there were three cautions (for accidents), but he only caused two of them.
"He got hit hard a few times and had to do a lot of repair work. He did it himself, which is always a good lesson for a young man. You think twice about taking some chances when you realize you have to do the repair work yourself."