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Kyle Busch was captivated, growing wider-eyed, hanging on Bobby Allison's every word.
It was like listening to an old gunfighter regale a young gun with the story of a street shootout nearly 50 years ago, when he'd taken out four formidable foes all by himself.
I had instigated this telling of what I've long deemed the damnedest story of payback ever in auto racing. I thought Busch would love it. He did.
This was at Daytona last month, so it's not breaking news, but the story and the scene were too rich to leave untold.
Allison and I were sitting in the media center dining room, midafternoon, just talking, when Busch walked up and sat down.
Clearly this was out of enormous respect for Allison. Guys like Kyle Busch rarely have a moment to spare during Speedweeks, but he was taking his time.
He asked if he were interrupting.
"Nah," Allison said, "Hinton's just got some story going -- "
"Hinton's always got some story going," Busch said as he sat down.
Then it hit me: Speaking of stories
A little background: Huntsville, Ala., 1962, heyday of the modified cars. Bobby Allison was 24, a year younger than Kyle is now.
A big-bucks, four-driver team -- Coo Coo Marlin, brother Jack Marlin, Charlie Stoffel and Malcolm Brady -- rolled in from Nashville, Tenn., the epicenter of modified racing, bent on taking down the top gun from down in Hueytown, Ala.
Having heard the story many times, I'll fill in some areas along the way, but here's how Bobby told it, and how Kyle reacted.
"Huntsville Speedway was -- and it still is -- a beautiful little quarter-mile paved," Allison began.
"Yeah?" Busch was listening. You could tell that he could tell this was gonna get good.
"Beautiful little track. And I was dominating, that first year they built the track , winning every week."
"Yeah." Kyle liked that.
"And a lot of the fans liked it. All of 'em liked it. But there was a team that included Sterling's dad [Coo Coo] and his uncle [Jack] and two other guys from Nashville that drove for an outfit called Stoffel Racing.
"And their lead driver was Malcolm Brady. The guy was good; he was really good. And he was kind of quiet.
"Coo Coo Marlin was the big competitor in the family and a little bit noisy. And Jack Marlin was really noisy."
"Yeah?" Rowdy was laughing an anticipatory sort of laugh now, sensing rowdiness coming on fast.
"And then the fourth driver, Charlie Stoffel, was the son of the guy that owned the team.
"So I'd been winning, winning, winning "
But that night, in rolled the invaders from Tennessee, and ganged up, and "they wrecked me in the heat race, so then I had to run the qualifying race."
"Yeah?" Busch was fully focused now.
"So then they wrecked me in the qualifying race. Tore up the car pretty bad in that."
For the feature race, "I said, 'Gimme a couple of minutes. I'm repairing the car. I'll start last.'"
But the chief steward wouldn't wait for Allison, and as the feature lineup rolled down the pit road, Allison was still underneath his car, working on it.
"So about the 10th or 15th lap, I got that thing done, got in it, drove out onto the track, stuck Charlie Stoffel in the fence right there."
|Every driver likes a good payback story, and Kyle Busch was all smiles as he heard one of Bobby Allison's best at Daytona.|
Now Kyle was belly-laughing, loving it.
"Came down the back straightaway and here came Jack Marlin, so I stuck him in the fence right there.
"Went around one more time, and there was Coo Coo. Stuck Coo Coo in the fence right there.
"And I have a picture "
More anticipatory laughing from Busch.
"Of me in the third turn. And here's Malcolm Brady "
"Uh huh?" Busch was ready for the clincher.
"And here I am, you can see my arms like this [gesturing a hard-right turn of the steering wheel], and Malcolm Brady is tearing down the signs behind -- "
"Behind the wall?" Busch could envision the final knockout.
In just a few laps on a quarter-mile track, Allison had taken out all four of his offenders.
So now Kyle put the finale question in West Coast cool language: "How'd that go over?"
Meaning the aftermath.
"Well, we managed to get my group over this way, and their group over that way, and there was no fight.
"But they fined me, I think, $50 a car" -- and here Kyle busted out chuckling at the bargain -- "for the ones that I wrecked."
Kyle could only imagine: dumping four guys in retaliation in one race, at the incredible price of $200.
And then the old gunfighter looked the young gun in the eye, beaming the real point of this exercise called racing.
"I won the feature race the next week."
"There you go," the youngster said. "Perfect."
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.