Racing legend teaches classes to fans

Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2004

MORROW, Ga. There was no roll call or note-taking during a class called Stock Car 101 at Clayton College and State University.

When it came time to hand out the final exam last week, Donnie Allison, a racer-turned-traveling college instructor, pulled out a marker and signed autographs.

College credit was never so easy. Or more interesting.

Students not only learned about what it takes to build a 3,400-pound race car, they heard what it takes to prepare one for the main event, drive it in 200-mph traffic and how to pose with the pretty women in Victory Lane.

They heard about the crashes, the fights and the personalities of the people who built the sport into today's billion-dollar industry.

If you have a question, just shout. Allison, whose roughness remains part of his charm, will answer without a script.

''Everybody doesn't agree with me,'' Allison said. ''If they did, we'd all be married.''

When he's not working as a consultant on the ARCA or NASCAR circuits, a cornerstone of the famed Alabama Gang is behind a podium on college campuses around the Southeast teaching stock-car racing.

The university system of Georgia actually awards credit for the class one-third of a credit hour in continuing education. Students, however, aren't there to learn. They're there to be entertained.

''What other sport can you sit down and talk shop with one of the superstars for three hours?'' said Anthony Riggs, a student from Griffin, Ga. ''Everyone in the class is like an old friend. You can learn a lot about what it's really like to be in racing.''

Allison, who won 10 races in his NASCAR career, always has something to say.

On Jeff Gordon: ''You either love him or you hate him. There's only one thing that's a fact: He can drive a race car.''

On his older brother Bobby Allison: ''If Bobby Allison had been with Junior Johnson, he would have won all those championships Cale (Yarborough) and Darrell (Waltrip) won.''

On Tony Stewart: ''He's my favorite. He's got a reputation for being hot in the head. I had the same reputation. But he knows how to drive a race car, and he's one of the best at getting his car right.''

On Bill Elliott: ''What bothers some people, like Bobby, is when you have to leave the sport and you don't have any other choice. That's hard on a driver. Bill is lucky. He's going to leave on his own terms. As long as you can say, 'I can still do this,' it works on you. He didn't have anything else to prove, so more power to him.''

Allison answered a lot of questions about his favorite tracks and, of course, his relationship with his late nephew Davey Allison, and his famous fight with Yarborough after the 1979 Daytona 500.

He paused to collect this thoughts before talking about Davey.

''I would have liked to see him stay around,'' he said. ''The only thing that would have kept him back is whether he was willing to commit himself to this for a long time. I think he would have. Some of these people might not have won some of these championships if he had still been around, I'll tell you that.''

His fight 25 years ago came after both drivers were battling for the victory in the first flag-to-flag race in network television history.

They bumped along the backstretch, then crashed in the third turn. Richard Petty eventually passed the melee and won the race. As he drove to Victory Lane, Allison and Yarborough, who were immediately joined by Bobby Allison, were fighting on live television.

''Some people said that fight helped push the sport where it is today,'' Allison said. ''There was a big snowstorm in the Northeast and back then, you didn't have 100 channels on cable. You have the networks. There were lots of people watching the race that day who'd never seen a race before and we gave them a finish they won't forget.

''All I know is, Cale hit me coming off the second turn and that started it all. That's a race I should have won. That was the third time I should have won that race, but something always seemed to happen. It still hurts me today.''

The class was scheduled to end at 9 p.m., but Allison took questions for an extra 30 minutes. He gave everyone an autograph, closed his briefcase and headed to the parking lot to start a seven-hour drive home to North Carolina.

''We have a lot of fun doing this,'' Allison said. ''I think people are really interested in what really goes on in stock car racing, so we give them the basics. We also have a little fun.''

For credit.



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