The Talladega Jinx

Graeme
By
Posted: September 16, 2015


The Talladega Jinx refers to a purported curse that has caused an abnormally high number of crashes at the Talladega Superspeedway since it was constructed in 1968.

The Origin of the Talladega Jinx

The Talladega Superspeedway was constructed in 1968 by William France, Sr. with the intention of superseding the Daytona International Speedway which until then was the longest and fastest track. The track was initially known as the Alabama International Motor Speedway but would change to Talladega Superspeedway in 1989. The track, which was constructed at a cost of $4 million, opened on September 13 1969. From the very start, the track was a concern and the professional drivers went on strike the bight before the Talladega 500 to protest over the speed that could be attained at the track due to its length and steep banking. The drivers’ union was concerned over the threat to the safety of drivers that this posed.

Many strange crashes at the Talladega have led to stories of the track being cursed, although the exact origin of the curse remains unclear. Some people claim that the valley where the Talladega Superspeedway was constructed had been the venue of Native American horse races. According to this legend, a Native American chief was killed when he was thrown off his horse during one of these ancient races. Another version has it that the local Native American tribe was driven out of the valley for supporting Andrew Jackson and the crashes were punishment for the indignation. Yet another version claims that the locality of the speedway was a burial site for American Indians.

The effects of the Jinx

Since the track was constructed, there have been many strange occurrences and deaths at the Talladega. In 1973, Bobby Isaac abandoned his car and quit the race on lap 90, claiming he had heard voices in his head that told him to park his car and get out. In the same race, a young driver named Larry Smith had died in what seemed like a minor crash. During the 1974 version of the Talladega 500, drivers awoke to find many cars sabotaged by sand in the gas tank and cut brake lines. In the same year, Don Miller, a crewman for Roger Penske lost a part of his leg after the car his driver Gary Bettenhausen was driving was hit by another driver as he pitted, pinning Miller between the pit wall and Bettenhausen’s vehicle. In 1975, Randy Owens, a crew member of the Petty Enterprises died when an air tank exploded in the pits.

In 1987, Bobby Allison cut his right rear tire on debris from a blown engine and the car he was driving flipped into the air landing near and damaging the front stretch catch fence. Concerned over a repeat of the same, NASCAR instigated changes aimed at making the track safer. The new rules required cars to be installed with restrictor plates when racing at Talladega and Daytona in order to slow down the vehicles in light of the fact that car tire technology could not handle the kind of speeds capable at the track. Resistor plates are designed to restrict air and fuel flowing into the intake manifold of the engine in order to reduce the car’s power. In 1993, Allison’s son Davey died when the helicopter he was riding in crashed on the infield. In the same month, Neil Bonnett’s car went airborne in the same way Allison’s had done in 1978 and hit the catch fence. In 1996, Bob Loga, the president of the Automobile Racing Club of America died when he had a traffic accident in a parking lot. Aside from driver injuries and deaths, spectator injuries from flying debris fairly common at Talladega.

The credibility of the curse is hard to ascertain especially given the safety concerns that were raised from the start over the design of the Talladega Superspeedway. The use of restrictor plates has seemingly not solved the problems of safety associated with the track as cars can still reach speeds of up to 200mph on some stretches. In fact the speed record on a closed NASCAR oval circuit, which stands at 216 miles per hour was set in 2004 by Rusty Wallace at the Talladega Superspeedway. This was more than 15 years after the resistor plate rule was passed. This suggests that the circuit’s design is to blame for the accidents and not supernatural powers.

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