Knight Ridder News

MOORESVILLE, N.C. - Some NASCAR fans are finding out that a small chocolate candy that melts in your mouth and not in your hand can also break your heart.

Imagine if New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner decided to ditch the team's pinstripes in favor of polka dots, rename the organization and completely change its identity.

Ludicrous? Probably. Yet that is essentially what NASCAR team owner Robert Yates has done with the famed No. 28 car.

As part of widespread restructuring at Robert Yates Racing, M&M's and the No. 38 have replaced the highly celebrated No. 28 Texaco Ford in the RYR stable. Over the last decade Ricky Rudd, Kenny Irwin, and Ernie Irvan each drove this machine. But it is inarguably the late Davey Allison who made it famous.

Allison began his Winston Cup career in 1987, driving for Ranier/Lindy Racing. It was then that he navigated the white with black and red trim, gold-numeraled No. 28 Texaco Ford Thunderbird to two victories and Rookie of the Year honors. That car was known as "Battlestar" and it is now preserved at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala.

In October of 1988, Harry Ranier sold the team to Yates, who was Allison's crew chief at the time. Together they built a winning tradition that has been rivaled by few since.

Before being tragically killed in a helicopter crash in 1993, Allison collected 19 victories in this car. To his legion of fans the memories are endless.

There was triumph, like the 1992 Daytona 500. There were heart-stopping moments like the 1992 Miller 500 at Pocono, Pa., where Allison led 115 laps before tangling with Darrell Waltrip, flipping 11 times and being seriously injured.

And no fan of the Alabama Gang can forget the emotion of the 1988 Daytona 500 when Davey finished second to his father, Hall of Famer Bobby Allison.

"Davey was so loved by the world and that drew attention to the car number," Bobby Allison said. "The first attachment to Davey was the race car."

And it continued to be a source of comfort for Davey Allison fans long after his death.

"It was a reflection of Davey Allison," said the 1983 Winston Cup champion. "So many people thought of him when they looked at the 28 car and Texaco. That was it's identity and what it represented to so many."

This source of comfort will be absent in 2003, but it's hard to blame Yates for the move. Even Bobby Allison called it a "smart" decision. It would seem that the cold financial reality of the sport today was the catalyst.

Undoubtedly M&M's wanted to create a new identity. After seven lackluster years in NASCAR the candy maker is still looking for its first victory. At the same time Havoline wanted to maintain control of the No. 28, despite the fact its sponsorship is now aligned with Chip Ganassi Racing.

"When it was first mentioned to me that Havoline wanted to take the 28, (my thought was) there's not money, not anything I would even consider to do this," said Yates, who aside from his own sentimental attachment knew this would not be a popular decision. "I had a lot of people give me a lot of grief about it.

"Some of Dale Earnhardt's closest people said Dale would literally jump out of the grave and beat me up. But he understands and Davey I'm sure understands."

Aside from the sponsor, driver Elliott Sadler and co-crew chiefs Raymond Fox and Shawn Parker were also new additions. Yates' son Doug has even taken over majority control of the team this season. With all the changes the conditions seem right for building a new legacy.

"To us, the 28 will always be Davey Allison's number, so hopefully we can start out with the 38 and make that my number," Sadler said. "I grew up being a Davey Allison fan, too, just like everybody else my age.

"No matter if I would have won 20 races in a row next year it still would have been Davey Allison's car. Because of that I think Robert (made) the right choice. It's hard and a lot of race fans are 28 fans but hopefully they'll switch over to the 38."

So as the cliche goes, it depends how you look at it. Yates hopes fans will see this as a new beginning. But certainly many will see it as the conclusion to a rich, memorable era.

Copyright © 2003 Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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