Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Ghosts of Dega

By Chanda Healton

Photos from Google
Every year around this time it starts: Stories about the Ghosts of Talladega Superspeedway! Are they real or spooked to scare up some fans for this week's Alabama 500? Part of me is waiting for Shaggy and Scooby-Doo to Roll up in the Mystery Machine and rip off the mask, to reveal Brian France and yet another plot to make NASCAR more exciting! The other part of me, the one who believes spirits are real, genuinely wants to know if the Talladega Jinx is real. The problem is, few people are willing to talk about it and drivers avoid the question like it will bring the beast to life, So Today I will go in search of some answers as to Dega's ghosts and legends. I will leave it to you to decide if you believe them or not.

Let's start with some track history and some of the more mysterious events, shall we?

As with all haunted places, it seems Native Americans are to blame for the things that go bump in the night! From rumors of an Native American Burial Ground, to the stories the locals tell of the Dry Valley 160+ years before NASCAR was thought up. Some speak of a Native American tribe, who raced horses through the Valley, until the day their chief fell from his horse and died, as the cause of the curse on the land, while others mention Andrew Jackson, who teamed up with the Creek Tribe to drive (an unnamed) local tribe out of the area. As they left, their Shaman left behind a curse for future visitors. No matter the cause of the Talladega Jinx, there have been some sad and unfortunate events happen there.

Enjoy this comical video by Terry Gilliam. He actually talks to some drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. It was created in 2010, and while “The Legend of Hallowdega” is rather amusing, I'm not sure it can be entered as factual evidence!

Of course, the tales are legendary and you can find many of the stories outside of NASCAR this is one of my favorite from a Facebook page called Haunted History.

"Intertwined in the spectacular moments of NASCAR history that were made at the track, affectionately known as Dega to most hardcore race fans, are stories of Indian burial grounds, ghost sightings and mysterious deaths.

Before NASCAR was officially formed, “Big Bill” France was already hunting for land to develop into race tracks. France had his sights set on Hillsborough, NC for the site of a new facility but the local religious leaders would have none of it. According to Racing vs. Religion by L.D. Russell, when France petitioned the locals with the idea of the race track, the ministers refused it as way of ‘preserving the sanctity of the Sabbath’.

So, France began hunting elsewhere and in the late ‘60’s discovered Talladega County in Alabama Construction on the facility began on May 23, 1968 and was completed in time for the first scheduled event on September 13, 1969. Two races were completed successfully that weekend, but after the pole was set for the inaugural Cup Series race at 199.466mph, the Professional Drivers Association, headed by Richard Petty, refused to run in the next day’s event due to the unsafe situation. The tire companies were unable to develop a tire that would withstand the fast speeds at the new track.

But, the first Cup race was run as scheduled, without the PDA drivers and without any major incident.

However, as the years passed, and as drivers with names like Baker, Waltrip, Allison, Elliott and Earnhardt came to fame on the 2.66-mile tri-oval, strange occurrences began building on the legend of the Talladega curse.

Multiple drivers have lost their lives on the high banks of Dega in strange wrecks, innocent bystanders were killed in freak accidents in the infield and on the facility grounds, and one driver even claims to have heard voices.

In 1973, Bobby Isaac was leading the race and supposedly heard a voice that told him to pull off the track. He listened, and always believed that he escaped death that day by heeding the mysterious voice."

Larry Smith was killed in the race that day in what was seemingly a minor crash.

Tiny Lund was killed on back stretch in 1975.

Joe Crayton Clinard Jr tells about an ARCA race in the early 80's " In 82 or 83 I remember an ARCA race it was a Blue car, never forget driver died in a crash, seems like the car was not tore up that bad and they covered the cars top and windows and as I recall pulled it with a Tow truck to the Hospital I think...That was a weird feeling but not sure it was The Jinx you speak of.

