What makes a man go in for such things? Sheer love of the sport, the stock car drivers insist. In the six years since the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing started a national championship program for modern stock cars, more and more good drivers have joined the scramble. When it ends on the 31st of this month, the 1954 Grand National championship will have been the biggest yet: a record $220,550 in prizes going to a record 340 drivers in 33 national championship races.
Many stock drivers have come from older types of racing and have brought with them fine old superstitions whose origins fade into the dust-obscured past. Here?give or take a little for individual differences?are the four things most drivers consider unlucky: 1) peanuts, 2) the color green, 3) the number 13 and 4) women relatives.
A man who doesn't race can say bosh to all this. Cars have been scratched from races because peanuts were spilled in or around them, but, getting right down to it, even the staunchest pea-nut-phobes are stumped for proof of a peanut working its evil. It is not hard, however, for drivers to justify their other superstitions. Last year Red Fowler was killed in a green No. 13. Several years earlier, Fonty Flock announced he was out to break the jinx, put on a green racing suit and crashed into a green car. As for women relatives, what more proof than Johnny Concannon's mother? A wheel from son Johnny's big racing car flew into the stands at Langhorne, Pa., and singled Mrs. Concannon out of a crowd of 10,000. Just three weeks ago at Langhorne in a 250-mile stock car race the jinxes were still proving themselves. On the 13th lap Al Neal's car flipped and caught fire. Then after 13 drivers had climbed from wrecks unhurt, novice Harvey Eakin blew a front tire, turned over three times, ploughed through the fence and landed unconscious in a bog 100 feet beyond. And who won? Herb Thomas, the beak-nosed 1953 defending champion who avoids 13 at all times, properly shuns green around the track and whose wife doesn't allow him peanut butter even back home in Sanford, N.C.
There is sign of a new unsuperstitious order coming onto the tracks. Piling up points steadily through the year, winning third place at LeHi, Ark. last week, another North Carolinian, 40-year-old Lee Petty, was comfortably ahead of the field and almost a shoo-in to take the national title away from defender Herb Thomas.
Petty's disregard for superstitions is out-and-out heresy. He'd as soon eat peanuts or wear green on race day as any other?in fact, he once drove a green car. One concludes from his career that the heretic who can walk away from his first dozen bashed cars has it made. "I never took stock in superstitions," Petty claims. "First race I was in I turned over. In 1949 I turned over four times in five races and won the other one. Then in 1950 turned over twice, won three races. Next year I turned over again?brand new Plymouth. I was getting my bellyful of wrecks, lost $5,000 more than I won in three years. Don't know why I stayed at it; looks like racing got in my blood. Turned over again in 1952?drove right through a bungle of 17 cars, was right clear when one car backs up, hooks me and over I go. Then last year I didn't turn over, won five grand national races. I don't go for these superstitions, but I do go for premonitions. I got a premonition right now about Herb Thomas. He's a tough one chasing me, but I got a premonition he won't catch me."
It used to be that the least likely way to settle a bet about a football player's weight was to look it up in the program, but now, in the Big Ten at least, all that has been changed. Big Ten program listings this fall are certified pure and accurate.
In the past a coach who wanted to confuse the enemy scouts could indulge in a little loose weight-guessing and issue a program listing that would never win the approval of a Bureau of Weights and Measures.
Last May a seven-man committee of the Big Ten met at Purdue and laid down an honest weight policy which went into effect this season.
"It was getting to be a joke," one of them explained. "Up in the press box someone would say so-and-so weighs 210, program weight." Even the spectators were beginning to snicker. And the system was no longer fooling scouts.