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The Howdy Cox Peanut Race

?Get those peanuts outta here.? That was a common phrase heard at many racetracks in the 1940?s through the 1970?s and 1980?s. Nowadays it?s not heard much anymore. Green cars, peanuts and black cats were all taboo to racing drivers. Many Indy regulars were taken aback by the green rear-engine Cooper of Jack Brabham in 1961. Those same pit bystanders were equally taken aback when the Green Lotus of Jim Clark arrived in 1963. However when Clark drove the green Lotus to victory lane in 1965, that superstition may have faded. A.J. Foyt who voiced his displeasure over green racecars fielded green stock cars and Indy cars a few years ago. $50 dollar bills are taboo in the NASCAR pits. There is a story about colorful Joe Weatherly who was running for his third straight major NASCAR championship with the powerful Bud Moore in 1964. On the 86th lap at the Riverside Road Course in California, Weatherly hit the wall hard with the driver?s side, apparently killed on impact. The superstition? Some friend had owed Weatherly $100. Just prior to the start of the race, the friend had given Weatherly two $50 bills, which Joe stuck in the pocket of his driver?s uniform. They were there when he died. Want to get thrown out of Tony Stewart?s pit? Give him a $50.00 bill. Noted prankster, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. would razzle Stewart with $50.00 bills early in Stewart?s NASCAR career.

The roots of the peanuts superstition can be traced to September 27, 1937. Going back to the dusty, dangerous times of state fair dirt track racing, there was a fatal accident that many say boosted the peanut superstition. The morning paper, the Nashville Tennessean picks up the story with the September 28th headline, RACING DRIVER KILLED, FOUR HURT.

The newspaper reported, ?Five cars were involved. On the 20th lap, Duke Nalon was leading the race. Nalon was attempting to pass Cox on the back stretch, when Howdy ?skidded almost completely around and into Nalon’s path.? The impact through Cox high into the air. Two other cars were unable to avoid the wreck and all four cars piled up. Ray Gardner crashed into the inside fence ?to avoid hitting a drivers body, which lay on the track near the wreckage.? making a total of five cars wrecked. Ted Horn of Los Angeles, CA was thrown from his car and one leg was pinned beneath it. He was listed with serious head injuries. Vernon Orenduff of Tallahassee, FL was treated for shock. Ray Gardner of Long Beach, CA had minor cuts and bruises and treated at the track. (Howdy) Cox of Dallas, TX was thrown on his head and pronounced dead on arrival at General Hospital.?

Horn, Orenduff and Nalon were admitted to the hospital and not told of Howdy’s death until later. It is unknown how serious Horn?s or Nalon?s injuries were, however they continued on with his racing careers.

C.H. Armstrong was the AAA official for the race at Cumberland Park and telegraphed a detailed report of the accident and race. The race was to have six events with total prize awards of $1000.00.

Saturday was the last day of the fair and the paper advertised that 40,000 would be in attendance, but rain Saturday delayed the race till Monday. The race was canceled after the accident with the announcer expressing the belief “We have had enough racing for one afternoon.” This was greeted with applause from the spectators.

Supposedly before the race someone had broken up some peanuts and sprinkled them on the hoods of the first five cars. It was also noted that Horn drove a green tow truck to the race that day, which just strengthened that superstition for him as well. Eleven years later his wife wore a green dress the day he was killed (at DuQuoin, 1948).

A few years ago, the Robert Yates team was having a bad year and when Yates found peanuts in the shop vending machine and he had them removed. It is rumored that he was thinking of sending the machine with the peanuts to Dale Earnhardt. Many times superstitions start when someone notices something or trend. Ronnie Duman insisted that photographer Ken Coles travel with him after he won his first ?Little 500? sprint car race. Duman won again the following year (1960). Coles remarked to me, ?Ronnie insisted that everything be the same, travel in the same car, eat at the same restaurants, even bring the same blanket he wrapped the trophy in.?

Next time you?re at a racetrack eating peanuts and some old-timer gives you a dirty look, you?ll know why.

Special thanks to Kem Robertson, Tom Higgins and Ronald Cooper for their assistance on this article.

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