In July 1982, 28-year-old Gene Richards was the first ARCA driver to be killed at Talladega. On lap 31, a tire blew and sent his Buick into the fourth turn wall. The car came back across the track and hit the inside wall near pit road. In April 1983, Ken Kalla was killed on the third lap when his Buick spun off turn two and slammed into the inside wall, hitting it with the right front and spinning around to hit it with the right rear. Kalla was killed instantly from massive skull injuries. Later in the race Bob Brevak suffered burns over 25% of his body in a fiery crash. Davey Allison claimed his first win on the Talladega Speedway that day. And in July 1987, Cale Yarborough crew-member Tracy Read was killed while driving in the ARCA race. He spun in avoidance of an accident and hit the inside wall off turn two with the left side of his Chevrolet. Chris Gehrke was the last driver to die in an ARCA race at Talladega in May 1991. His car spun in the tri-oval and flipped several times before getting struck by Carl Miskotten. He passed away three days after the race. A total of four drivers were killed in 10 years. After 1991 however, safety began to catch up with the speeds and the race became much safer. But almost as a curse, ARCA at Talladega just kept on taking. In 1996, the president of ARCA, Bob Loga was killed in a passenger car accident leaving the track. If the Talladega curse truly existed, it could be shown in ARCA."

And, of course, no one will forget Davey Allison's Helicopter crash in 1993. Here is his obituary from the NY Times.

Clinard Jr.remembers, "The helicopter came within a foot of touching down when it suddenly shot back up 25 feet off the ground and began oscillating and then spinning before plummeting to the ground on its left side, where Allison was sitting. Roff Safer, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, declined to speculate on the cause of the crash, but said there was no indication of mechanical failure. Based on interviews with 10 people who saw all or part of the crash, the investigator said that Allison was attempting to land in a small, fence-enclosed parking lot

Allison, who lived in Hueytown, Ala., had flown to the track to watch a practice run by David Bonnett, the son of Neil Bonnett."

So, is Talladega actually haunted? I turned to some of my favorite NASCAR groups to ask the fans. As always Winston Cup History 1971-2003 was my knight in shining armor!

Photo from NASCAR On Fox Facebook Page

Chris Standridge, who has been to 18 cup races at Talladega says, " When Rusty flipped in 93 you
could feel death and I once took a picture of the pack zooming by and expected to see a rainbow blur. Picture caught one car. Ricky Craven 41 Kodiak car (later went into the catch fence,) Death has came to Dega more than once and I think its a creepy place.. Dega is like a living monster.."

David Harkey say, "Talladega was built on what had been an Indian burial ground. Been to Talladega many times, seen some strange and unexplained things. Staying in the infield at night is an experience."

Terry Lee says he's " Been way to many times, seen several strange and funny things."

No one would go into much detail though so lets move on to those who don't believe in the Jinx.

Jules Scaccia says "The story about Talladega being haunted goes back before my time in the sport. Its just not my thing. As most everyone knows I'm a technical and gear head guy. Thus paranormal activity does not interest me. There were issues right from the start. Drivers were upset over the speed/tires/safety issues and many boycotted. Since this had not happened before I 'think' this was what made the so called 'jinx' stick... Issues building the place too I believe."
Be on the lookout for this tragic soul!

Michael Sanders, the wonderful owner of this NASCAR group says, "My opinion: it's another NASCAR gimmick. I'm going to Dega again this weekend. This'll be 18 Cup races to go with 1 Xfinity and 1 truck race. I've been to every part of the track you can get to on foot and have never experienced any kind of strange phenomena, unless you want to count Junior or Danica fans."

Joseph Harville, who has been going to Talladega 20+ years says, "They started this shit when the race landed on Halloween.I have been all over the in field,the out fields/camping grounds.there are no ghosts in Dega and if by chance there is,They mind their own damn business!!!"

Ganey Noe, owner of Stock Car Trash Talk, who has been to Talladega 6 timrd, four of them in the infield, says, "I believe in paranormal but Talladega is on Indian burial ground but to say haunted, no.Talladega has had some eerie and unusual events during races. Spectacular wrecks where no one was hurt unbelievably. More cars have flipped and gone into the fence there than anywhere else but that's just racing, not ghosts or spirits."

Kent Baggett said "I’ve been there many times over the years, but I never noticed anything that would make me think it was haunted."

