DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Some people remember where they were when they heard Princess Diana had died. Jimmie Johnson remembers exactly where he was when he heard Davey Allison had been killed in a helicopter crash -- he was listening to the radio while working in an engine shop in Santee, Calif.
He also remembers where he was when he heard about the accident at Pocono that ended Bobby Allison's career. He may have grown up far from the Alabama Gang homestead and may be competing in a different era, but there's something about the father-and-son dynamic of the Allison clan that resonates with Johnson -- and made Saturday night's victory at Daytona International Speedway that much more special.
The Daytona 500 champion led 94 laps in the track's summertime classic to become the first driver in over three decades to sweep both annual races at NASCAR's most famous venue. Only three others have done it -- Fireball Roberts in 1962, Cale Yarborough in 1968, LeeRoy Yarbrough in 1969, and the most recent Bobby Allison, 31 long years ago in 1982.
Johnson said he wasn't aware he had joined such an exclusive club until a television reporter told him in Victory Lane. The connection clearly struck a chord with Johnson, whose own father played a role in shaping his racing career. Johnson was 12 when Bobby Allison was involved in a crash at Pocono in 1988 that not only ended his career, but also left the former series champion with no memory of that season. Johnson was 17 when Davey perished in a helicopter accident at Talladega five years later.
"I always admired Bobby and Davey, and thought it was so cool that a father and son were on the race track racing against one another, and I remember watching the Daytona 500 where they duked it out," he said.
"Those two, I really liked that whole father?son aspect. I had a great relationship with my dad growing up from a racing standpoint, and going to the local tracks my dad was a guy that I looked at. We'd go out in the desert and ride, and he'd teach me things and teach me how to drive a car. So there's that connection that I had, that it would be cool to be race against your dad. I never had that chance, that opportunity, but it helped me build a fondness for both of them, and to do anything that Bobby has done is really, really special."
Johnson's achievement comes at a significant time for the Allison family. Wednesday marks the 20th anniversary of Davey Allison's last race, a third-place finish in the series' first race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, site of this Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 301 (1 p.m. ET, TNT). The next-generation Allison died two days later, June 13, 1993.
Both father and son excelled at Daytona and Talladega over the course of their careers. In contrast, as recently as last season, Johnson was frustrated by restrictor-plate tracks -- he finished only one of the four races on those venues last year, that one with a banged-up car. In three plate starts this year, he has two victories and a fifth. Given that strength, it was no surprise to some that Johnson would become the first driver in 31 years to claim both races at Daytona.
"These things are such a crapshoot, that I guess it is impressive," said Tony Stewart, who finished second Saturday night. "All 43 guys have a shot at winning the race. We saw that earlier this year. You know ? they definitely had a fast car. I mean, they had a fast car at the 500, they had a fast car here, so it makes sense."
Chad Knaus sees the rare Daytona sweep as another milestone for his driver, who over five championships and now 64 race victories has regularly drawn comparisons to the greatest in the sport -- NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bobby Allison included.
"The thing that I think I'm proud he's of is just the simple fact that as we achieve these milestones, to have our team and our driver Jimmie Johnson be compared to the likes of Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty. I'm just extremely proud of that. It's something that I think this whole team needs to appreciate," Knaus said.
"I can remember when we started this team, we didn't have anything. We hadn't won a race, we hadn't led a lap, we hadn't done anything, and the first thing that we did was come down here for the Daytona 500, and we sat on the pole. For us to be able to achieve these milestones is pretty special, and I know one day we're going to sit back and we're going to look at it and be like, man, remember when we did that and we tied Bobby Allison for being the only team to have won both races in Daytona in a single season? That's pretty cool stuff."
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Davey Allison
- Bobby Allison
- Daytona 500
- Jimmie Johnson