No goobers allowed

Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff
Peanuts still in the shell, $50 bills, the color green and coins that land on tails are just a few of the superstitions that NASCAR drivers and crews live by.

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - You can find peanut M&Ms 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."

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."

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.

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. In fact, Childress said he won't even touch a $50 bill.

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 (at Daytona Beach, Fla.) 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, 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 before the Daytona 500. Marlin fell into a routine of eating a bologna sandwich before each race after he won his races at Daytona. He hasn't missed a bologna sandwich before any of his 716 career starts.

And in all those sandwiches, he's never paid for the bologna with a $50 bill.

 

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