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This afternoon the 2013 NASCAR season kicks off with even more excitement than usual when, for the first time in the 54 year history of NASCAR's signature race a woman, Danica Patrick will start from the coveted pole position.
I've long been fascinated by superstitions, particularly in sports, and after some research I found that racing qualified in having no shortage of their own superstitions.
No Green Race cars: The oldest superstition, avoiding the color green on a race car, dates back to 1920 when Chevrolet Motor Car Company co-founder Louis Chevrolet's younger brother, Gaston Chevrolet was killed while racing a green car at a track in Beverly Hills.
Afterwards it was rare to see a green car at the racetrack, but along with sponsorship which became more routine in the '70s and '80s, companies with green in their brand logo wanted that color to appear on the car they sponsored. Soon the drivers accepted the change since another green, money, seemed to override an old superstition.
The 1981 racing season put an end to the superstition for any remaining holdouts when Darrell Waltrip, driving the green Mountain Dew car, won 12 races and the NASCAR Cup championship. Additionally, Harry Gant had 18 career victories in the green Skoal Bandit Chevy during the '80s.
Peanut Shells: Before WWII, auto races were most often held at fairgrounds and the only area the teams could use to work on their cars was beneath the grandstands. Fans in the stands would eat their peanuts and drop the shells which would find their way into the working area and the cars. It wasn't long before a fatal crash occurred and a shell was found in the car. This would happen again weeks or months later at a different track and before long a superstition was born. It is reported that NASCAR Hall of Fame members David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Junior Johnson were firm believers in the peanut superstition.
$50 bill: Legend has it that two-time NASCAR champion Joe Weatherly was given two $50 bills by a friend just before the start of a Riverside, CA race in 1964. Weatherly crashed and died that day and the bills were found in the shirt pocket of his drivers suit.
Shaving on race day: George "Doc" Mackenzie was a racer during the Depression and wore what he called, his "lucky" goatee. For some reason he decided to shave it off the morning of a race in Milwaukee in 1936 and he died in an accident that day.
Many individual drivers have their own superstitions, some of which have been "adopted" by other drivers as well:
The late Davy Allison was one of the most superstitious drivers in NASCAR. After a win, he refused to shave until he didn't win, and if he won a race on Sunday after watching a movie on Friday night, he'd go to the same movie until he didn't win.
Matt Crafton, driver of truck number 88 (Allison's number), wears a Davy Allison t-shirt during every race.
The late Dale Earnhardt and Sterling Marlin would never even touch a $50 bill. Marlin said, "I'll make you get change first. I hate them, won't touch them." Marlin also insists on eating a bologna sandwich before every race since he ate one before winning his first Daytona 500 in 1994.
Former NASCAR president Bill France Jr. was known to often "knock on wood" to ensure good luck.
Ron Hornaday, Jr. says he doesn't like to talk about his superstitions. "Whatever superstitions they have, if it works for them they can go right ahead. You can find out what (superstitions) they've got and play with them a little, which is why I don't talk about what I'm superstitious about."
Hornaday did confess to a ritual he picked up from his former boss, the late Dale Earnhardt. "My biggest one, and I learned it from Earnhardt, is when you walk into a building -- I don't care where you walk into it -- you leave through the same door you came in," Hornaday said. "I don't know why, but I always done that since I raced for Dale and that's been 15 years. You can see me walk into a building, walk all around the building until I get to the door I walked in, so I can walk out."
Driver, Brian Scott says, "I've heard to always dress with your right side first," Scott said. "If you are stepping into your boxers, right side first. Glove, right side first. Arm, leg, shoe -- all right side first. And if you do anything the other way, you have to take everything off and start again. That's pretty weird."
A more recent superstition began when Jessica Simpson, who has been tagged as being a jinx in the entertainment circles, wore Earnhardt, Jr.'s amp energy jacket while performing the "Star Spangled Banner" at the Sprint Cup race in October 2008. Gossip and buzz about a curse began shortly thereafter when Dale lost race after race after race. There never has been any report from Earnhardt or his crew on whether he or they bought into the supposed curse.
Four years and 143 races later, Earnhardt, Jr finally won again last year at Michigan International Speedway. I'll let you all decide about the supposed jinx, but I'll add that he was driving a black Chevrolet with a green number 88 and I don't know if he wore a Davy Allison t-shirt during the race.
Most NASCAR drivers, and many people in general, consider number 13 to be unlucky. The late Joe Weatherly was terrified of the number 13. He was so terrified that when he qualified 13th for a Bristol race, he insisted on starting as 12a rather than 13. Doug Yates says that if he wakes up at the clock says 13, he goes back to sleep.
In fact, the number 13 fear is actually institutionalized by NASCAR and other sanctioning bodies. The stalls on pit road are designated by number, and no one wanted pit 13. So now, if you look at a pit chart, the order goes 12, 12A then 14.
A touching true story told by the late David Poole of the Charlotte Observer, 6 year old, Wessa Miller was a Dale Earnhardt fan who suffered from Spina Bifida. When she attended the Daytona 500 in 1998 she was able to meet her hero due to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Wessa gave Earnhardt a penny and told him it would bring him good luck and upon returning to his garage area he glued it to his dashboard. Nineteen previous trips to the Daytona 500 and Dale had never won the race - until that day when he finally broke through giving much of the credit to his one-cent good luck charm. The car is still on display in the Richard Childress Racing Museum where the penny remains to this day.
Flat Stanley, a children's book about a boy who becomes flat as a sheet of paper. From this story grew the Flat Stanley Project by a third grade teacher in which school children learn letter writing skills. The children create their own Flat Stanley and take him around with them for a few days as they write about where Flat Stanley has been in a journal. They then mail Flat Stanley to other people asking them to treat Stanley as a guest and to document his activities in the journal for a few weeks and then return it. This practice has not set well with driver Elliott Sadler, who is sponsored by Stanley Tools. Sadler says, "Every time I pick out something that I think is for good luck or a ritual or anything like that ends up biting me in the butt. The only thing I will not do -- I will not take a picture with a 'Flat Stanley.' Every time I've ever taken a picture with a 'Flat Stanley' I've never made it more than half the race, something happens. I'll take a picture with anything else, with 'Stanley' on it, but nothing with the little paper cut-out of the little dude."