Top Superstitions from Race Car Drivers
Athletes hold on to certain superstitions that help them feel confident during competitions, and those in the racing world are no exception. Despite the fact that they spend hours guiding their cars and bikes around tracks at speeds that most people can only imagine, they’re ultimately regular, every day, normal people. Everyone needs some kind of structure or ritual to make difficult situations seem easier to tackle, even if it’s something that outsiders consider a bit bizarre.
Whether it’s shunning peanuts in the shell, refusing to drive green cars or never carrying $50 bills when competing, race car drivers harbor some interesting, unusual and even embarrassing beliefs about what helps and hinders victory at the track. Here are some particularly interesting superstitions from the racing world and their origins.
Racers, like Brian Scott for example, have very specific rules when it comes to getting dressed on race day. A common belief is that the right side of the body is the “lucky” side, and so all garments must be put on starting with that side. Another ritual practiced by Alex Wurz and others calls for mismatched shoes on race day. It would seem that these particular superstitions have been handed down throughout history, without any solid idea of their origins.
Breakfast of Racing Champions
Whether it’s the Vegemite enjoyed by Marcos Ambrose or the healthier options that Danica Patrick opts for, many race car drivers are convinced that eating particular foods before a race can help them perform better. Sterling Marlin attributes his 1994 Daytona 500 win at least in part to the fact that he ate a bologna sandwich beforehand, so he continues the ritual to this day.
Perilous Peanut Shells
The persistent rumor that peanut shells were found in cars involved in two fatal racing crashes in 1937 has led many drivers to avoid peanuts in the shell altogether. Peanuts may have become the bad guy due to the fact that driver Vern Orenduff, who was known for hating peanuts with a vengeance, was in the second crash. To this day, snack vendors at NASCAR races refuse to sell peanuts unless they’ve already been shelled.
Vehicle Pep Talks
Just about everyone talks to their car once in a while. Even those who race motorcycles, such as Valentino Rossi, take a moment before races to offer up a little pep talk. Not everyone is open about whether they choose to communicate with their vehicles before hitting the track, but it’s only logical to assume that more than one racer believes that a whispered word during competition could help to spur them on to victory.
Ask driver Mark Weber or Juan Pablo Montoya which side of the car they get into before a race and they’ll tell you it’s always the left. Although this isn’t the “correct” way to enter a vehicle, it seems that drivers who earn victories when performing unconventional pre-race rituals see no harm in making a habit of it.
A Charmed Way to Win?
Dale Earnhardt’s 1998 Daytona 500 win is accredited to a penny he received from Wessa Miller, a 6-year-old girl with spina bifida who was able to meet him through the Make-A-Wish Foundation before the race. The penny remains on the car dash where Earnhardt had glued it that day. This heartwarming story highlights how many racers put stock in personal “lucky charms” to get them through each competition.
The Unlucky 13: Dreaded Everywhere
There is a lot of doom and gloom that people associate with the number 13. Some hotels even skip the 13th room or floor. In racing, the number is usually left off of cars and out of the pits, while some drivers such as Joe Weatherly go further and refuse to start races from spot 13. Those who do elect to get behind the wheel of a number 13 car seem to rarely enjoy victories.
Cash and Carry, But Not With $50
A popular racing legend tells of the two $50 bills found in Joe Weatherly’s pocket after his fatal 1964 crash at Riverside. The bills were apparently given to him by a friend prior to the race. Regardless of whether or not this is true, the story holds enough weight that Dale Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin and other NASCAR drivers openly admit to refusing to lay hands on $50 bills.
Why Green Gives Drivers the Blues
Green cars were a common factor in fatal crashes for Lee Oldfield and Gaston Chevrolet in the early part of the 20th century, popularizing the superstition that driving a green car is inherently unlucky. In more recent years, however, drivers such as Darrel Waltrip and Bobby Labonte have driven green vehicles onto Victory Lane without any incidents, so this superstition may be on its way out.
The unusually long straightaways and extreme curves at the Talladega Speedway have resulted in several serious crashes involving high speeds and multiple cars. Some call this a “jinx,” attributing it to the legend of a Native American chief who was killed in the same area during a tribal horse race or that the track was actually cursed by a medicine man, and remains so up to this day.
Keep the Beard
Ever since George “Doc” McKenzie shaved off his characteristic goatee on the day he died in a racing crash, many superstitious race car drivers refuse to shave on race day. Marking shaving as a potential curse, these drivers would rather look a little scruffy than risk trouble. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s experience with increasing wins in every season since he started growing a beard seems to confirm the validity of this practice.
Whether any of these superstitions make sense or not, many racing professionals see them as vital to obtaining victory.
Do you agree that these rituals help drivers win, or are they just plain silly?
What other racing superstitions have you heard about?
Do you apply any of them to your own driving habits?