Professional racing has changed significantly since the inception of “stock car” racing in 1948. Today, the cars are faster and more controlled than ever, but the time during the height of the horsepower wars will always hold a special place in our hearts when it comes to big league racing. We’re talking about the early ‘70s. A time when it didn’t matter if it was built for the street, strip, or track, the automakers were doing their best to make their cars faster than the competition.
When we think of the heyday of professional racing, we think of the early ‘70s. That’s when some of our favorite cars were tearing up the track. When we think of professional racing in the early ‘70s, we have to think of Bobby Allison. Imagine it’s 1972, and you’re watching Bobby Allison win at Atlanta – twice, Bristol – twice, Dover, Trenton, Nashville, Darlington, Charlotte, and Rockingham – all in the same year, driving the same 1972 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. In fact, out of the 31 races that year, Bobby Allison won 10 of them, more than any other driver that year.
I was enthusiastic, and I had a nice little shop in Alabama, where I had some success on my own. – Bobby Allison
Bobby Allison: The Beginning
Bobby Allison was a legend of his day, and was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011. In 1988, he won the Daytona 500, while his son, Davey, placed Second. Over the course of his career, he earned 84 Winston Cup victories. To this day, Bobby Allison remains the fastest-ever General Motors race qualifier, placing second-overall at 211.797 miles-per-hour. He did that back in 1987, at the Winston 500 in Talladega, Alabama.
His career didn’t have an easy beginning though, he wasn’t born into the kind of money that makes it easy to start racing. “I had grown up a poor boy. I was 1-of-10 children to Ed and Kittie Allison in Miami, Florida. We were a typical Catholic family. My dad worked and had his own business, but he never charged people for the good that he did for them. He barely got by. To win a race and have a pocket full of money was a big deal for me. Keep in mind, back then, a pocket full of money might have been ten or twelve 10-dollar bills, but that was still more than I was used to when I was growing up,” he stated.
Bobby Allison got his start racing professionally in 1966, when he built his first race car: a 1964 Chevelle. “I built that 1964 Chevelle with a small-block engine to comply with the engine displacement weight-rule that NASCAR had at the time. I won my first couple races with that car,” Bobby explained. That ’64 Chevelle started a lifetime passion for Bobby that would lead to many successful races over the next two decades.
The “Coca-Cola” Chevelle Bobby built and drove in 1973.
During the year 1972, he was driving a 1972 Chevy Monte Carlo. The model is one that he actually had a hand in developing. “Before the first car was even built [at Chevrolet], I was given a design drawing for the new [first-gen] Monte Carlo. In the ‘70s, they were learning that aero was an important consideration, so they showed me a sketch of their Monte Carlo SS. They also told me the factory would take a couple years to produce it,” he affirmed. During the prototyping phase, Bobby had his body guy, Grady Humphries, build a nose for the car. It only took a week to get the initial nose design done and ready for the wind tunnel. “Grady was an incredible wizard at custom bodywork,” Bobby said.
“We went to the GM wind tunnel in Detroit, and were met with huge success,” he said. Not only did Bobby end up racing with the nose that he prototyped, but that design ended up being used on the production-model Monte Carlo for the next couple of years.
“I was enthusiastic, and had a nice little shop in Alabama, where I had some success on my own. I never got credit for that [nose], but it was done in a little shop outside my house in Hueytown, Alabama. That’s really neat, and it’s a great personal credit in my cap,” he quipped.
Speaking of his ’72 Monte Carlo, there was more to it than just looks. It was powered by the newest version of Chevrolet’s 427 cubic-inch big-block engine. “All told, I had ’72, ’73, and ’74 models, and all the cars were good and won some races, but the ’72 was the most dominant,” Bobby said.
The ’70s and ’80s
“The ’70s and ’80s had to be the best time in racing.” Bobby continued, “For one thing, we were racing real cars. They were modified to a degree, but they started out as a real car, and people loved that—the fans loved that. Now, we have the NASCAR car, the Car of Tomorrow, and all the cars are the same, except for the decals and engine.”
Back when the cars on the track were actual models you could buy at a dealer, NASCAR was a lot more relevant for the fans. They could see someone like Bobby Allison take his steel-bodied car for a run at Daytona, then, they could go and buy a Monte Carlo of their own. That’s how it was for everyone with all of the cars. You could see a car just like yours zipping around the track. “The racing was good and the factories were involved. The supply companies were also involved, and to me, that was the best, period,” he remembers.
“I spent most of my time racing in NASCAR, and I enjoyed that the most. I also did some USAC, ASA, and All-Pro late-model modified driving. I loved racing, and I would race on a Friday and Saturday night, and build up to a 500-miler somewhere along the way almost every week of the year. Some years, I ran 100 races. I flew my own airplane to events, and would qualify in Charlotte, Atlanta, or somewhere else, jump back in the plane and go to Nashville, Bristol, Cincinnati, or Milwaukee, run a race that night and then go back to where I qualified for the main event the next day. I just loved it. I really enjoyed that part.”
Looking back, Bobby couldn’t have a more positive outlook on his career. “I had an incredible career, I keep thinking about that. I had good fortune and the right kind of help at the right time, good luck, and a lot of success,” he affirmed. Bobby’s career spanned the course of several decades, and he won and lost his fair share of races throughout his tenure. He loved what he did and that’s what mattered.
“My racing career had hills and valleys that were incredible. I would do really good, and then do really bad. And then, I’d have some mishap and change teams. I had a difficult time staying with any particular team. Probably, because I was too headstrong. If they wanted to do something on a car and I didn’t want to do it, I’d just go somewhere else. A lot of my stuff worked really good and a lot of my stuff didn’t work good enough. I went through periods of great success and periods of difficulties that were very unfortunate, but that’s part of life and I just accepted it as such,” he recollects.