Author: Jodauga, John
Date published: July 16, 2010
Journal code: NDRG
Taking over for legendary four-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Lee Shepherd after his death could be viewed as both a great opportunity and a daunting task fraught with pressure and comparisons. Bruce Allen, selected to fill that role following Shepherd's testing accident in March 1985, acquitted himself in stellar fashion with a 21-year driving career marked by skill, dedication, and grace. Behind the wheel, he scored 16 national event victories in 39 final-round appearances along with two wins and four runner-up finishes in the K&N Horsepower Challenge bonus race, and his style and dignity made him a worthy successor to the much-admired Shepherd.
Allen became acquainted with drag racing in 1964 when he attended an event in Ubly, Mich., in his early teens. "There were a lot of oval tracks within our area," said Allen, "but I was never interested in them. At the dragstrip, though, we saw a lot of muscle cars, which caught my attention."
By 1967, Allen had his first street-strip car, a '66 Oldsmobile 442. "It was a 12-second car with minimal modifications, such as headers and lower rear-end gears," he said. "We kept breaking the Oldsmobile engine, so I switched to a Chevy L-88 engine." A '67 Camaro followed that he ran in B/MP with a Booth-Arons big-block Chevy powerplant.
In 1970, while owning and operating a gas station, Allen hooked up with Jim Hanley of Gratiot Auto Supply to field a '64 Corvette in D/MP and E/MP. "That was my first real race car," said Allen. "We later switched to the Gas and Altered classes and eventually ended up in Comp eliminator." Allen's racing highlight during that period was a Modified win at the 1978 Summernationals.
Allen closed his gas station in 1973 to become an auto-mechanics teacher, then joined McLaren Racing Engines in 1975. He built engines for Al Holbert's International Motor Sports Association championship GTP Monza, then moved to the McLaren Buick V-6 Indy Development program, through which he first worked with David Reher and Buddy Morrison, who performed a lot of his machine work.
That association led to his purchase of the Reher-Morrison 1981 Pro Stock Camaro in 1983. "It was just a natural progression from having raced in Modified and Comp," said Allen, who campaigned the car on a Pro Stock circuit in the Midwest. His working relationship with Reher and Morrison began to expand, and he was invited to take his Camaro to their Arlington, Texas, shop to prepare for the 1984 off-season race in Bradenton, Fla., his first encounter with NHRA Pro Stock regulars.
Following Shepherd's fatal accident one week prior to the 1985 NHRA Gatornationals, Allen was offered Shepherd's spot behind the wheel and a partnership with the Reher-Morrison operation. "I later learned that the reason they picked me is because I was just starting out in Pro Stock and that David and Buddy felt they could train me to be the type of driver that they wanted," said Allen. "They also wanted someone who could help out at the shop with the engine work, and my experience with McLaren gave me the background for that. From my standpoint, the partnership arrangement was a key element because I wasn't going to leave my job at McLaren or have my wife, Deb, give up her teaching position in Michigan just to be the driver of a car."
Allen hurriedly received an accelerated course in NHRA Pro Stock driving; while he made initial test runs, Morrison or Reher would be in the other lane, moving their feet into the staging beams to re-create the tactics employed by top drivers, such as Bob Glidden and Butch Leal. About the pressure of taking the seat, Allen said, "There really was never any of that. I was never under the illusion that I could replace Lee Shepherd, and Buddy and David felt the same way. There were never any meetings between the three of us where we sat down and determined what our goals for each season should be. Everything was run on a race-to-race basis. All I could hope to do was to help them continue to keep winning races and keep the legacy going."
Allen rose to the occasion during his remarkable first season, in which he scored his first victory in Montreal and finished the campaign with three wins in seven final-round appearances. He was also the 1985 IHRA Pro Stock champion and won the inaugural Pro Stock Challenge, a victory that he would repeat in 1986. "That was one of the biggest highlights of my career," said Allen. "Beating a field of the elite eight drivers in Pro Stock was very gratifying."
In addition to qualifying for the first 148 Pro Stock races he entered, Allen recorded nine consecutive top 10 finishes (1985-1993) before loss of sponsorship forced the Reher-Morrison team to cut its schedule to two races in 1994. No longer sponsored by Chevrolet, the team regrouped with Pontiac support and produced a No. 4 finish in 1997. The group suffered a major setback in December 1998 when Morrison lost his battle with cancer but rebounded with a third-place showing in 2001. "What we did in 2001 was pretty amazing when you consider the challenges we were facing," said Allen. "It certainly was one of our proudest moments. But looking back now, we probably should have gotten out of racing around that time. We certainly hadn't lost interest, but we weren't in the position to do it at the level that we had previously enjoyed. Still, with racing in our blood, it was hard for us just to quit."
After producing two more top 10 finishes, in 2003 and 2004, the Reher-Morrison team reluctantly determined that the 2005 season would be its final campaign, a decision that was inadvertently hastened when Allen was involved in a horrific midtrack collision with Kenny Koretsky at the NHRA national event in Dallas in October. "It was the right time for it to end," said Allen. "Other than the fact that we lost the car, it was a good way to stop. Sometimes you have to be forced to do things, and the incident in Dallas certainly did that."
Allen, who was inducted into the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1985, continues to work at the Reher-Morrison operation, where his varied duties include engineering, engine detailing, intake-manifolddevelopment work, and many other related roles. Now that he has more time, he is heavily involved in car restoration and golf and enjoys sight-seeing excursions all over the country with Deb in their RV.
Allen follows the current Pro Stock campaigners on the Internet but rarely attends national events. "Like most retired drivers, I make a pretty poor spectator," said Allen. Of today's Pro Stock racing, he noted how much the bar has been raised with performance improvement and the accompanying costs and said, "It was pretty much the same in relative terms when David and Buddy were starting out, too. They worked very hard to take it to the next level. It's the nature of the beast."
Allen is glad to have begun his Pro Stock career in the mid-1980s. "It was a lot more seatof- the-pants and less computer back in those days. We got to be fairly proficient at determining what the car was doing by just watching it go down the track. Now you get all that information and more from the computer screen. It was a lot more gratifying for us, so I'm happy that we raced when we did." - John Jodauga