Nascar drivers are a notoriously superstitious lot. Maybe it’s a southern thing, as stock car racing “grew up” predominantly in the southern parts of the United States, and still ultimately has its roots there. But anyway, the sport has historically a lot of quirky, strange and sometimes downright comical superstitions in its time. Let’s check out just a few of them.
1. The Number 13 In NASCAR
Triskaidekaphobia, or the fear of the number 13, is certainly a mouthful. It is the technical word for a phobia of the unlucky number 13. This superstition is ingrained in Western culture in general, and it is most definitely a common thing among Nascar drivers.
It’s no wonder why it is so uncommon – though by no means unheard of – to see the number 13 on the door of a racecar.In fact, looking through the number’s history throughout the decades, it has actually had a pretty significant place in the sport.
While the number has never been taken to victory lane (except in 1963, in a non-points qualifying race at Daytona by Johnny Rutherford), it has been around since the beginning when Pat Kirkwood drove it for one race in 1949.
Among the 70-plus drivers who have driven the no.13 in the Cup Series, they include the likes of open-wheel stars Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, along with Curtis Turner and 1970 Champion Bobby Isaac.
2. NASCAR Superstitions: Green Cars
While it is not as common nowadays, a superstition of green race cars was prevalent for decades in Nascar and motorsports in general. The origin of this goes back to the tragic death of Gaston Chevrolet, the 1920 Indianapolis 500 champion who was killed later that year while competing in a green race car at the Beverly Hills board track.
The stigma against green-painted cars continued throughout the years following the Chevrolet crash, and for a time it was rare to see one at a race track. But as time went on corporate sponsorship became more and more important for race teams, and it became apparent that the color green could not be avoided altogether as some potential sponsors used it in their branding.
In 1998 there would even be a green car with the number 13 take to the track with rookie Jerry Nadeau, for an effort co-owned by Bill Elliot and Dan Marino.
The Skoal Bandit no.33 car with driver Harry Gant is a legendary green car that bucked the superstition in winning fashion in the 80s and early 90s, and of course Bobby Labonte would effectively shatter it altogether (at least in the realm of stock car racing) by winning the Cup Championship in 2000 for Joe Gibbs Racing in a green car.
Since that time drivers Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhart Jr. and Danica Patrick have driven green cars to varying degrees of success.
3. $50 Bills Are a NASCAR Superstition
This is another one that isn’t so common these days (though it has been said that Dale Earnhart Sr. and Tony Stewart were big believers in it). This superstition, like many others held in the Nascar racing community, is rooted in tragedy.
It has been said that it started at the Riverside Raceway in 1964 when two-time Cup Champion Joe Weatherly was given two $50 bills by a friend just before the race. Weatherly died in the course of that race, and the $50 bills were found in his breast pocket.
Or so legend has it, and it is very much disputed whether this is fact or fiction. At any rate, the superstition only grew in the years following and needless to say, flashing around $50 bills on race day was a big no no for some time.
5. Don’t Give a NASCAR Driver Peanuts
Here we have another one that comes from the early days of the sport. Back then, teams would sometimes have their pit areas in the shade beneath the grandstands…and the fans. Who liked to eat a lot of peanuts (which was a popular race track concession at the time, kind of like how popcorn and potato chips are today). And in this way a lot of peanut shells inevitably wound up inside race cars.
With safety being what it was in those days, fatalities were unfortunately not a rare occurrence. And so the legend goes that there was a series of deadly racing accidents in the 50s in which peanut shells were found inside the cars, and the superstition against them was born.
6. NASCAR Superstitions: Shaving Before a Race
Once again we have a superstition that began with a deadly racing incident, in this case the one that claimed the life of Goerge “Doc” Mackenzie at the Milwaukee Raceway in 1936 (not to be confused with his cousin George W. Mackenzie who was killed at Langhorne Speedway in 1928).
George D. Mackenzie was known for his trademark goatee, which he referred to as his “lucky” goatee. Sadly, his luck ran out when he decided to shave it before the race. Or so that is the myth that has been passed down. Other versions have it that Mackenzie had shaved it weeks prior at the request of his new wife.
Regardless of the veracity of the tale, race car drivers generally tend to have a rule against shaving on race day, as is obvious by looking at the current generation of Nascar drivers, most notably Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhart Jr., Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. in more recent times.
7. NASCAR Drivers Dressing on the Right Side First
Some drivers in NASCAR, and other racing sports for that matter, favour the right side for luck. This can go as far as putting left arms and legs into clothes first, putting the right sock, glove boot on first to even getting in the car from the right side and not the left.
We are not sure if there are records kept for how result differ if they use the left instead but anything that gives that little bit of confidence when racing has to be welcome!
8. Racing Lucky Charms
Many race drivers and other sportspeople will have a lucky mascot, trinket or item that they feel gives them luck. Most NASCAR drivers will have the same. One famous story about legendary driver dale earnhardt is the story of his lucky penny.
Dale had not yet won at Daytona, depsite coming close on a number of occasions. He met little Wessa Millar though the make a wish foundation the day just before the 1998 Daytona 500 race. Wessa had brought him a hunting video and a lucky penny which Dale went to glue onto the Dashboard of his car for the race.
A race that for the first, and only time, he won!! That penny is still in the car which can be seen at the Richard Childress racing museum in North Carolina.
9. The Talladega Curse
One of the most widely known bits of stock car racing lore is the legend that Talladega Superspeedway was built upon an ancient Native American burial ground and is cursed. It has certainly been the site of many of the most frightening accidents in Nascar history, not to mention one of the most bizarre races ever held.
That race was the 1973 Talladega 500, in the middle of which driver Bobby Isaac, who had won the Cup Series title three years previous, pulled his car into the pits and retired on the spot in a seemingly spontaneous – and most unusual – move.
The story that has been passed down is that Isaac heard a voice in his head tell him to stop immediately or he would die (Isaac at the time didn’t know about the fatal accident that had occurred previously in the race).
This bizarre set of events has only helped to fuel the Talladega superstition and keep it alive.
Honourable Superstitions From Other Motorsports
Get in the Car on the Same Side
Rumour has it that Juan Pablo Montoya was one driver who always got in the car the same side when he was racing F1. However we are not sure if he managed to achieve this in NASCAR due to it being a closed and not open car. It would be awkward to do otherwise.
Wearing Odd shoes
There are a few Clothing quirks and supersitions in the world of motor sport. One of the more easily spotted was an Austrian Formula 1 driver called Alex Wurz. He was as famous for hsi clothing habits as his performances on the track.
During the race he would choose to wear different color boots. We can only guess at why this started! However if it works it works! Maybe with so much it going on on race day it happened by accident and he went on to perform well!
Sports people can have lucky items of clothing that they prefer to wear while racing, however one of the more unusual, or so we thought, is lucky underwear.
Both Alan Jones and David Coulthard are famous for having lucky underwear to wear on race day. Coulthards were approaching 10 years old by the time he entered F1! Alan Jones even had his special delivered from the UK to Canada when he accidently left them there after a race.
There may be something in lucky underwear ( ha!) as he won the drivers championship in that race.
And there you have it: the biggest, most stubbornly held superstitions in Nascar. Were there any you had not heard of, and which is your favorite? Together, they go to show how colorful the sport of Nascar can be beyond the nuts and bolts of it.
When all said and done as long as a superstition doesn’t affect safety or performance then why not! If it can give the driver a little confidence boost or a perception of luck in such a close sport it can only help!