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Rich: Idea of ‘bad luck' lives on in NASCAR

POSTED: March 21, 2008 5:01 a.m.

I picked up the package left on the back porch and read the mailing label that said "RCR Racing, Welcome, N.C." I smiled and hurried inside to tear it open.

For 20 years, Richard Childress, he of NASCAR fame and six championships won with Dale Earnhardt, has been a dear and close friend.

I cut open the box and pulled out the two small black boxes, opened them and laughed. Pocket knives. It is a long standing joke between Childress and me that all men should carry a pocket knife.

"Men who carry pocket knives are the sexiest men," I have long proclaimed. Childress, like my daddy, is never without one shoved deep into his right-hand pants pocket.

One knife commemorated the 30th anniversary of RCR Racing while the other immediately became my third favorite possession, ranking only behind Daddy's worn Scofield Bible and Mama's old pin cushion.

On the top of the second box, Childress had inscribed a message to me. Sentimentally, my eyes watered as I gingerly turned over the collector's pocket knife that paid tribute to the 1998 Daytona 500, the only one that Childress and Earnhardt won together.

I opened the card he had sent and skimmed over his handwritten words. It concluded by saying, "You owe me two pennies. It's bad luck to give a knife to a friend. It cuts the friendship."

Yes, Richard Childress is monumentally superstitious. He is, after all, a Southerner. And a racer. Which gives him twice the number of superstitious bones as the normal Southerner.

Earnhardt was like that, too. He always walked out the same door he walked in. No exceptions.

And neither Earnhardt nor Childress would ever lay a hand on a $50 bill. Bad luck, you know.

One race day I watched as they were getting up the weekly pool for the race - $200 a draw - and someone handed Childress a $50 bill. You would have thought it was a rattlesnake. He jumped back, threw it down, then danced away from it, trying to escape its deathly curse.

Somehow, long ago, it got started among the race teams that the color green was bad luck. One Sunday morning before a race, I spoke to Terry Labonte who, wordlessly, turned on his heels and walked the other way.

Dumbfounded at what seemed so rude, I stared as he stalked off. Larry McReynolds threw back his head and laughed. "You've got on green," he explained, pointing my shirt. "Bad luck to speak to anyone on race day wearing green."

Darrell Waltrip was the first to drive a green race car, sponsored by Gatorade, to victory lane. "David Pearson used to refuse to park by me in the garage," DW explained. "One day, his team parked his car by mine and he came over and threw a fit. They had to move all the way to the other side of the garage."

Count on Darrell, though, to reason it out.

"I went up to him and said, ‘Hey David, how much money you got in your pocket?' He pulled out a big wad of money and I said, ‘Well, that's green. What's the difference in carrying green money and parking next to a green race car?'"

Pearson, whose temper could ignite quicker than logs doused in gasoline, angrily spat out his response then stomped off.

A lot of these superstitions have faded away from the sport, though. Outsiders to Southern philosophies have invaded the sport and they are much too high-brow for such practical thinking.

Still, my ol' buddy feels that way and knowing, too, how strongly he feels about the number three, I took out a note card, taped three pennies to it and mailed it back.

I guess he owes me another pocket knife.

Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)."



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