DAYTONA BEACH – You can find peanut M&M’s or a Snickers bar at Robert Yates Racing. You also can find those names splashed across both of the family’s race cars.
But what you won’t find at Robert Yates Racing – or at most race shops in the Nextel Cup Series – are peanuts in the shell. For a racer, peanut hulls are the equivalent of a black cat or broken mirror.
“We don’t allow peanuts in the shell at our shop,” co-owner Doug Yates said. “We hate them. They’re unlucky. If my wife buys peanuts like that, I throw them out. It’s just like the No. 13. If I wake up and the clock is on 13, I go back to sleep. There are some things you just don’t do.”
Peanuts in the shell, the color green and $50 bills are three of the most prominent superstitions in racing. To some, it’s a playful game. To others, it’s serious business, the perceived difference between winning and losing.
“I won’t touch a $50 bill,” driver Sterling Marlin said. “I’ll make you get change first. I hate them, won’t touch them. Peanuts, they don’t bother me. Green cars, I don’t have a problem with that, either. It’s a good thing since my car is green, I guess.”
Peanuts in the shell: Bad luck since the 1930s.
The color green: Superstition that started with a 1920 crash can be overcome by sponsor cash.
$50 bills: Dale Earnhardt wouldn’t touch one.
The number 13: Joe Nemechek is tempting fate.
Robert Yates, the team owner and Doug’s father, once was upset about a slump. He went into the break room and threw away all the peanuts in the snack machine.
“We won the next race,” Doug Yates said. “True story. And we haven’t had peanuts in our shop again.”
Nobody is sure why peanuts are regarded as racing’s black cloud.
Theories abound. According to one, during a race in the 1930s, peanut shells were sprinkled on the cars of five drivers, and all five crashed during the race. According to another, a Junior Johnson team member was eating peanuts in the garage area when one of the team’s engines blew. Johnson blamed the peanuts.
Racers have shared a bias against the color green for decades. Reportedly, it began after a 1920 accident in Beverly Hills, Calif., that killed defending Indianapolis 500 champion Gaston Chevrolet. It was the first known racing accident in the United States to kill two drivers, and Chevrolet reportedly was driving a green car.
Driver Jeremy Mayfield cites another reason.
“People don’t like green because that’s the color of money,” Mayfield said. “I don’t mind the color of money. I’ll take all the green you got.”
Tim Richmond once refused to drive a car sponsored by Folger’s decaffeinated coffee because the primary color was green. He wound up in the Folger’s regular coffee car – and its red scheme.
But the fear of green cars is fading, primarily because sponsors are willing to pay $15 million to splash their colors on a race car. Green now is the primary color of cars driven by Mayfield, Marlin and J.J. Yeley.
As for the $50 bills, Marlin wasn’t the only one who avoided them. The late Dale Earnhardt also refused to use them. Car owners Eddie Wood and Richard Childress say they hate them, too.
But the feeling isn’t unanimous.
“The way I look at it,” driver Dale Jarrett said, ” Fifties are better than 20s.”
Other NASCAR drivers, managers and owners and have their own superstitions. Rusty Wallace is terrified of coins that land tails-up.
“When we were loading up [son] Steve’s car for the ARCA race and one of the guys dropped all his change on the ground, I checked every coin to make sure they landed heads-up,” Wallace said. “During the race [last Saturday], Steve blew a tire and wrecked. The first thing that went through my mind was we missed one of the coins. One must have landed on tails.”
Superstitions don’t always involve trinkets. Often they involve a routine. Tony Glover, team manager for Chip Ganassi Racing, used to eat at the same restaurant on the beach before the Daytona 500. It’s a routine he stopped about 10 years ago. He hasn’t won a Daytona 500 since.
Marlin had a routine of eating a bologna sandwich before each race when he won his races at Daytona. He hasn’t missed a bologna sandwich before any of his 711 career starts.