Good ol' boys will be good ol' boys. Cale Yarborough punched Bobby Allison in the face today. He also hit him with his helmet. Donnie Allison said he wished he'd been in on the fight because he'd have knocked Yarborough's brains out, if he had any to begin with. They called each other a lot of names we can't repeat in a newspaper that reaches polite society.
To understand the wild and crazy ending to today's Daytona 500 stock car race, you must know racing etiquette. Almost anything goes. You drive your car in front of anyone trying to pass you. Sometimes that means the fellow will run into a concrete wall. If he doesn't like that, he ought to be a plumber anyway. But never, ever, are you supposed to run a guy into the infield grass at 190 miles per hour. You can kill a guy quickly that way.
Even good ol' boys have standards.
With a mile to go today, leader Donnie Allison felt the warm radiator of Yarborough at his rear bumper. Only a mile to go for his game's most prestigious prize and Allison knew that Yarborough was trying to pass him and take the lead.
This was at 190 miles per hour on the 3,300-foot back straightaway at Daytona International Speedway. As Allison motored down the middle of the road, Yarborough moved to the inside lane and put his headlights alongside Allison's rear wheel.
In a breach of etiquette that eventually led to the fisticuffs and profanity, Allison steered his car gradually to the left. That cut down Yarborough's racing room. And Allison kept moving left until Yarborough's left wheels went off the asphalt and onto the infield grass.
At that point, Yarborough had a decision to make.
Did he want to live? Just slow down and let Allison go on.
Or did Yarborough want to win the race? He could jerk his car back onto the asphalt. By doing that, he would crash into Allison at 190 mph. Maybe then Allison would slow down and let Yarborough go through. Or maybe they would both get killed if neither refused to slow down.
They wound up in a door-to-door bumping contest, spinning out of control and crashing into a concrete wall. And Richard Petty, who was running in third place, passed them both to win the $73,500 first prize.
As Petty hit the finish line, Yarborough hit Bobby Allison.
The drivers' cars had come to a safe stop. Yarborough hopped out of his and headed over to Donnie Allison.
"I told him it was the worst thing I'd ever seen on a race track," Yarborough said later.
Donnie Allison heard something else. "He called me (a variety of appelations referring to Donnie's parents)," Allison said. "Then, sportsman that he is, Cale punched Bobby while Bobby was still strapped in his car and he hit Bobby with his helmet.
The Allisons are brothers. Yarborough claimed they conspired to beat him today. On that last lap, Yarborough said Bobby drove in an outside lane and waited to cut off that lane should Yarborough try to pass Donnie on the outside. That left only one side for Donnie to worry about, and he could take care of that himself.
Donnie Allison denied it. He said Yarborough's chatter was typical behavior of a man who "everybody knows will do anything to win any race."
As Allison tells it, he had the right of way on that last lap and could drive anywhere he wanted. "I was in the lead," he said.
Being in the lead, however, does not exempt a driver from racing etiquette.
Allison did the wrong thing. He did a foolish thing.
"Both of 'em ought to be suspended for half a year," Yarborough said minutes after the incident. "If they aren't, there's no justice."
Bobby Allison, sitting on a workbench, would say only. "Nothing happened."
"Yarborough said he hit you," someone said.
"He got a little excited," Allison said.
"I reckon that might be the only time I've been in a fist fight since I growed up," Yarborough said."I had the race won. No doubt about it."
"I'll be damned if he did," Donnie Allison said. "He was just going to win the race or else. I knew that. I just felt I had to keep from getting knocked out (by Yarborough's car)."
Allison said he would have felt more comfortable with anyone except Yarborough on his bumper.
"I wouldn't have worried like I was worrying," he said. "And when I got the white flag (indicating one lap to go), I really started worrying."
Allison said he did nothing wrong on that straightaway. "I was down as low as I could go," he said, meaning he was in the inside lane. "And Cale got off in the infield grass and came up and hit me. He wasn't going to give and I wasn't going to. I figured if I hit that wall hard, he's going to hit it hard, too."
Television replays showed Allison was not as low as he could have been. He moved over on Yarborough. At 60 mph on Friday night at Beltsville or Saturday night at Old Dominion, such a move is merely mean. The bull rings are full of fist fights over such slights. At 190 mph. Allison's move can create two new angels.
Yarborough, walking back to his garage, was angry enough to bite a tire in two. Exhaust smoke rose from Allison's ears as he stood in his semitrailer. They each believed the other the devil.
"I went over and knocked the hell out of Bobby," Yarborough said.
Bobby Allison said, "Cale asked me to get out of the car and I thought I would accommodate him. Then his face hit my fist three times."
"He called me those names," Donnie Allison said, "and, I told him to wait until I was out of the car and he could call me anything he wanted. I'd have beat his brains out."