Daytona Beach, FL — Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of the sensational two-lap victory in the 1970 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway by 2011 Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (MSHFA) inductee Donnie Allison in a Banjo Matthews Ford. MSHFA President George Levy talked with Allison Monday about the race.
Tell us about that race and the keys to winning the 1970 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway 50 years ago.
Well, there’s several things involved. I had to get help at the end of the race because I burned my feet so bad, but the race was a typical World 600 at the time, it all came down to the last 100 miles. I was driving for Banjo Matthews in a Ford, naturally, and my car was really good, but I burnt my right foot so bad I couldn’t keep it on the gas pedal. I tried driving with my left foot, but that didn’t work too well.
What had happened, before the race Ford came out with some new spray foam insulation for the floorboard, and it was covered with a thin sheet of asbestos. Before the first pit stop my foot had already gone through that and got down on the bare floor. And, not knowing it at the time, I was (making it) worse; every time I made a pit stop, I got them to hand me the water hose and I squirted water on my foot. Well, it was actually cooking it. By the time I got to the end of pit road it’d be boiling.”
I tried everything in my power to drive that thing, even on my left foot, so I had to get relief. LeeRoy Yarbrough was out, and he got in and finished the race. We had put ourselves out front (by two laps), and when he got in, he kept it there and went and won the race.” (Note: Yarbrough drove the final 37 of 400 laps.)
How important was it to you at that time to win the 600, one of the great races?
Oh, it was the most important. At that time, the World 600 got just about as much hoopla as the Daytona 500, if not more. Not only was its stock car’s longest race, that was the year that I ran fourth at Indy and won Rookie of the Year, a week separated of that 600-mile race.
Was driving Charlotte any different than Talladega or at Daytona?
Well, it’s a pretty difficult track to race. It’s got two completely different corners. If your car is good in one corner it may not be as good in the other, and it takes the driver figuring out what he has to do to get through both corners good. I was lucky early in my career to get help from Ralph Moody (MSHFA Class of 2005), who was part of Holman & Moody, to learn to drive around it. I always was thrilled to run Charlotte. I had a really good career there, and oddly enough it was the racetrack that I got my butt busted pretty bad (in a 1981 wreck).
We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask you about your relationship with Banjo, and how you guys came to be running together that year.
Well, I knew Banjo from way long time ago in South Florida. I was from Miami and he was from Miami; Opa-locka, Fla. But anyway, I got a deal with Ford to run a one-race deal at Daytona and busted a tire and knocked the wall down in the race. I was all disheartened because my factory ride was gone. It was a one-race ride, and I didn’t do very well. Well, I ran well, but I didn’t finish well. Anyway, they call me to the Holman Moody office and said that John Cowley wanted to talk to me, and he was the second in command of Ford Racing at the time. I don’t think he liked me or (brother) Bobby (Allison – MSHFA Class of 1992) very well. I said, “Oh no.” So, I went over there and he just asked me straight out, “You want to drive Banjo Matthew’s car at Rockingham, a one-race deal?” Oh, God. Yes.
So, I went over and talked to (Banjo), and he said, “Yeah, I want you to drive in Atlanta tomorrow and we’ll run a test.” So I did. The weather was pretty bad, and the racetrack was pretty well frozen across the backstretch where the water ran. And the whole test I ran faster than LeeRoy.
I got the opportunity to drive the car at Rockingham, but it was a one-race deal. Well, strangely enough, the race got rained out. So, then we went to Bristol and I won the race.
Banjo and I really got along well. The man was very, very, very intelligent. Race-wise there was nobody any smarter than he ever was, I don’t think. In fact, I think he should be in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. But anyway, I think it really did a lot for my career for me to get to drive for him first.