This past week, I had the privilege of visiting Talladega, Alabama, best known for stock car carnage and the redneck mardi gras that takes place in the infield of the 2.66 mile behemoth that bears the town's name.
Of course, Talladega Superspeedway and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, which is located in front of the speedway and houses track offices, was the primary attraction when my girlfriend Genna and I headed for the little town with the biggest reputation of them all in NASCAR circles.
We ended up also visiting a little park situated in downtown Talladega, which at first glance would look like any other park in any other nice little town around the southeast but holds a great deal of importance, if not the notoriety of the track just miles away, in NASCAR circles.
Ultimately, what had begun as a day planned with visiting the biggest, baddest race track of them all and seeing a bunch of cool race cars from throughout the history, not just of NASCAR, but of auto racing in general, turned into a literal walk down memory lane and an emotional day spent with my first racing idol.
I was six years old, going on seven, when Davey Allison died of injuries sustained in a helicopter crash in the Talladega Superspeedway infield. My youth made it difficult for me to fathom the reality of my NASCAR hero being gone.
Nowadays, I understand fully what the loss of Davey meant not just to me but to all fans across the NASCAR Nation. I was just one of many ferverent supporters of the Alabama native and his black #28 race car. Davey was one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR at the time of his death, and he was on the verge of breaking through as one of the most dominant drivers the sport had seen.
The helicopter crash on July 12, 1993, and the death of Allison the next morning robbed racing of one of its brightest stars and legions of fans of their idol.
I was well aware going into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum to begin my day at the track that I would certainly be touched multiple times by something. The spirit of Davey Allison perhaps, I don't know. I just knew that it was a given, being that I was in the heart of Allison country, that Davey would be well memorialized.
After all, on my one prior visit to the Hall of Fame, in 1993 just months after Alan Kulwicki's death and just months prior to Davey's passing, I had stood on my tip-toes to try to see into the #7 Ford that had been put into the museum in Alan's memory. If a native of Wisconsin who had perished in Tennessee had been paid tribute to in such away, then I knew abundant tributes to an Alabama icon who had won races - including his first victory, in fact - and suffered his mortal injuries at the track located just behind the museum would be impossible to miss.
And it wasn't that I wanted to miss them, per se. I just didn't want to be moved to tears in front of Genna and our friend, Sharon, who lives in Talladega and acted as our tour guide.
I didn't shed tears in the museum, but Genna, knowing well the kind of sentimentalist I am when it comes to racing and race cars, led Sharon away while I stood alone with "Superstar," the car Davey had driven to his second Winston Cup victory in Dover in 1987. She told me later that she had said to Sharon that it was best to give me some time alone because I was prone to emotion in such cases.
After studying the car - and having the photo attached to this article taken - I made my way throughout the other rooms in the museum.
However, the youthful exuberance and eagerness with which I can recall my desire to see all the cars, especially the wrecked ones, and be close to them was simply not there on this occasion. Try as I may, I couldn't break my attention from "Superstar."
The only other times I was moved much at all were by a 1950s Indy 500 Novi owned by Andy Granatelli and by the last chassis Davey had ever driven, a car adorned in his 1993 paint scheme but sporting the 1996-97 Ford bodystyle as it had been kept in circulation after Davey's death.
It was that paint scheme, the black, red, and yellow one, that I most associate with Davey, whereas most of his fans still view the white, black, and gold paint scheme sported by "Superstar" as the definitive Davey Allison look.
On this day, I found myself diverting from my common stance. Maybe if the front of the car had sported the authentic 1993 Ford Thunderbird nose, I would have been moved beyond belief by seeing that car, but as a self-professed racing detail freak, I couldn't associate a car with that front end with Davey. To me, it looked like Ernie Irvan's car with Davey's decal package. Which, in truth, is what it was.
With no disrespect to Ernie, who I was a fan of as well throughout his career, it just wasn't the same.
Perhaps the most interesting and surreal moment of my time inside the museum was when I entered a little room called "Flathead Alley" or something along those lines. A display as you entered was dedicated to flathead engines, and the room itself was a hall of fame for sportswriters and athletes - including Bobby and Davey Allison - awarded the Alabama Sportsman of the Year award.
Once I reached the end of the room, which in actuality was a hall that entered from and exited into the largest room of the museum, I instinctively looked out to see the museum from that perspective.
With about three-quarters of its front end visible, as though it were peeking around the corner to keep an eye on me, there sat "Superstar."
Automobiles, to me, are more than just machines. They each have at least just a little bit of a soul, and the great race cars, like the ones housed in that museum or on the NASCAR Hall of Fame's "Glory Road" or any hall of fame or museum for that matter, feel almost lifelike, in a resting state.
At that moment, it really felt like I was being watched, not by a inanimate machine, but by a living soul.
In order to avoid a trip to the looney bin - which I may end up taking anyway after people read the preceding couple of paragraphs - I did not wave to "Superstar" as I left the museum, but it did feel like I was leaving a friend behind.
From the museum, we took the tour of the track. It was pretty straight-forward, with an elderly tour guide giving us the rundown of the track's history, showing us some interesting landmarks, professing his belief that the speedway's attempts to rein in the rowdy behavior in the track's infield are "a waste of time," and stopping the van to allow us to stand around and take photos in victory lane.
He did at one point bring up Davey's helicopter crash and pointed out the area where the chopper went down. As he mentioned the legions of fans Davey had at the time of his death, I bowed my head. Genna squeezed my hand, which I appreciated.
Once it was time to leave the race track, Sharon led us to downtown Talladega, where the Texaco Walk of Fame and the Davey Allison Memorial Park are situated.
Fearing an emotional display, I requested to walk around the park by myself, just to see the plaques for the Walk of Fame and just take things in. Genna and Sharon obliged and chit-chatted on one of the two benches that line a walkway through the center of the park.
I managed to ward off any tears, though my eyes watered up upon reading the little marble walls which paid tribute to Davey and listed his accomplishments.
During my walk, however, I wondered if "Superstar" or whatever soul I had felt near that car hadn't followed me to the park.
As I was in the third turn of the walk, if you look at in a track sense, I could feel footsteps behind me. I figured it was someone else looking at the plaques, same as I was, no big deal.
Once I reached the plaque of another late driver whom I had rooted for during his career, Bobby Hamilton, I decided to turn and see where my counterpart on the Walk of Fame was up to that point.
Nobody was there. The other people in my sights, still sitting and chatting, were Genna and Sharon.
I felt like I had lost it. Truly gone off the deep end.
I completed my walk and listened to Genna and Sharon's conversation for a few minutes. Then, I repeated my experience on the walk.
Instead of being laughed off or asked if the July Alabama heat was getting to me, I listened as Sharon recounted a story of her own that mirrored mine.
That convinced me that something, or someone, had been there.
After finishing at the park, Genna and I accompanied Sharon and her husband to dinner at a Mexican restaraunt just down from the park. What had been a depressing day turned into a bucket of laughs. It was refreshing to loosen up after a day of being afraid to smile.
When dinner was done, Genna and I decided to return to the park, now dark, so that perhaps she could see a firefly - a major part of her to-do list on her visit to Georgia.
We did see some fireflies, but by the time we left, we had immersed ourselves in the surreality of sitting in Davey Allison's park, alone. It felt as though we were the only three people in the world at that moment.
I've never been big on believing in spirits or whatever, the Almighty nonwithstanding, being amongst the living, but after Tuesday, I have revisited my stance.
It truly feels like I spent the day with Davey.