A Partial History Of Green Race Cars In The NASCAR Winston Cup Series

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HIGH POINT, N.C. – Most NASCAR drivers agree with Kermit The Frog. In racing, it’s isn’t easy being green.

As Dave Blaney prepares to pilot his new green-and-yellow No. 93 BP/Amoco Ultimate Dodge in the first of four races this season in the Coca-Cola 600, the tongue-in-cheek wisdom of changing Blaney’s familiar Amoco red-white-and-blue scheme to one of motorsports’ forbidden shades bears examining.

For the better part of NASCAR’s first three decades, the curse of the color followed any Winston Cup Series owner daring enough to go green. At the start of the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, 199 drivers—including former World of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser, Davy Jones, (not the Monkee), current Bill Davis Racing crew member and road racing expert Tom Hubert and the brothers Green (David and Jeff but not Mark)—had won more than $100,000 in their Winston Cup careers. Very few won their Big Green in green cars.

Oh, sure, Lenny Pond did win in 1978 at Talladega Superspeedway carrying a turquoise green-and-white design, beating Donnie Allison, Benny Parsons and Cale Yarborough to the line for his only career Winston Cup victory.

But for every Darrell Waltrip story—24 wins in 1981-82 in Junior Johnson’s Mountain Dew-sponsored green Chevrolets—there’s a story like the late Elmo Langley’s. Langley, the popular journeyman driver—who went on to drive the (red) Winston Cup pace car during the 1990’s—didn’t buy into all that superstition stuff and drove a green race-car for most of his career. He just liked green. He won early races at short tracks in Spartanburg, S.C. and Manassas, Va. but never during the modern era of the Winston Cup Series.

Seventeen-time WoO champion Kinser, one of six drivers saddled with the Quaker State-green paint scheme of former WC owner Kenny Bernstein, became so frustrated with his attempt to make his transition to NASCAR that he fled back to dirt before late spring of his rookie NASCAR season in 1995. Within the year, Bernstein had also given up on stock-car racing and returned to his more familiar NHRA drag racing turf. Must have been the green car.

Partially green cars don’t count. For more than a decade, the slightly-green Gatorade car design was familiar to Winston Cup fans through the efforts of Waltrip and Bobby Allison at DiGard Racing and, later with owner Cliff Stewart efforts with then-NASCAR novices Rusty Wallace and Geoff Bodine. But the cars were barely green, as was the more recent florescent green-trimmed entry from owner Felix Sabates—the No. 42 Mello Yello Pontiac in which Kyle Petty won at Pocono (1993) and Dover (1995). Almost not green at all.

Wallace—after graduating from Stewart’s Gatorade entry—went on to win his only NASCAR Winston Cup championship in 1989 (and only one race that season—at Michigan) in a Raymond Beadle-owned, Kodiak-sponsored Pontiac that was as barely-green as Wallace’s rookie year entry. The sponsor continued on with it’s basic design formula on both the Rick Hendrick-owned No. 25 Chevrolet (with Ken Schrader) and the Larry Hedrick-owned No. 41 Chevrolet (for several drivers including D.Green).

Perhaps because the sponsor is in such a long drought—winless since the Wallace days, Kodiak decided this season on a just-slightly-greener design featured on the Mark Melling-owned No. 92 for driver Stacy Compton, a Dodge Intrepid teammate in 2001 to both Blaney and BDR teammate Ward Burton.

Burton won his first career Winston Cup race (and also the first win for owner Bill Davis) at Rockingham in October, 1995 with an MBNA-sponsored car that showed the slightest bit of green trim low on the fenders. Probably not enough green to have the full effect.

A.J. Foyt—one of the greatest drivers of all time in any race car, won every big event available (including the 1976 and 1980 Daytona 500s) but even he is not immune (as an owner) to the color curse. Since returning to the NASCAR last season with Conseco as a (green) sponsor, Foyt’s cars have finished in the top-ten only three times with four drivers, including 2001 driver Ron Hornaday.

Three drivers have, however, defied the modern-era Winston Cup blight on green good fortune. The fact that they are all good guys likely bought them every bit of their success in the mostly-verboten colors of the forest and the frog.

In the 15 seasons prior to his retirement, Harry Gant—one of the motorsports’ true gentlemen—won 18 NASCAR Winston Cup Series races for owners Hal Needham/Burt Reynolds (1981-88) and for Leo Jackson (1989-94), boldly entering Victory Lane each time in his Skoal-green entry. He won in all but six of those seasons with a green car, probably because he was such a nice guy.

Another nice guy, two-time championship Crew Chief Andy Petree, liked the way the whole green thing looked at Leo Jackson’s, so much that he bought the team prior to the 1996 season. Skoal stayed another four winless seasons with Petree, who fielded 223 entries before winning his first race as a Winston Cup owner at Talladega last month, albeit with Bobby Hamilton in his second car (No. 55) and with another sponsor. Probably the color thing.

Probably also because of Gant’s success, others soon followed, including several in the mid-nineties such as Dave Marcis (#71 Prodigy-green trim), J.Green and Wally Dallenbach (#46 First Union kelly-green design), Rick Mast and Morgan Shepherd (No. 75 Remington Arms entry) and Chad Little’s No. 97 John Deere Ford. They were zero for the 1990s.

But another set of nice guys—former Super Bowl-winning Coach Joe Gibbs and drivers Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte—have laid the groundwork for guys like Bill Davis and Dave Blaney to go where other owner/driver combinations (as well as their paint-and-body guys) have feared to go….all green.

Since his transition from the NFL to NASCAR prior to the 1992 season, Gibbs’ No. 18 GM entries have also won 18 times (twice by Jarrett, 16 times by Labonte) on ten different tracks, including the 1993 Daytona 500 with their familiar mostly-green Interstate Batteries paint scheme. And in 2000, Labonte produced the ultimate proof that nice guys and great teams can overcome the Hex of the Green, winning his first Winston Cup championship. Nice guys finish first, even in green cars.

Varying theories abound concerning why the motorsports’ universal aversion to green actually took root. But allow Grey Warren, current Assistant Parts Manager at Bill Davis Racing and storied in-house racing historian, to cut through the myth and superstition over Blaney’s planned four-race switch of car designs to the mostly BP-green color scheme on the #93 Amoco Ultimate/Siemens Dodge.

“I don’t get it,” said Warren. “It’s been that way for years, the way people felt about green in racing. Beats me. Green is what we race for. Why should green race cars be a problem?”
Good point.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2001

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