Some sources point to the color green and its connotation with evil and the spiritual world, as believed by various European medieval societies. While this forms a plausible foundation for the legend’s survival over the years, most point to a famous incident involving one of America’s most storied automakers as the starting point—Chevrolet.
In the early 1900s, brothers Louis and Gaston Chevrolet were avid race car drivers, both very talented in the sport. Louis, co-founder of the Chevrolet Motor Company, made numerous racing appearances at Long Island, New York’s Vanderbilt Cup, and earned an impressive seventh-place finish at the 1919 Indianapolis 500. Younger brother Gaston did one better, and won the event in 1920 behind the wheel of his Frontenac race car.
However, tragedy struck just months later. In November 1920, Gaston Chevrolet crashed his green car while racing in Beverly Hills, California, ending his life early at only 28 years. As a result, Louis vowed to never race again.
Another highly cited racing incident occurred a decade earlier in 1910 at the New York State Fair, in which a green car driven by Lee Oldfield hurdled into the grandstands, killing a number of spectators. Both incidents do certainly carry the heavy loss of life, casting a dark shadow on the green racer, but that’s not to say a green car is a shoe-in for racing ruin.
In decades past, NASCAR drivers seemed especially aware of the green car myth, with some outright refusing to drive the cars. Nevertheless Bobby Labonte drove his green Interstate Batteries car to the Winston Cup Championship in 2000, and Darrell Waltrip famously claimed back-to-back championships in 1981 and ’82 behind the wheel of his green-and-white Mountain Dew car.
At Le Mans, Bentley claimed five 24 Hours wins between 1924 and 1930, and in green cars on multiple occasions. Famed Formula 1 star Jim Clark danced his green Lotus race cars to a series of championships in the 1960s, sadly he did pass away at the Hockenheim circuit in 1968 behind the wheel of a Gold Leaf Lotus.
Like many unlucky motorsports myths—peanuts, $50 bills, the number 13—there’s more lore than fact to back up the stories, as driver Danica Patrick noted in a 2012 NASCAR article. Patrick, who has famously raced the green GoDaddy car, got her start by racing a Tony Kart—a go-kart with an exclusively green-and-white livery.
“It used to be said that [green] was unlucky,” notes Patrick. “But of course, when one of the best go-karts made is green, you kind of just drive it and don’t think about that. I try to choose to not believe in any superstitions like that, like the No. 13 or green or anything like that. It’s only real if you believe it.”