Throughout the long history of auto racing in the Ozarks, many well-known NASCAR drivers have competed on area speedways. Stars such as Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart and others have all raced in the Ozarks. Two stars of the early 1990s, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki, competed at the Fairgrounds Speedway (located at the Ozarks Empire Fair and now known as Missouri Entertainment and Event Center) shortly before they began making national headlines.
On August 11, 1985, Davey Allison, son of NASCAR legend Bobby Allison, competed in an Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) event at the Fairgrounds in Springfield, Mo. Then 23 years old, the young Allison told the local newspaper he was looking forward to racing at the Fairgrounds. Davey said the track reminded him of his hometown speedway in Birmingham, Alabama: “The layout of this track is very similar. There are long straightaways, tight turns, and the kind of banking (low) that I’m used to running on.” Chicago racer Bill Venturini, with his all female pit crew, won the pole for the race and led 101 laps. Bob Schacht won the race after taking the lead with just nine laps to go. Allison was penalized a lap in the pits, a penalty he thought was unfair, and finished seventh with an ill handling car. A broken generator on the team’s transporter delayed his departure, and a dejected Allison told the press, “I hope my next visit here is better,” though he never competed in the Ozarks again.
Wisconsin driver Alan Kulwicki started from the pole position in the final American Speed Association (ASA) at the Fairgrounds on July 14, 1984. Kulwicki maintained a large lead during the race and was enroute to an easy victory when he spun out on lap 203. Short track legend Dick Trickle won the race and Kulwicki finished second.
Allison and Kulwicki were soon competing against each other in NASCAR’s elite Winston Cup Series (now Sprint Cup). While battling for the series championship in 1992, Allison led Kulwicki by 30 points entering the final race of the season, the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Widely considered one of the greatest races in NASCAR history, the 1992 Hooters 500 was Richard Petty’s last race and the first race for future superstar Jeff Gordon. Allison was eliminated from title contention when he crashed on lap 204 while trying to avoid Ernie Irvan’s spinning car that had blown a tire. Kulwicki won the championship by just 10 points over Bill Elliott, the closest margin of victory in NASCAR history to that time.
The excitement NASCAR fans felt over the thrilling finish was soon dampened by tragedy. Just four months after winning the championship Alan Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash on April 1, 1993. The NASCAR community received another shocking loss on July 13, 1993 when Davey Allison died from injuries sustained in a helicopter crash the previous day. Though their careers were cut short, memories of their accomplishments live on and many area fans can remember when these racing legends came to Springfield, Mo.
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