NASCAR legend Bobby Allison says: Melvin Joseph was my hero

GEORGETOWN — Sweet Home Alabama is the celebrated home for stock car racing legend Bobby Allison.

But Georgetown Speedway and the late Melvin L. Joseph and Mr. Joseph’s family have an extra-special place in the heart of the 81-year-old NASCAR Hall of Famer and member of the famed Alabama Gang.

“Yes, lots of good times here,” said Mr. Allison on Saturday, when he served as VIP guest and honorary grand marshal for the Melvin L. Joseph Memorial — Georgetown Speedway’s 2019 season-opening multi-race extravaganza that drew competitors, teams and fans from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond.

This memorial race has been held annually in recent years in tribute to Mr. Joseph, a respected contractor, developer and racing pioneer who built Georgetown Speedway and Dover International Speedway.

Mr. Allison, NASCAR Winston Cup’s 1983 series champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner, fondly remembers the early days and Mr. Joseph, who passed away in April of 2005.

“I was dragging an old Modified around with my pickup truck going up and down the road. I went out of my way coming from New Jersey to come by Georgetown Speedway and Melvin Joseph’s company, just to see the thing with my own eyes. That was before I ever even knew him, before I got to know him,” said Mr. Allison. “Melvin Joseph was my hero.”

Controversial race

Mr. Joseph was the car owner for a Bobby Allison victory in 1971 that remains the subject of debate and controversy today, after nearly five decades.

Officially, Mr. Allison won 84 Cup Series races. That ranks him fourth all-time, dead even with Darrell Waltrip.

Unofficially, Mr. Allison won at least one other race: the 1971 Myers Brothers 250 held Aug. 6 at Bowman Gray Stadium on its quarter-mile track in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

At that time, with reduced sponsorship money from the “Big Three” Detroit automobile manufacturers some Winston Cup Grand National teams elected not to enter some smaller purse-paying races. That led NASCAR to allow its “minor-league” drivers and teams from the Grand American Series to compete to bolster the starting grid.

It was the Grand American Series’ pony cars – Mustang, Camaro and Javelin – against the more powerful Cup Grand National Series cars – Chevrolet Chevelle, Ford Torino, Dodge Charger and Plymouth Roadrunner.

Kenny Adams, Mr. Joseph’s grandson, knows the entire scenario.

“Basically, it was a time where the economy wasn’t doing well,” said Mr. Adams. “They didn’t have sponsors and they couldn’t get a full field of cars. They were basically letting this Xfinity Series cars run on Sunday if you could make the field, so they’d have a full field of cars for the fans. What they didn’t think about was Bobby taking Melvin’s little small-block Mustang to Bowman Gray, which it’s around the outside of a football field. It’s a tiny track. Unlike the Chryslers with the big Hemi’s that couldn’t turn left at the end of the straightaway because they were so big, the Mustang could outhandle them – and he won the race.”

Mr. Joseph’s No. 49 Mustang, sponsored by Rollins Leasing and piloted by Mr. Allison, took the checkered flag, three seconds ahead of Richard Petty’s Plymouth, and trophy. But because he was not racing in a Grand National car, Allison never received credit in that Cup series.

Instead, he was credited with a Grand American Series win.

There have been 2,503 Cup races – and 2,502 have listed winners.

“In the end he couldn’t pass inspection as a Cup, because he wasn’t,” said Mr. Adams. “If you get hold of a press guide from 1971 from NASCAR Bobby was listed as the winner.

“But then from there forward he wasn’t. There is only one race that is never shown a winner – and that happens to be the race that Bobby won that night. He got the trophy.”

“But Tiny Lund also did it that same season in a Camaro and if you look in the record books, he does have has two wins (at Hickory and North Wilkesboro) in a Camaro in Cup,” said Mr. Adams.

Which makes Brad Keselowski’s Monster Energy Series recent Feb. 24 Cup victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway in a Team Penske Mustang subject for debate.

“He (Allison) won the first race in a Mustang,” said Mr. Adams. “Sorry, Mr. Penske!”

Melvin’s Mustang

“It was Melvin’s Mustang,” said Mr. Allison, who won a number of other races in Mr. Joseph’s race cars. “We’ve talked about that quite a bit, because I am trying to get that reinstated. And there are a couple reasons. One, Melvin Joseph deserves the credit for it. And, also, that would put me one (win) ahead of Darrell Waltrip. I need that!”

That 1971 race is an asterisk-punctuated footnote in a racing career punctuated by triumph and tragedy.

In 1988, at age 50, Mr. Allison became the oldest driver ever to win the Daytona 500. Later that year Mr. Allison’s competitive racing career ended in a violent first-lap crash in the June race at Pocono International Raceway. Mr. Allison was t-boned in the driver’s side by another car, nearly succumbed to critical injuries and underwent extensive rehabilitation.

In 1992, his younger son Clifford Allison died in a crash during practice at Michigan International Speedway, and in July 1993 son Davey Allison, then an established NASCAR Winston Cup star, died in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

Chatting with fans

Saturday afternoon, Mr. Allison signed autographs in the novelty trailer at Georgetown Speedway and chatted with fans.

Mike Stanfield of Laurel wasn’t old enough to witness Mr. Allison’s driving days.

But knows quite a bit about him, including the infamous fight on the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500 when Bobby stopped to lend a hand for brother Donnie Allison after Donnie and Cale Yarborough, running 1-2, banged together several times and ultimately crashed into the outside wall. Richard Petty went on to win that race.

“I was a little too young, but I am a fan of his work and his battles with Richard Petty and David Pearson.

“And wasn’t he involved in the ’79 fight at Daytona? They put NASCAR on the map,” said Mr. Stanfield. “My dad has always been big on racing history and everything, so it’s a real honor to meet a living legend.”

Seaford resident Bill West said he was tickled to meet Mr. Allison. “We’ve known the Joseph family for a long, long time,” Mr. West said.

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