The 2017 NASCAR season was one for the record books. After suffering through 22 seasons of never-ending dry races, the sport’s most prestigious racing series finally delivered on the promise it had made to fans for years: it delivered a winner-take-all season. The championship ended in a thrilling finale between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, and it was fitting that two of the sport’s biggest stars would go head-to-head for the crown. The finale served as the perfect swan song for one of the most historic seasons in recent sports history, and fans still talk about it to this day.
While this was a major moment for NASCAR, it was also a bittersweet one. In the days and weeks that followed the season’s end, fans across the country were met with the heartbreaking news that one of the most historic sports venues had allegedly suffered a curse. On February 11, 2017, Deadspin reported that a woman named DeLana Davidson had visited the site of what will be remembered as the Talladega Curse and had felt the brunt of its wrath. The news story went on to say:
“Delaney Davidson, a real estate agent from Prattville, Alabama, claims she visited the site and felt something ‘menacing’ and ‘sinister,’ as well as had bad luck there dating back to 1975,” the article read. “She claims cars breaking down, wrecks, and even a plane crash were all caused by the curse.”
What exactly happened at Talladega that could potentially put a curse on the place? The legend goes that several years prior to Davidson’s visit, a young boy had died after crashing at the speedway. The crash was attributed to the fact that the boy had worn dirty clothing, which led to his death. In recent years, there have been several high-profile crashes at the speedway, including both Chase Elliot and Bubba Wallace. While none of these incidents are directly linked to the Talladega Curse, it’s definitely something that comes to mind when one thinks about the place.
What Was The Actual Incidental To The Curse?
According to Davidson, she had a rough night out at Talladega on April 30, 1975. While out for a late-night drive, Davidson encountered a tornado. She said that as she was driving home, the wind started to howl and the weather turned violent. This is the moment when the Talladega Curse was allegedly invoked. It was a horrific storm that swept across the entire state of Alabama, killing 13 people and injuring hundreds more. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the area that same night, and it remained in effect for several hours. It was one of the worst natural disasters in American history at the time. The following is an excerpt from Davidson’s book, The Talladega Curse: How a NASCAR Race Track Became Death Row:
“I was driving home when suddenly, out of nowhere, a tornado appeared and hit a tree right in front of me. It was a big, tall pine tree, and it bent my car a bit, but I could still drive. With its white-hot light shining in my eyes, I could see the road clearly in front of me. But then…everything went black. I remember feeling the heat of the asphalt on my face and arms as the wind pushed me along. I could hear things crashing around me, but I could not tell whether it was the wind, the tree, or the oncoming vehicles. I felt dazed and confused. After what seemed like a very long time, but was probably only a few seconds, I came to and was lying in the middle of the road. My head hurt, and I was wondering how I got there. After several minutes, I started to move again, and I saw several cars lying on their sides in the road. An eerie sight. I felt the wind again, and it was still howling. It sounded like there were many hurricanes inside the walls. I looked down at my clothes and saw that my dress had been torn and my jacket was missing its left sleeve. I remember thinking that it was just a matter of time before someone decided to murder me in this exact spot. Luckily, I had enough sense to hide in the woods when I saw the first car coming towards me. It was the local police, and they helped me clean up and figure out what had happened. They gave me a ride back to my motel and told me not to come back to Talladega unless I was wearing a helmet or a baseball helmet. They also said that if I did come back, I would not be allowed to drive down the road. But they couldn’t keep me away, and here I am, 38 years later, telling you all this,” Davidson wrote.
The fact that Davidson returned to Talladega two more times and was never harmed or cursed again is proof that her story was a load of rubbish. Even so, Davidson claimed that cars breaking down, wrecks, and even a plane crash were all caused by the Talladega Curse. While it’s true that there were several plane crashes at the speedway in recent years, the vast majority of them were due to bad weather conditions, such as storms and hurricanes. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that these were “acts of god,” and not mistakes or malfunctions on the part of the pilots. In other words, the crashes were not the fault of the pilots.
There were also several infamous wrecks at the speedway. These were accidents that resulted from reckless driving or falling asleep at the wheel. The worst of these was a 1976 racing event where a driver named Richard Petty lost his right leg and his life in a fiery crash. More recently, there was the case of Chase Elliot, who suffered terrible injuries when his car was slammed into the wall at Talladega in 2016. He needed 26 stitches in his head, and his car was eventually destroyed.
It’s definitely an odd coincidence that all of these incidents happened at the same place. However, just because something happens at a particular place doesn’t mean that it’s cursed. There’s plenty of blame to go around for these incidents, and it shouldn’t be pinned on one specific location. It’s also important to note that these were isolated incidents, and not part of a pattern or trend. There’s no evidence to suggest that other races tracks or events have been cursed as well.
Does The Legend Wear True?
According to Davidson, she had visited several places linked to the Talladega curse, including the Boyhood Home of Richard Petty, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012. On a mission to spread the word about the alleged curse, Davidson said that she had felt the wrath of the spirit there. Once the owner of the home saw what she was wearing, he became enraged, snatched his cap, stormed out, and never spoke to her again. At the end of the night, she said that she felt something horrible, and it made her very uncomfortable. She also said that she had gone to the Richard Petty Museum in New York City and had seen a few of his rare caps, which had allegedly been stolen during her stay. This is evidence that the spirit at the Boyhood Home of Richard Petty had turned on her.
Did The Alleged Curse Actually Work?
So how has the alleged Talladega Curse been proven to work? Simply put, it hasn’t. None of the incidents or accidents that Davidson described have been linked to the curse. At least not directly. In 2016, a study was conducted in an effort to try to pinpoint the exact date when the curse had been lifted. Davidson had claimed that several years of bad luck had kicked off after she had first set foot in Talladega in 1975. In order to verify her claims, scientists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham set up video cameras at various locations around the track and then systematically monitored and analyzed the data. They discovered that there had been at least 17 significant accidents at the speedway prior to 1975 and that there hadn’t been any since. This is strong evidence that Davidson had been lying, and that her bad luck had come to an end. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that the curse had no effect at all – it most likely did. It’s just that it had nothing to do with the accidents that had occurred at the track. The scientists behind the study were clear about this:
“We examined every car crash related to Richard Petty’s career, which includes some of those where he had suffered injuries. Our analysis did not indicate any pattern or link to the alleged ‘Talladega curse,’” the study’s authors wrote. “We conclude that the apparent recurrence of crashes since 1975 is a coincidence.”
In other words, the accidents that had occurred at the speedway were just that: accidents. They had nothing to do with the curse.