DAYTONA, FLA., FEB. 15 -- Davey Allison's fondest racing memory came here three years ago, when he finished second to his father in the Daytona 500, crown jewel on the NASCAR circuit. But it's a bittersweet recollection.

"It's the only time in history a father-son ever finished 1-2," he said proudly today, "and it's highly unlikely it will ever happen again. We achieved that as a family."

But bright as the memory shines for Allison, 29, who will start on the pole Sunday for this year's 500, it's still a dark, empty place for his father.

As hard as he tries to recall the moment, Bobby Allison cannot. "When you win Daytona, when you finish first on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and your son finishes right behind you in the 500 and you can't remember any of it, that's a bummer," said Bobby Allison.

That was the last of 84 wins in his illustrious stock-car racing career. Four months later, in a horrendous crash at Pocono, Bobby Allison came as near death as a driver can get. He blew a tire and smashed nose-on into the outside wall. Then, as his car slid powerless down the banked oval toward the infield, he was T-boned by Jocko Maggiacomo's car, roaring along at 160 mph.

When he awoke two months later, Bobby Allison had no recollection of that race, nor of much of what had gone before.

"I was conscious but I wasn't connected to the world for two solid months," he said. A shunt was placed in his brain to relieve the pressure. Still today, he remembers nothing of the 1988 crash, nor details of the remarkable Sunday four months earlier, when Allisons made history at Daytona.

"I remember winning the drivers' fishing derby," he said. "I remember the party Sunday night. But I can't remember what the party was for."

Now things are looking up for the Allisons, of Hueytown, Ala., together again on the race track, both with a shot at glory Sunday.

While Davey Allison roared in and out of the pits today, doing practice laps in the Valvoline Ford in which he won the pole with a lap of 195.955 mph, his father tottered around a few stalls away, overseeing preparation of the No. 12 Raybestos Buick he owns, which driver Hut Stricklin will start from the third row.

"It makes me feel real good to see my father walking around here again, talking to people and feeling good," said Davey. "That's the good side. The bad side is, they're running so well they're a real threat. I wish them luck Sunday; just a little less than us."

He said he'd love to start a new Daytona memory bank for his father with a 1-2 finish this year, but in reverse order from the last time.

Auto racing is full of father-son combinations -- Pearsons and Pettys, Unsers, Marlins and Andrettis. Davey Allison, like other racing sons, grew up with a steering wheel in his hands and little thought of doing anything else for a living.

After the crash, when he saw his father unconscious in the hospital for weeks on end, hovering near death, did he ever think he might have entered the wrong trade?

"Never questioned it," said the slender, mustachioed driver. "I've been in this business all my life and seen things happen where people were seriously injured or killed, so you realize it's a possibility.

"But I'm enjoying my life," he said, "taking care of my family and doing what I do best. I'm trying to be an example, do my job. And none of us is going to get out of this world alive."

Since his strong showing in 1988, Davey Allison has met hard times at Daytona. The following year he was bumped by Geoff Bodine in the early going and crashed and rolled his car. But he got it back to the pits in one piece, had the crew tape the battered sheet metal together and finished 25th. Last year he was 20th.

With the addition of a new chassis man -- veteran Jake "Suitcase" Elder -- Allison said his car-preparation program took off late last year. Now, he feels he's cranking more horsepower from his 358-cubic-inch V8 than anyone in the field, and he expects a knock-down, drag-out battle with 1990 NASCAR points champion Dale Earnhardt for the victory Sunday.

His father figures it's about time for Davey to rise to the top, anyway. "He'll be 30 a few days after this race," said Bobby, "and that's the age where you ought to be somewhere along the road" to success.

At 53, Bobby Allison is working on altogether different challenges, yet he retains a hope to someday drive a race car again.

Balance remains a problem and he still is bothered by pain. "You'd think after almost three years the pain would be gone," he said, rubbing the left hip he shattered in the crash, "but it's not."

Mentally, "Jobs that used to take me 15 minutes can take three or four days," he said.

"I managed to machine a half-dozen little adapters for my airplane. I probably could have bought them for $10 apiece, but I made them myself for only about $4,000," he said, tongue in cheek. "We had a pile of scrap {knee-} high when I was done."

His new career as a race car owner "isn't as good as driving," he said, "but it's a hell of a lot better than laying in a hospital bed."

"Is it important for the Allisons to do well here on Sunday?" someone asked.

"I don't know how important it is," said Bobby Allison, who has looked at life from both sides now. "But it'd be nice. Dang nice!" Pruett Takes IROC Opener

Scott Pruett won the first International Race of Champions event of the season today, 11 months after he was severely injured in an Indy car crash. It was Pruett's second outing since breaking both ankles, both knees and his back when he hit the wall during a practice at Palm Beach last March. He raced two weeks ago in the 24 Hours at Daytona, but dropped out with engine trouble.

Pruett, 30, took the lead for good with six laps to go in the 40-lap, 100-mile race in matched Dodge Daytonas. He averaged 184.521 mph. Bill Elliott was second, Al Unser Sr. was third. Defending champion Dale Earnhardt spun out in Lap 13 and didn't finish.

The four-race IROC series ends in August in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Top prize for the overall winner is $175,000.





Bobby: First -- 1978, 1982 and 1988.

Davey: Second -- 1988.