Many NASCAR, Formula One, and IndyCar drivers put themselves through some very peculiar rituals, in the belief that if they don’t, bad luck will curse them to lose their race…or worse. This article was first published in our 29th annual edition, Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader.
Don’t Drive a Green Car
Just a few months after winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1920, Gaston Chevrolet died after crashing into a car he didn’t see. His car had been painted green, so from then on it was considered bad luck to drive a green car. (Very few drivers went with green for decades, until 1952…when Larry Mann crashed his green Hudson Hornet into a wall, and died.)
Don’t Eat Peanuts in the Stands
In the early days of NASCAR (before World War II), most races were held at local fairgrounds, and pit crews were stationed in the shade, right underneath the grandstands. Fans sat up there and ate peanuts, and dropped shells into the pits…and the cars. Wrecks at these races almost always had evidence of peanut shells, leading to the idea that peanuts were a bringer of doom.
Don’t Shave Before a Race
NASCAR driver Doc MacKenzie got married in 1936 and shaved off his long beard for the ceremony. On his first race afterward, at the Wisconsin State Fair, he crashed his car and died. Fellow driver Ted Horn later quipped, “Doc shouldn’t have shaved. That jinxed him.”
Don’t Dress Your Left Side First
Many NASCAR drivers past and present believe that the right side is luckier than the left side, so that’s how they dress on game day: underwear, pants, socks, shirt sleeves, and gloves all go on the right appendage before the left.
Don’t Use the No. 13
The number 13, in NASCAR as in so many places, is considered unlucky. It was rarely used as a car number until former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino became a team co-owner, and insisted his car use his old jersey number: 13. (In the 400 or so races where a 13 car has raced, it has finished in the top five only eight times.)
Don’t Handle $50 Bills on Race Day
Racer Joe Weatherly was killed at Riverside Raceway (in Riverside, California) in 1964. Among his personal effects, two $50 bills were reportedly found in his pocket. Racers and crews have avoided fifties ever since.