Peanut shells, $50 bills and other superstitions that anger Lady Luck
In the midst of all the Danica-mania swirling around NASCAR, it is easy to forget that there are two women who have been fixtures in auto racing since the earliest days of the sport.
Their names are Lady Luck and Dame Fortune.
These are two gals who you definitely want on your side. When a car narrowly avoids a big wreck at Daytona or Talladega, luck gets all the credit. When a driver wins a race because it is rain shortened, it's about being in the right place at the right time. When a car sputters across the finish line on fumes just before running out of gas, drivers rave about their good fortune.
Conversely, you don't want Ms. Luck and Ms. Fortune aligned against you. And what, exactly, angers these lovely ladies? Well, in auto racing it can be the strangest things. Peanut shells. The color green. A $50 bill.
Racing superstitions are nearly as old as the sport itself. And while they are not as prevalent in the 21st century, drivers still have certain "routines" that they maintain. Not because they're superstitious or anything. They just see no reason to go around tempting fate. When asked in 2007 if he has any superstitions, Mark Martin replied, "No, just please no four-leaf clovers. I've got one of those, taped it in my race car once at North Wilkesboro and I got crashed before the green flag came out so I don't believe in good luck charms and I also don't believe in anything that's supposed to be back luck."
He's not alone.
"A lot of people in racing and in any competition, they look at what they did when things went good and when things went bad," former NASCAR Truck Series driver Rick Crawford said. "They don't repeat what they did when things were bad, but they sure repeat it when it's good."
So when a driver wins a race or consistently runs in the top 10, he often will wear the same T-shirt under his fire suit week after week. If he wrecks, the shirt is in the trash. It's the same with eating. If you have a peanut butter sandwich before the race and then run well, PB&J become your favorite letters. But if your engine blows, you suddenly remember you're allergic to peanuts.
Over the years, some of the most successful people in NASCAR have had their little quirks that can be called either superstitions or routines. Dale Earnhardt Sr. made sure that whenever he left a building, he walked out the same door he had entered. Davey Allison used to enjoy watching a movie the night before a race, and if he won, he would watch the same movie the following week. Sterling Marlin always ate a bologna sandwich just before climbing into his car. Former NASCAR president Bill France Jr. was known to often "knock on wood" to ensure good luck.
While these examples are primarily personal preferences, there are a handful of racing superstitions -- all of which were triggered by tragedy -- that have endured over the decades. And even if most current drivers aren't believers, they have certainly heard the stories.
Among the things that are considered to be bad luck in racing are:
This is one of the oldest superstitions in the sport, dating to 1920, and it is one that has had some firm believers over the years. Well into the 1980s, many drivers adamantly refused to drive a green car, and some people took their belief in this superstition a step further.
"My granddaddy didn't like people even wearing green to the track," said Crawford, a third-generation racer out of Mobile, Ala. "They'd actually turn around and go back home if a pit-crew member or somebody was wearing green."
The origins of this superstition reportedly date to 1920, when Indianapolis 500 champion Gaston Chevrolet -- the younger brother of Chevrolet Motor Car Company co-founder Louis Chevrolet -- was killed in a horrific accident while racing a green car at a track in Beverly Hills.
For decades to come, it was rare to ever see a green-colored car at the racetrack. This was easy enough to avoid when cars simply were painted any color the driver wanted. But as sponsorship became more prevalent in the 1970s and '80, companies with green logos obviously wanted that color on the car.
A few drivers continued to try to avoid the color at all costs, most famously Tim Richmond, who in the 1980s insisted on driving a red car sponsored by Folgers regular coffee instead of the green Folgers decaffeinated ride. But others reluctantly accepted the change, acknowledging that the green of sponsorship money was more important than a 60-year-old superstition.
The remaining holdouts began to melt away throughout the '80s following the success of Darrell Waltrip, who in 1981 won 12 races and the NASCAR Cup championship driving a green Mountain Dew car, and Harry Gant, who had 18 career victories in the green Skoal Bandit Chevy.
Of course, it should be noted that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was much more successful back when he drove the red Budweiser car compared to the green scheme he has had in most races since joining Hendrick Motorsports.
This is another of those seemingly odd superstitions that reportedly has had a number of famous believers, including NASCAR Hall of Fame members David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Junior Johnson.
This one probably began more as an irritant than a true superstition. Before World War II, auto racing was often held at fairgrounds, and teams would work on their cars underneath the grandstands. As they worked, the fans in the stands would drop their peanut shells, several of which would fall through the openings and land on the cars and crew members. Naturally, race teams back then didn't care much for peanut shells.
This was at a time when fatalities in auto racing were not uncommon. So inevitably there would be a fatal crash in a race and somebody would find wayward peanut shells in the car. A few weeks or months later it would happen again at a different track. Before long, a superstition was born.
Why? Who knows. The closest thing to a legend about this one is that two-time NASCAR champion Joe Weatherly was given two $50 bills by a friend just before the beginning of a race at Riverside, Calif., in 1964. Weatherly died in a crash that day, and the $50 bills supposedly were found in the shirt pocket of his driver's uniform. Again, whatever the origins might be, this is another superstition that was once prevalent throughout racing.
All right, this one might have more to do with laziness than anything else. But there is a bit of history behind the superstition, and it once again involves a fatal accident. George "Doc" Mackenzie was a Depression-era racer who sported what even he referred to as his "lucky" goatee. But for some unknown reason he decided to shave it off the morning of a race in Milwaukee in 1936. He then died in an accident that day.
This is one superstition that all drivers probably should follow. After all, Jimmie Johnson has perfected the lazy-razor look, and he is the five-time defending Sprint Cup champion.