By Keith Waltz
The Winston 500 on May 3, 1987, at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway was a turning point in the balance between speed and safety in NASCAR racing.
With Bill Elliott winning the pole at more than 212 mph, the sport avoided a major catastrophe on lap 22 when something cut the right-rear tire on Bobby Allison’s Buick exiting the tri-oval portion of the 2.66-mile track and the car flew into the catch fence.
The impact ripped out nearly 100 feet of the fence, but the steel support cables did their job and kept Allison’s car out of the grandstand.
“I looked in the mirror and saw dad’s car was sideways and headed for the grandstand,” said Davey Allison, who scored his first Cup Series victory after the fence was repaired and racing resumed. “My heart sank. That’s the most I’ve ever been scared in my life. I just asked the good Lord to let him stay on this earth a while longer.”
Bobby Allison walked away from his mangled car, but a handful of spectators had to be treated for injuries caused by flying debris.
The frightening incident forced NASCAR officials to address the ever-increasing speeds and it was announced late in 1987 that restrictor plates would be required for all future events at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway. The restrictor plates are still used today.