If Richard Petty is NASCAR's "King" then Bobby Allison should be Prime Minister ... of Feel Good.
Crowds form every time Allison shows up, just to shake his hand.
The living legend evokes a palpable sense of kinship. It has been said that burly truck driver types tear up when meeting Allison, who lives in Mooresville.
Both triumph and tragedy mark the life and career of this charter member of the Alabama Gang. Allison suffered from post traumatic amnesia surrounding the time of his career-ending crash at Pocono Raceway in June 1988. He simply cannot remember events around that time.
Today, life is good for Allison, 73, and his wife, Judy, who live in the Work Creek area. His spirits soared in October when he was named one of the first 10 inductees into NASCAR's Hall of Fame.
"I consider it a tremendous honor," he said. "I had a lot of success and some heartaches."
Allison was surprised to be named in the Hall's second year.
"It was an honor to be selected, especially this early."
Allison has more than a few stories to tell from his years of wheeling a race car.
His toughest competitor? It was neither Petty nor Cale Yarborough.
"Donnie Allison," he said without hesitation.
"(My brother) got the most out of the car. He was a tough competitor. He didn't race as much as I did, but when he showed up he was always at the top of the list of guys I had to beat on that given day."
In February 1979, Bobby and Donnie drove NASCAR onto the nation's sports scene. On the final lap of the first live flag-to-flag telecast of a Daytona 500, Donnie and Yarborough crashed from the lead.
The pair were duking it out on the backstraight apron when Bobby arrived to check on his brother.
"That's when ol' Cale kept beating on my fist with his nose," Allison recalled with a smile.
That unscripted dust-up combined with a major northern blizzard gave snowbound sports fans an unforgettable taste of NASCAR excitement.
Allison's "highlight reel" is long and includes 85 wins, the 1983 Sprint Cup Championship and three Daytona 500 victories.
But to Allison, it's the unusual races that stick out, like Ontario, Calif., in a Penske AMC Matator, AKA "The Nash."
The car was "a good piece" but the famous road racing engine builder didn't know his choice of rocker arms were not up to snuff for stock cars.
The engine predictably failed, leaving Allison a few laps short of a surefire win. Once changed, the Nash vindicated itself by winning a later Ontario race.
The happiest moment of Allison's career "is the one I can't remember," he said. "But it might be to be 50 years old and win the Super Bowl of racing (the Daytona 500 for the third time). And finishing second would be our son, Davey."
Then after a pause, "It had to be the happiest time of my career, but I can't remember any of it."
Due to the head injuries he suffered in his career-ending crash, Allison can't remember winning the 1988 Daytona 500.
Allison helped guide the careers of sons Davey and Clifford, but lost both of them within a year. Clifford died in a racing accident in Michigan in 1992, and Davey in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993.
Perhaps the most important accolades Allison will ever get comes from his fans. They love him because he has shown grace and dignity in the tragic times and humility in acclaim.
"Well, I enjoyed people and I knew early in my career people helped me so it was a natural thing to return some of that to the people."
Bobby and Judy are involved with such Mooresville civic groups as the Quiet Birdmen, a local chapter of a national group of former aviators. He also assists with local charities such as Stocks for Tots, as well as the Pettys' Victory Junction Gang Camp.
The Allisons are members of St. Terese Catholic Church and have been known to show up for local events that support racing charities in the area such as the Race City Civitans.
One measure of the Allison family selfless nature of turning tragedy into triumph is seen in Davey, an organ donor.
"Our son Davey gave his heart away. It's not easy to talk about, but it's an incredible deal," said Allison. Davey was the oldest of Bobby and Judy's four children.
If anyone ever wondered why grown men cry when they meet Allison, there's your answer.