By admin | May 15, 2011
By Richard Allen
On Monday, May 23, 2011 Bobby Allison will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. What many people of east Tennessee may not realize is that the legendary driver’s early career had strong ties to our area.
In 1966 Allison rescued a 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle from a junkyard and converted it into a NASCAR legal racing machine. In reality, the car was a 1964 model but the driver listed it as a 1965 because the sport’s rules at the time allowed for a car to be used for three years after its time of production. So the crafty changing of the model year would let the car be legal for an extra season.
The racecar that resulted from the shell that had once been submerged in water was the hand made creation of Allison in his Hueytown, Alabama garage. The then little known driver who competed in his first NASCAR race in 1961 reckoned that he could use the Chevelle to his advantage on the many short tracks that dominated the schedule of that era.
Back then, a car’s weight was based on the size of its engine. The smaller the engine the lighter the car was allowed to be. Allison believed he could equip the machine with a 327 cubic inch motor, which was quite small for that time period, and use the lighter weight to better maneuver around smaller tracks. “I said I ought to build a car with a small engine, a light car that lets me be competitive on short tracks, and just forget the big tracks where I’m struggling,” he remembered years later.
On July 12, 1966 that theory was proven correct as Allison won his first major race at the Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine. He would go on to win 85 races and the 1983 NASCAR championship over the course of his glorious career.
That first win brought Allison’s talents to the attention of renowned car owner Cotton Owens, who soon after hired the driver to pilot his Dodges. Since he would then be driving for another manufacturer, Allison no longer needed the Chevelle. As a result, he sold the winning car to Sevierville businessman Donald Brackins.
After a short stint in which the car was loaned back to Allison, the Chevelle was raced out a Sevier County garage beginning in 1967. Ron Jenkins served as the crew chief once the car began running locally.
“I had been working on Dodges for A.J. King and he had got Paul Lewis to drive for him in NASCAR,” Jenkins explained. “After Paul and A.J. had a falling out, I quit working for A.J. I went to work for Donald Brackins when he bought the car from Allison and hired Paul to drive for him.
“Back then you could run a car for three years in the Cup series but after three years you couldn’t run it anymore,” Jenkins went on. “They were about to blacktop Smoky Mountain(Maryville) then and I told Donald I thought that would be a good place for us to run the car in their weekly shows.”
Just because the car had seen previous success did not guarantee that it would continue to be a winner. “That first year we ran that car we had a lot of DNFs,” Jenkins said. “The first race we ever ran over at Smoky Mountain was a 100 lap race and we led every lap until we blew the motor on the 99th lap. We won our second race over there but we didn’t win many more. We were fast but we couldn’t last.
“But I learned a lot about what we needed to do with the car and in the second year it really started showing what it could do,” Jenkins said. “From then on we won a lot of races with that car.”
In that era NASCAR sanctioned races in a division called Late Model Sportsman(now Nationwide). “We took that car to Bristol and broke the track record for the Sportsman class,” Jenkins declared.
“We eventually ran the car up to 1971,” the former crew chief said. “I don’t know how many races we won with it but it was a bunch.”
Bobby Allison has often told stories of his “little Chevelle” and no doubt when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame this coming Monday he will be thinking of that very car. Those of us in east Tennessee can at that moment share a bond with the living legend since his favorite car went on to claim a number of victories here in our very midst.
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