1. Sport Allen Recent Online
Sport Allen stands on the gas at Florida’s 4-17 Southern Speedway. - DAVID SINK PHOTO

The SPORT ALLEN Saga

Sport Allen has been driving sprint cars since he was 13 years old.

The 50-year-old continues to race and doesn’t show any signs of quitting anytime soon. He’s still competitive evidenced by his 2021 BG Products Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series championship.

Allen made national headlines in 1984 when he began competing in sprint cars in his native state of Florida. At the time, it was unfathomed that a 13-year-old would be allowed to race sprint cars. Future NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon made his sprint car debut a year later at the age of 13.

2. Sport & Melissa Online
Sport Allen’s wife, Melissa, helps him strap into his sprint car. – DAVID SINK PHOTO

“I always wanted to run a sprint car. My dad took me to East Bay Raceway to watch the World of Outlaws in the late 1970s. After that I wanted to do it so bad, I couldn’t stand it,” Allen recalled. “We found a car for sale, an older car we could run on dirt or pavement. The idea was we were going to practice at Sunshine Speedway (now Showtime Speedway) that’s all. They were going to let me come out and practice when nobody was around.

“We were fast right out of the box. We bought the car from a guy named Charlie Altfater,” Allen continued. “He had been around sprint car racing for a long time. He had the car so close right out of the box that I was a half a second from where I needed to be to race. It just went from there.

“There was a race during Winternationals where they used to run supermodifieds against the sprint cars. It was coming up in a week or two,” Allen noted. “The track (officials) said if I could run around there and guys aren’t scared to run with me, I could race or at least get a start. Hell, I made the whole race both nights. I got lapped a time or two, but I finished.”

Not everyone was enthusiastic to race with a 13-year-old.

“There were a few guys that didn’t want me running and I understand that, but I was up to speed right from the start,” Allen said.

Allen made his Little 500 debut three months later at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway. The little 500 doesn’t seem like the ideal race for a rookie with limited seat time. After qualifying 14th, the Allen held his own until getting knocked out of the race, literally, after only 91 laps.

“I was really nervous before the start of the race. I had never even been there to watch the thing. I didn’t know what to expect,” Allen recalled. “I just listened to guys and they said, ‘just watch around you. The worst part is the three wide start. Just find a spot, get in line, and start picking people off.’

“We were doing fine until I got crashed. I remember coming up on a slower lapped car. A yellow came out and I got blasted,” Allen said. “It knocked me out.”

4. 1984 Little 500 Online
Sport Allen prior to the 1984 Little 500. – Ron Cook photo

There is a historic photo of Allen’s father carrying the 13-year-old in his arms as the boy lay hapless. The photo made it into several publications at the time.

“He got me out of there because he was a cop. He was used to reacting to situations,” Allen explained. “He was worried because we had ruptured a fuel cell. It was draining fuel. He may have overridden his boundaries, but he jumped in too quickly get me the hell out of there.”

The rookie season ended on a high note when Allen scored his first victory in a winged sprint car event on the dirt at Florida’s East Bay Raceway.

Not knowing what to do, Allen went straight to the pits after the victory. “My mom and dad were ecstatic,” Allen remembered. “I didn’t know what to do. They had to push the car back onto the straightaway to get pictures.”

By the time 1986 rolled around, Allen got the break he needed. Now 15, he was hired to drive for car owner Charles Ledford with sights set on running for the Tampa Bay Area Racing Ass’n championship. Ledford’s cars were championship quality.

“I had been running pretty good on dirt with our family car. An opportunity came about to run for a guy down here (Florida),” Allen explained. “Charlie Ledford had Jimmy Haynes driving for him and had an extra pavement car. He wanted to go for the points championship because it was an overall points championship back then. He offered me a ride in one of his pavement cars.

“It was a win-win deal. Now I’m in top dollar stuff and my parents don’t have to pay for any of the pavement stuff,” Allen said. “The guy may start helping us on the dirt if we continue running good since we’re running for the overall championship.”

Those plans came to an abrupt halt due to new insurance regulations.

“It wasn’t four or five races into it and the insurance changed, you had to be 16. That was the end of that,” Allen said. “At that point, there were only a couple of places we could run. There went any hopes of a championship run. We had been up in the points every year because we were always consistent. Ledford put somebody else in the car since I couldn’t run the pavement and my parents kind of lost interest in it. I quit running and basically disappeared.

“I was in high school at the time and my parents were soured on the whole insurance thing,” Allen noted. “My parents really couldn’t afford what we were doing. We took my life savings, that I had in the bank, that my grandpa had given me. My dad was a cop and my mom worked in a cabinet factory. We didn’t have a lot of money. My career had just started taking off. My dad (Rick Allen) got pissed and didn’t want to come back. I sat out for several seasons.”

By 1992, Allen was back in a sprint car and competing exclusively on dirt. He continued to develop as a driver and hit his stride during the 1999 season. He had his best season to date, winning 19 features and the East Bay track championship.

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