1988 Daytona 500
Trivia question: What is the most beverage sponsor’s product ever “used” by a driver & his team during Daytona Speedweeks? It definitely has to be attributed to racing legend Bobby Allison during Speedweeks 1988. No, I never saw him actually consume any “barley pops,” as BA called his Miller High Life Beers, until the post-race victory party several hours after he had won the Daytona 500. But spraying, pouring and dousing…that was another thing. The fact is that BA and those of us around him managed to go through more than 55 cases…1,320 cans…16,000 ounces…of "The Champagne of Beers." The biggest reason for so much “consumption” had nothing to do with quenching thirsts; however that was definitely a by-product. The cause for such a river of flowing brew was due to the success that BA had during Speed Weeks 1988. It was on Feb. 14, 1988, when Bobby beat son Davey by only two car lengths to claim his third Daytona 500 victory. But during that same edition of Speedweeks, BA also won his Thursday afternoon qualifying race and Saturday’s 300-mile Busch (Nationwide) Series race. He even won the annual fishing tournament on Lake Lloyd inside the track that year. It was a scenario of incredible achievement that was accompanied by staggering celebrations. It was the normal setting when I arrived in Daytona Beach that year. BA & Judy had their usual brand new “borrowed” Buick from the Lloyd Buick dealership on Beach Street in Downtown Daytona Beach. As always, we were staying at the Dolphin Beach Club time share/rentals on South Atlantic just up from the Dunlawton Bridge. But there was a special feeling in the air, like BA was on a mission this time around. We had won the Firecracker 400 the prior July, but many still said we had just lucked into it. We came back from a lap down late in the race and snookered them with a set of fresh tires at the end. BA was out to get a victory with no controversy associated. During the off-season, we had changed colors (from the predominantly red Miller American scheme to the eye-catching gold can-colored Miller High Life scheme). We had also changed car numbers (from the 22 Bobby had raced since 1982 to his favorite No. 12, the number he had used in recording his most wins…29 victories…entering the 1988 season). BA had persuaded Piper Aircraft to sponsor his Busch Series effort and was out to prove himself in Saturday’s race, too. S.R. Perrott, the local Miller distributor, had delivered 50 cases of Miller High Life on the first day the NASCAR garage area opened. That still wasn’t enough. Bruce Mueller, a member of the brewery’s sports marketing team, had me buy an additional five cases on Saturday after the Busch race win. I did so and brought them in on Sunday morning before the race. The product inventory for Speedweeks 1988 also included two cases (24) of “King Cans” (these were 32-ounce containers back then, so add another 768 ounces, 64 regular beers or five cases to the total). All suds aside, BA became the oldest winner of the Daytona 500 that day (at 50 years, two months and 11 days). And Davey would eventually win the race, on Feb. 17, 1992. Unfortunately, fate was not kind to one of my biggest heroes. The horrendous crash at Pocono later that season stole most of his memories of perhaps the greatest Daytona Speedweeks ever. "I should be able to tell you all about 1988," BA once said. "I was 50 years old and won the Super Bowl of auto racing…with the best young man in racing second to me. How can anything be better than that…anywhere in sports, anywhere in the world? I remember I won the fishing contest over in the lake and I remember we had a big party at Park's Seafood Restaurant on Sunday night for something, but I don't remember what for." Appropriately, after claiming 84 career race wins and the 1983 championship, BA was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in the 2011 class. We were privileged to have been there with him for it all in 1988. Entering this weekend’s 55th running of the Daytona 500, here’s hoping that much will be made of Bobby Allison’s incredible run during the Daytona Speedweeks 25 years ago.