Nic Altgilbers says "I've been close to 40 times and have never seen anything that couldn't be explained by either 1) It's bumf**k Alabama and 2) the astounding amount of alcohol consumed. If anyone has seen anything that couldn't be explained by that I would be shocked.

Patrick Keohane says "I've been going since 1989. Used to go to both weekends back when they raced in July, but have never been in October. We camped on-site many times. Nothing unusual has ever happened (at least nothing alcohol doesn't explain)."

On that note, Harville concludes, " I drink a lot and have done many different drugs while there. That place is a daycare now compared to the 80's and early 90' sure the 70's were even more nuts but i was to young to go on my own. I fully believe in ghosts/spirits,whatever you want to call them but have never felt anything there that i believe wasn't from drugs and or alcohol."

To learn more, check out this article in the Washington Post. Leave us a comment on how you feel about Talladega's ghosts. Are they real or no?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

An Alex Bowman Story

By Chanda Healton

What does it mean to be me right now? Well, I'm writing this through tears. Not ones of sorrow, but tears of joy, of relief that the day I have waited for since 2014 has finally happened. You see, today a driver few people had heard of by the end of his rookie season, won a hard fought Xfinity race. I wanted to share my Alex Bowman story with you in hopes maybe it will make you a fan also!

In 2014, Alex Bowman was a little no name rookie running at the back of the pack. Few knew his name and fewer cared to learn it, but I was taken in by him and turned into a fan. His humor on Twitter and his general personality wowed me into believing he would do great things someday.

Some of you may know I have a daughter who is in a wheelchair. Savannah will be 6 in just a few weeks, but in 2015 she was a 3 year old who had never played outside. Her wheelchair wouldn't go through grass and she was scared to touch it (still is!) It broke my heart watching how my little girl wanted more than anything to live a normal life, only to have life throw more obstacles in her way.

One day, while cruising Twitter, I came across a news story about how Alex Bowman, Tommy Baldwin Racing and Go Baby Go were helping kids turn Road Ripper toys into mobility equipment for special needs kids. I tweeted them and thanked them for helping other children like Savannah. I did it, not expecting an answer or anything in return, but a month later Savannah and I got an invite to the Go Baby Go clinic at Chicagoland Speedway. We accepted, thrilled for a chance to meet my favorite driver!

In June 25, 2015 my dream of meeting Alex Bowman came true. We drove the 2½ hours from West Lafayette, Indiana to Joliet, Illinois, of course, forgetting that Chicago was an hour behind us, thus arriving way too early. There Alex Bowman and Tommy Baldwin taught us how to modify a Road Ripper into something a special needs kid could control with just a push of a button. Some chose to build roll cages on their cars as well as other modifications, but Savannah's car was very simple, we just added a seat belt from a luggage bag strap to keep her safe. Though Savannah is missing part of her lower spine in addition to having Spina Bifida, she has always been very happy and healthy. We have been blessed by this. After we were done, the kids got to test their new cars, some smiling for the first time, others just laughing. Savannah headed out of the garage with a huge smile on her face. She knew right where to go, Victory Lane! It was a day I will never forget!

I've been there the whole time cheering Alex on! A loyal and dedicated fan. I've watched him through his days of running in the back of the pack, to last year when he nearly won Phoenix. There is so much talent in him and I believe he will go on to do great things!

As for Savannah, she turns 6 on October 18th. She knows and loves NASCAR and says she is very excited to have Alex race next year. In the mean time, she enjoys watching races with me and occasionally trying to run my over with her Alex Bowman car! She has stated that it needs an 88 paint job for next year though. Alex's future is brighter than ever and I feel like I have spent nearly 2 years in limbo waiting for my driver to return full time. His win will remain a highlight in 2017, but I know this is nothing compared to how I will feel when he gets his first Monster Cup win!

Tonight, as Alex stood in Victory Lane, I feel like his future is really just starting. Alex Bowman will be a legend someday. Thank you Chip Ganassi for giving him his first win. Thank you Dale Earnhardt Jr for seeing greatness where maybe no one noticed before and most of all, thank you to his sponsors and to Rick Hendrick for taking a chance with him! Congratulations Alex! I can't wait for 2018!
Savannah at the beginning of summer in her car