Independence Day 1975 proved a pivotal point in the racing career of ‘Alabama Gang’ member Donnie Allison
For NASCAR legend Donnie Allison, July 4, 1975, was a real firecracker of a day. It began with him starting on the pole for the Firecracker 400, NASCAR’s annual Independence Day beach bash at the Daytona International Motor Speedway, and finishing fifth. It ended with him getting fired on a yacht in the Daytona Beach marina.
The chain of events brought to a close a rocky 2 ½-year relationship between Allison, Bill Gardner and Mike DiProspero, who together had made up DiGard Racing. Allison, winner of the 1970 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the 1970 Firecracker 400 and hundreds of short track races across the country, was one of the founding members of the “Alabama Gang.” Gardner and DiProspero were brother-in-laws from Connecticut with a lot of money who thought they knew a lot about racing.
In those days, NASCAR always ran the Firecracker 400 early in the day on July 4th so families could watch the race in the morning and hit the sand by mid-afternoon. That Friday they saw Buddy Baker lead 118 of 160 laps but Richard Petty take the win ahead of Baker, Dave Marcis, and Darrell Waltrip, who played a part in events to come as well.
Allison picks up the story from there. “Standing on the back of his yacht that evening, Bill told me I was too old and couldn’t drive anymore,” said Allison, who was 35 at the time. “Just like that, I was out and Darrell was in. I was floored.”
Waltrip stepped into the No. 88 Chevy, which may be best remembered for its Gatorade paint scheme, and drove it through the 1980 season with great success. Still, Allison got to laugh last on Gardner as well.
Midway through the 1976 season, he hooked up with car owner Charles Everett “Hoss” Ellington. For the 1977 season, they added Hawaiian Tropic with its eye-catching red-and-white colors as the sponsor for Ellington’s No. 1 Chevy, and an iconic alliance was formed.
Allison took the No. 1 to Victory Lane his first time out in it at the 1976 National 500 at Charlotte. He visited there a total of four times with Ellington over parts of five seasons. Most notably, he drove the car in a historic last-lap duel with Cale Yarborough in the 1979 Daytona 500, generally considered one of NASCAR’s milestone moments as CBS Television cameras beamed flag-to-flag coverage of a race live to viewers for the first time ever.
“I’m proud of what I accomplished,” Allison said. “I’m proud of being someone who gave 100 percent. That I just didn’t get out there to make laps and collect a paycheck. I’m proud of being a driver who, no matter what kind of car I was in, always ran up front and had a chance to win.”
Not bad for someone washed up and over the hill. H&A
Allison won a total of 10 races and 18 poles in his NASCAR Winston Cup career.