Athletes are superstitious, and that is the case across all sports. Different sports have different beliefs that certain things bring about bad luck, and certain athletes have routines and specific things they do on a daily basis because…if they don’t they will lose. NASCAR also has superstitions, so, what are some of the most interesting superstitions?
There are a few racing superstitions that go back to the early days of the sport. To this day, some drivers still avoid some of these things, but, in the day of major corporate sponsorships, some of these superstitions have cooled off. Other superstitions still persist to this day, and some have seemingly meant good luck for drivers.
For years, green race cars were considered bad luck throughout the racing world. The general background of this superstition is when Gaston Chevrolet was killed in a racing accident in Beverly Hills, California in 1920. When NASCAR was founded in 1948, drivers considered green cars bad luck, and they would avoid them.
Things began to change when major corporate sponsors came in who wanted green on the car, and Darrell Waltrip won his first two Championships in a primarily green Mountain Dew car in 1981 and 1982. Harry Gant drove the iconic Skoal Bandit green car to four wins in a row in September of 1991, and green race cars have become fairly commonplace in the racing landscape nowadays. Brett Bodine also won a race at North Wilkesboro in 1990 thanks to a timely, or should we say lucky, scoring error by NASCAR.
Racing Underneath a Full Moon
If you’ve watched a Saturday Night race on Fox through the years, you may have heard Mike Joy talking about racing under a full moon. The theory is that a full moon over a short track on a Saturday night causes race car drivers to get a little extra racey. This means more incidents, hot tempers, and chaotic races.
Well, think about how many nighttime short track races throughout the history of NASCAR have ended in some bent bodywork and hurt feelings. It seemingly happens every time that NASCAR races on short tracks. Maybe it’s fewer night races that play a role in the disappointing short track package with the Next-Gen car.
The origins of this are not clear, but according to Sports Illustrated, this superstition stems from the death of NASCAR star Joe Weatherly. The story goes that Weatherly had two $50 bills in his pocket during the crash, and $50 bills were considered bad luck from there. Dale Earnhardt was an ardent believer in this superstition, and Tony Stewart is a believer in this as well.
Tony Stewart told a story on TheBubbaArmy podcast where he tried to sneak a $50 bill into Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s car. The result, well, watch the clip and find out.
Kyle Larson’s LadyBug
It may be tough to notice without looking closely, but Kyle Larson races with a small ladybug sticker on his car. Where did this come from? Well, according to Zack Albert of NASCAR.com, it comes from a story involving Johnny Rutherford in the 1980 Indianapolis 500.
The story goes that Rutherford saw a ladybug land on him before the race, and he took that to mean good luck. He went on to win the race from the pole after leading 118 laps. Kyle Larson’s dad, Mike, decided to put a ladybug on Larson’s car, which is a superstition that continues to this day.
Again, the origins of this superstition are fuzzy, and there are a few theories as to where this came from. However, peanuts in the shell are unwelcome by many at the race track. The story generally goes that there was a fatal accident and peanut shells were found in the race car.
Joseph Shelton of Bleacher Report posed a theory that race teams in the early days were forced to work on their cars under the grandstands. The story goes that peanut shells would slip through the holes and cracks in the stands. Do peanut shells actually pose that big of a threat to a race car? Maybe, or maybe not, but, peanut shells in a race car don’t sound like a positive thing.
Sterling Marlin’s Bologna Sandwich
Sterling Marlin ate the same thing prior to his back-to-back Daytona 500 wins in 1994 and 1995 according to Richard Thompson of FanBuzz. Marlin went on to eat a fried bologna sandwich before both races, and, he went on to win both races. Not only that, but he went on to win the 1995 race over “The Intimidator”, Dale Earnhardt.
Apparently, Marlin tried to do the same thing in 1996 according to Thompson, but Marlin went on to finish 40th in the race. Maybe the good luck ran out for Marlin and his bologna sandwiches in 1996, but, it is worth noting that he did not win another Daytona 500 in his career. He came close in 2002, but he decided to work on his car on the backstretch under a red flag.
The Unlucky #13 Car
This is common across society in general as the number 13 is considered unlucky in the Western world. On the race track, the number 13 has not exactly been a lucky number in NASCAR either. In the NASCAR Cup Series, Driver Averages reports that the number 13 has only one win, 11 top-5s, and 37 top-10s, in 657 races.
Yeah, there may actually be something to this one, but Kaulig Racing things differently. They have brought the 13 car back in the Cup Series on a part-time basis. Could that be what takes the #13 car out of unlucky territory?
Dale Earnhardt’s Lucky Penny
Before the 1998 Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt received a lucky penny from Wessa Miller, a Make-a-Wish kid. Earnhardt had never won the Daytona 500 before, and he was in his 20th attempt at the race. He glued that penny to the dashboard of his car, and the rest is history.
Earnhardt went on to lead 107 laps, and he won the 1998 Daytona 500. It was his first and only win in the “Great American Race”. NASCAR actually caught up with Miller years later to tell the story. Maybe that was the very thing that gave Earnhardt the “Good Luck” he needed to win the race.
Not Shaving Before a Race
Shaving before the race can be bad luck? Well, according to Steven Cole Smith of Hagerty, apparently shaving before the race can be considered bad luck. The story goes that a racer named George MacKenzie died in a fatal accident after shaving before a race in 1936.
Now, NASCAR may not have everyone believe this given how many clean-shaven drivers there are, but, NASCAR has had some iconic facial hair through the years. Maybe this superstition paved the way for that, but, it’s hard to see many NASCAR drivers who actively believe this to this day.
The legend goes that Talladega Superspeedway was built on an ancient Native American burial ground. Every story starting with that sentence ends well…Right? Well, some to this day believe Talladega Superspeedway is haunted.
Bobby Isaac claimed he was told by voices in his head to stop in the middle of a race at the venue in 1973, to which he obliged. Well, Talladega has been the site of some dangerous wrecks, Bobby Allison in 1987 for example, and scary moments in NASCAR history. It is the fastest track in the history of the sport, and it is one of the most dangerous.
Nate Ryan of USA Today also relayed stories of competitors having gas tanks filled with sand and tires slashed. There was also the one time the pace car got stolen before the race in the 1980s. Maybe a haunted race track is the only explanation.