May the ghost be with you: The legend of the Talladega Jinx

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Heading west on Interstate 20, just past the state line of Alabama and en route to Talladega Superspeeedway, the names of the nearby town names begin to look a bit different.

There’s Choccolocco and Chulafinnee, located in Talladega National Forest. Continuing further toward the massive superspeedway, Eastaboga crops up, with Ohatchee and Sylacauga not too far away.

The names are no coincidence; Native American tribes, who christened the area with traditional names, once inhabited the land in the Dry Valley. Even the name Talladega comes from a Muscogee (Creek tribe) word meaning “border town.”

It’s the kind of notion that lends itself to the eerie legend of the Talladega Jinx.

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The way the legend goes, the Talladega Jinx surfaced before the superspeedway made its stake in the Alabama soil.

There are three prevailing theories to the Jinx’s formation: The first one suggests that when Andrew Jackson and fellow Native Americans seized the surrounding land from the Creek tribe, that caused a Creek shaman to curse the land. Another says that the speedway was built upon Indian burial grounds. The final one hypothesizes that a Native American chief was thrown off his horse and killed while racing in the area.

No. 17 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series hauler driver DeWayne “Ryder” Zirkle — who moonlights as a certified paranormal investigator — doesn’t believe in the legend of the Talladega Jinx, per say. He’s been coming to the Alabama track since 1990 and hasn’t experienced anything supernatural or strange personally.

But, he added, with all the history and stories, there’s got to be something to it.

“When you come into Talladega, there is a different feeling, there’s a different aura,” Ryder said. “It’s a huge place, it’s just a giant place and a lot of ground covered and I’m sure there’s things covered under this ground, too …

“Lots of people have the Sixth Sense — you can kind of feel or sense things that just aren’t right,” he continued. “From the time you pull into this place — I arrived the other morning at 3 o’clock in the morning — you get the eerie feeling somebody’s watching, somebody’s there, something’s going to happen.”

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In 1973, Bobby Isaac was leading the race at Talladega when reports say that he heard voices telling him to get out of the car immediately. He pulled into the pits and refused to finish the race.

“Some say it’s sinister, some say it’s cursed, some say it’s just ghosts,” Ryder said with a slight smile. “Whatever — there’s a lot happening here and a lot of people have said that when you come onto the track, something almost takes your mind over and you do things here that you normally don’t do anywhere else.”

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No. 6 hauler driver Scott “Poptop” Clodfelter is one of those who believes the legend.

He’s been venturing south to Talladega with Roush Fenway Racing since 2008 and nearly every time he makes the trip down south, he has unexplainable problems with the truck.

Problems that he doesn’t typically experience anywhere else but down in Alabama.

“It seems like for whatever reason when I go to Talladega — either on my way to Talladega or while I am there or on my way back — I seem to have some kind of issue related to travel with the truck,” Poptop said. “I’ve broke down coming back from that location several times — I’ve even had to be towed out of the interstate after I left Talladega Superspeedway within about five miles of the speedway.

“We’ve all had troubles on the road before with the trucks, trailers, as many miles as we’ve traveled,” he acknowledged later. “But it’s just so ironic.”

This past trip, he began having mechanical issues with the hauler when he arrived in Alabama, issues that plagued him the entire weekend. When he arrived back in North Carolina, though, those issues seemed to dissipate.

“We get back to North Carolina and have those issues repaired and there’s nothing to repair because nothing’s broke….” he said.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that something weird is going to happen when I go over there.”

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It’s a curious place, that Talladega Superspeedway. Beloved by many, NASCAR’s largest premier series track houses large crowds twice each year for races that always seem to thrill.

But beyond the sound of the exhaust and engines, smell of the campfire and all the (fittingly, sometimes weird and spooky) sights that Talladega Boulevard brings, there’s this legend of the Talladega Jinx.

And regardless of its veracity, it’s a spooky good tale for sitting around the campfire on those cool nights — or for Halloween.

Well, maybe not good for everyone.

“Think I’m going to start trying to respect it a little bit more, maybe I’ll have better luck the next time I go,” Poptop said with a chuckle.

Cue spooky music — hey, it’s Halloween.