TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Remember the days before restrictor plates slowed things down at Talladega Superspeedway? Bobby Allison does -- vividly -- and he disagrees with drivers who long for a return to the era of unlimited speeds.
It was Allison's accident here in 1987 that prompted NASCAR to design the plates in order to curtail speed and improve safety for fans and drivers. By limiting the amount of air and fuel allowed into the carburetor, restrictor plates have effectively made 190 mph the maximum speed on the high-banked, 2.66-mile trioval.
Heading into Sunday's DieHard 500, many drivers are taking their customary stance of blaming the carburetor plates for bunched fields that can turn an innocent bump into a major accident at NASCAR's fastest track.
Allison has heard it all and insists the plates are still a blessing.
"They're the best thing NASCAR has ever done," he said. "The availability of the knowledge, the technology and the commitment means nobody is ever going to separate from anyone else by too much. Without carburetor plates, they'd still all be bunched and we'd be having these wrecks at 240 mph instead of 190."
Allison was going about 210 mph with an unrestricted engine when his back tire was torn apart by a piece of metal, sending the car spinning and airborne during a race in May 1987. The car careened off the fencing and just avoided flying into the packed grandstand. Several spectators suffered minor injuries, but nobody was killed.
The next week, NASCAR pledged to slow speeds on its fast tracks and no race at Talladega or Daytona Speedway has been the same since.
"I remember coming to Talladega in 1981 and winning an ARCA race at 200 mph," said Mark Martin, who won the Grand National and Winston Cup events here last spring. "Now that was racing. That was fun for us. What they do today is more fun for the fans. I don't know about how safe it makes it. It's like 43 gnats flying out there, waiting to run into each other."
There are always exceptions. Martin's Winston Cup win last year came at a NASCAR-record speed of 188.354 mph. It was the first caution-free race on the Winston Cup series since 1992.
But he's still a skeptic -- maybe because of the four accidents he suffered in Grand National races at Talladega before finally winning here on that circuit last year.
"Restrictor plates are going to happen, 30-car drafts are going to happen," he said. "A great race for fans is almost guaranteed. After that, you pretty much just wait and see."
At the Winston 500 in 1996, Ricky Craven was injured after a 14-car crash that sent his car rolling into the catch fence high above the first-turn wall. In the 1996 DieHard 500, seven-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt fractured his collar bone and sternum after being involved in an 11-car crash.
As always, there were some who believed that if they had been able to give their car just a little extra bit of gas to pull out of the pack, they may have avoided the accident.
Allison doesn't buy into that theory.
"If someone who says that were driving for me, he'd be fired," he said. "Because the guy driving for me would be holding the throttle wide open anyway. There shouldn't be anything left. The guy who says he'd have something left isn't doing his best job with what he's got at a track like this."
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