How Davey Allison’s Cause of Death Shocked the NASCAR World

Davey Allison was a rising star in the NASCAR Cup Series, following the footsteps of his father Bobby Allison, a legendary driver and member of the Alabama Gang. He had won 19 races, including the prestigious Daytona 500 in 1992, and finished third in the points standings in 1991 and 1992. He was only 32 years old when he died in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway on July 13, 1993. His death was a tragic loss for the racing community and his fans, who admired his talent, passion, and personality.

The Helicopter Crash

On the day of the accident, Davey Allison was flying his newly purchased Hughes 369HS helicopter to Talladega Superspeedway, where he planned to watch his friend and fellow driver Neil Bonnett test a car for David Blair Motorsports. He was accompanied by Red Farmer, a veteran racer and crew chief who had worked with Allison in the Busch Series. Allison had obtained his helicopter pilot license earlier that year and had logged about 50 hours of flight time.

According to ESPN, Allison approached the track’s infield helipad around 2:30 p.m. and attempted to land in a confined area surrounded by high obstructions, such as fences, trailers, and power lines. He was flying downwind, which reduced his control and lift. As he descended, the tail rotor hit the catch fence, causing the helicopter to spin and crash. The impact was violent and the helicopter was severely damaged.

Farmer, who was wearing a seat belt, suffered a broken arm and several bruises, but was able to crawl out of the wreckage. Allison, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the helicopter and suffered massive head injuries. He was airlifted to Carraway Methodist Medical Center in Birmingham, where he underwent surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain. However, he never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at 7:00 a.m. the next day. The official cause of death was acute subdural hematoma, or severe bruising of the brain and the resulting swelling of the brain’s delicate tissues.

The Investigation and the Aftermath

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted an investigation of the helicopter crash and released its final report in 1994. The NTSB blamed Allison’s inexperience for his “poor inflight decision to land downwind in a confined area that was surrounded by high obstructions.” The NTSB also noted that Allison had not received adequate training on the helicopter’s emergency procedures and had not performed a preflight inspection of the helicopter before taking off. The NTSB recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) require helicopter pilots to receive additional training and testing on confined area operations and emergency procedures.

Allison’s death was a devastating blow to the NASCAR world, which was still reeling from the loss of another champion, Alan Kulwicki, who had died in a plane crash in April 1993. Allison and Kulwicki had been rivals on the track, but also friends and respected competitors. They had battled for the 1992 Cup Series title, which Kulwicki won by a narrow margin of 10 points over Allison. Allison had dedicated his 1992 Daytona 500 victory to Kulwicki, who had finished second in that race.

Allison’s funeral was held on July 16, 1993, at the First Baptist Church of Hueytown, Alabama, where he had grown up. Thousands of mourners, including many NASCAR drivers, team owners, officials, and fans, attended the service. Allison was buried at Highland Memorial Gardens in Bessemer, Alabama, next to his brother Clifford, who had died in a crash during a Busch Series practice session at Michigan International Speedway in 1992.

Allison’s legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of his family, friends, and fans. He is remembered as one of the greatest drivers of his generation, a fierce competitor, a loyal friend, and a loving husband and father. He was posthumously inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1998, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2011, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2019. He was also named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and one of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers in 2023. His son, Robbie Allison, followed his footsteps and became a race car driver, competing in the ARCA Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. His daughter, Krista Allison, married Paul Menard, a former NASCAR driver and the son of John Menard, a prominent team owner and sponsor. His widow, Liz Allison, remarried and became a motorsports journalist, author, and radio host. She also founded the Davey Allison Memorial Fund, which supports various charitable causes, such as organ donation, traumatic brain injury research, and children’s health.

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