Sprint car fans don’t normally believe in fairy tales, but 30 years ago, on Saturday night, Aug. 18, 1990, at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway some 18,000 saw a Cinderella story come to life right before their eyes.
Let’s allow a portion of the race recap story we wrote for the Aug. 22, 1990, issue of National Speed Sport News to set the scene:
“The final laps of the 30th edition of the World of Outlaws-sanctioned NAPA Knoxville Nationals came down to a shootout between the two ends of the sprint car spectrum.
“At one end was Bobby Allen, the grizzled independent and under-financed veteran from Pennsylvania who has struggled for years to keep his operation above water. And at the other end was Sammy Swindell’s lavishly backed team with burnished black paintwork decorated with chrome.
“It was a battle those in the packed grandstands will never forget and when Allen flashed under Doug Clark’s checkered flags some three lengths in front of Swindell, some bragged that the thunderous roar from the stands could be heard as far away as Des Moines.”
Allen, now 76 years old, recently looked back at the five most important laps of his sprint car racing career.
“It was toward the end of the race, with just a few laps to go, and they had a restart. I went down to the bottom and it was actually greasy in one area. I hit the slick spot just right, missed the bottom and bounced out,” Allen recalled. “Sammy went around me on the top and got the lead. Well, the next lap he goes down to the bottom and hits the same slick spot. When he did, he turned sideways a little bit – not as bad as I did – then he went back to the top.
“I said, ‘I’m still going to win this race.’ I went back to the bottom, passed him back and won the race.”
Allen spent more than two hours in victory lane that night, accepting congratulations from a steady stream of competitors, industry insiders and race fans.
“I always borrowed money from everybody and owed people money to race. I’d start every year way in the hole and then I’d pay them back. All those people that I owed money to, they were glad to come down there and congratulate me, and I could tell them they’d get their money next week,” Allen said with a big laugh. “No, I’m kidding, but there is a little bit of truth to that. Everybody wanted to see me win. It was like a fairy tale.”
Today, Allen cherishes his place among the 26 drivers who have won the Knoxville Nationals, but 30 years ago he shrugged off the significance of the triumph as he headed down the road to the next race.
“I was just a guy who liked racing; liked going fast. Every race was the same to me, you just wanted to try and win it,” Allen explained. “I didn’t really realize the impact of winning the Nationals until later on when a few years went by and people would talk about it – the prestige it has. That’s when I started realizing that was a pretty big race to win.”