By: Isaac Donsky, Columnist
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
With the Halloween season coming to a close, I thought I’d share some of the spookiest stories in NASCAR history. From haunted tracks to killer balloons, here are some of the spookiest moments in the history of NASCAR.
The Runaway Orange and the Leader Curse: Chicagoland Speedway, 2004
In 2004, the NASCAR Busch Series took place at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois for the Tropicana Twister 300. It was a qualifying day, and Todd Szegedy was starting his qualifying run when he saw a massive orange balloon, the size of a three story building, coming straight for him. Szegedy dives to the bottom of the track, narrowly missing the orange.
Turns out the orange balloon was part of a promotional event for Tropicana, and had broken loose of its moorings due to high winds. Perhaps the orange balloon was an omen of what was to come, as race day proved to be a strange and wild affair. Anyone who led the race found themselves out of contention just a few laps after taking the lead.
Bobby Hamilton Jr. led the first five laps before blowing his motor. Matt Kenseth dominated the next stage of the race before making an unscheduled pitstop for an unidentified vibration in his car. Mike Bliss looked like he had it in the bag until he blew his motor.
The cherry on top though belonged to Mike Wallace, who ran out of fuel on the final lap, giving the lead to Justin Labonte, a journeyman driver who scored his only victory on that day.
To sum things up, this was the only race in NASCAR history in which you didn’t want to be the leader.
The Dust Storm
NASCAR has had its share of wild weather over the years. From 72-hour rain delays to snow storms in Tennessee, mother nature has thrown everything at NASCAR during the 72 years of NASCAR’s existence.
But nothing comes close to the time a dust storm cancelled a race.
In 1956, the 37th round of the 1956 NASCAR season took the field to the Tulsa Fairgrounds for the inaugural NASCAR race in Oklahoma.
It ended up being the only race on the track.
Just a few laps in, the brittle and dry track surface started to break apart. The heavy stock car tires churned the dirt surface into a fine dust, which settled around the track. The thick fog clouded the vision of the drivers. 34 laps in, driver Lee Petty realized that every driver on the track was in danger if an accident occured. Petty quickly pulled into the pits, ran to the flagstand, and waved the red flag, ending the race prematurely.
Petty’s actions definitely saved lives, and the race was scrubbed from the NASCAR record books. But not from the pages of history.
The Cursed Race Track
Nothing strikes more fear in the hearts of NASCAR drivers than one simple word.
The largest race track NASCAR journeys to, Talladega is also one of the most dangerous. Over the years, the track has developed a reputation for horrible accidents, chaotic and controversial finishes, and strange occurrences. One could say that the track is cursed.
There is a rumour that Talladega is built on a Native American burial ground. Many drivers believe it and they have cause too. The list of weird and ghostly incidents at this track outnumber all others.
In 1973, promising rookie Larry Smith was caught in a crash. A simple accident. He just scraped the wall yet he was found dead in his car.In that same race, Bobby Isaac was leading when he was pulled into the pits and got out of the car. Nothing was wrong with the car. Isaac had just heard a deep voice tell him to leave.
In 1974, drivers and teams awoke on race day to find that their cars had been vandalized. Sugar and sand had been poured into gas tanks. There were tires slashed and tools misplaced. No culprit was ever found.
In 1987, Bobby Allison blew a tire at over 200 miles per hour and struck the catch fence separating the cars from the spectators. A massive chunk of fencing was torn down, exposing hundreds of race fans to Allison’s oncoming car. Thankfully, nobody was killed. One unlucky fan lost an eye due to flying debris, but a miracle had just happened.
NASCAR has had its fair share of scary moments, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see more of these freaky occurrences in the future.