Donnie Allison leads the way


Amid the talk about how Kurt Busch might fare in this year's Indianapolis 500 as the first pure NASCAR driver to "do the double" in a long time, here's a not-so-trivial question for you: Who is the all-time maestro of the Indy-Charlotte combo in May?

Donnie Allison remains the most successful NASCAR driver ever in the 500 and retains the best combined record for both the 500 and 600.

He had a secret, which we'll reveal in a minute -- one neither Busch nor any other pure NASCAR driver ever at Indy, except for Bobby Allison, Donnie's older brother, has had.

Donnie in 1970 won the 600 on May 24 and then finished fourth at Indy on May 30, earning rookie of the year honors and recording what remains the highest finish ever by a NASCAR driver there. Yes, he had six days in between, where Busch will attempt to run both races on the same day, but Allison drove Indy with a badly burned heel on his throttle foot, suffered at Charlotte.

In 1971, Allison had the fastest car going into the 500 and might have won Indy if not for a race-morning technical rules change. As it was, he finished sixth at Indy on May 29 and then flew by private jet to Charlotte, where he finished second on May 30.

So first and fourth in '70, second and sixth in '71.

Tony Stewart, a regular in Indy cars before switching to NASCAR, had a career-best Indy 500 finish of fifth in 1997. The two years Stewart did the double, he finished ninth at Indy and fourth at Charlotte in 1999 and sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte in 2001.

Danica Patrick's fourth-place finish at Indy in 2005 and third in 2009 came before she moved to NASCAR.

So cumulatively, Donnie did better than anyone else. And he did it against undeniably the best Indy car competitors of the time, where Stewart and Patrick raced at Indy against questionable fields of talent after Indy car racing was gutted by the sanctioning split that began in 1996.

Unlike Stewart, John Andretti and Robby Gordon when they tried the double, Busch has never driven an Indy car in competition. Neither had Donnie, until 1970.

But once his first Indy 500 started, "If I had any surprises, it was maybe a little easier than I'd thought it was going to be," Donnie, now 74, said on the phone the other day.

His secret was a little-known and not long remembered form of racing that hit its pinnacle in the Gulf Coast states in the 1960s.

Primarily a stock car driver, "I ran about two and a half or three years of super modified, and I liked 'em," Donnie said.

Super modified.

You need to be a true aficionado of American motor racing to recognize that term, but if you do, the horrific sound and fury of those big-block engines belching the blue fire of nitromethane fuel mixtures, 490 horsepower pushing tiny 1,400-pound cars, is indelible in your memory.

There was nothing quite like them, and there never will be again. They were as near to unlimited cars as oval-track racing will ever get. "Supers" ran in various parts of the country, but the hotbed was deep in what is considered the cradle of NASCAR.

They were open-wheeled, with wings on top. They looked similar to today's winged sprint cars, but they ran on pavement and were lightning quick on half-mile tracks.

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