Mid-way through the film, the tenth Formula One race of the season takes place at Nurburgring with Niki Lauda leading James Hunt substantially in the point standings. The scene opens with a large black spider crawling along a concrete support in the paddock area. The spider disappears as the camera lens expands to pre-race activities of the leading championship contenders, Niki Lauda and James Hunt.
I doubt that many in the audience even saw that spider or if they did, gave it little or no thought. I wanted to yell out a warning about that black spider to actor Daniel Brühl (Niki Lauda) and Chris Hemsworth (James Hunt.) But it was thirty-seven years too late!
I knew about black spider premonitions. My mind did an immediate back-flip to an interview that I once had with the late John Weitz, a renowned men’s fashion designer and former SCCA sports car driver from the 1950’s, who told me about his own ‘racing superstitions.’ There was one that he would never forget.
Sebring 1957 team members L to R: John Peterson, Bob Ballenger, ‘Wacky’ Arnolt, Phil Stewart, Bob Goldich, Bob Gary, John Weitz. — John Weitz/1957 Sebring photos: Lee Raskin Archives
“We were at Sebring in 1957. I was a first year member of the Arnolt-Bristol Racing Team. On the morning of the twelve hour race, I noticed a huge black spider on the pit apron. Spiders to a German mean bad luck and even death.” John confided to fellow Arnolt-Bristol team driver Bob Ballenger that he is superstitious and that he and the team will have to be very careful during the race.
Weitz recalled that the twelve hour race begins with the Le Mans start and goes exceedingly well for the Arnolt-Bristol team as Sebring veteran Ballinger gets off first, followed by Weitz and then ‘Wacky’ Arnolt.
The team finds itself slugging it out for class honors against the two-litre AC Aces, Morgans, and Triumph TR3’s. The race strategy was simply to maintain a consistent pace with all three cars finishing the event. Everything goes well leading into the first scheduled drivers’ change just after the fourth hour.
Bob Goldich in #39 Arnolt-Bristol losing control in the Esses, 1957 Sebring 12 Hour race — John Weitz/1957 Sebring photos: Lee Raskin Archives
At 40 laps, the three team starters, Ballenger, Weitz, and ‘Wacky’ bring their Arnolt-Bristols into the pits for fuel and the scheduled driver change. ‘Wacky’ turns his number 39 Arnolt over to the team captain, Bob Goldich, who goes out quickly on his four hour ‘stint.’
On his first lap around the 5.2 mile road course, Goldich misjudges his entering speed at the ‘esses,’ slides off the track and loses control as the Arnolt does a one and a half revolution roll…landing upside down with Goldich pinned underneath. Rescuers rush to his aid, the car is righted, and Goldich is pulled from the wreck.
Bob Goldich in #39 Arnolt-Bristol rolling over in the Esses, 1957 Sebring 12 Hour race — John Weitz/1957 Sebring photos: Lee Raskin Archives
Bob Goldich is killed instantly.
Minutes later, word of the fatal accident becomes official. ‘Wacky’ Arnolt withdraws his remaining two cars from the race and they are directed to the pits. John Weitz told me, “No one said a word. All the team drivers and crew were absolutely stunned at the death of Bob Goldich. ‘Wacky’ was in complete shock.“
Bob Goldich pinned under #39 Arnolt-Bristol as rescue volunteers arrive to assist — John Weitz/1957 Sebring photos: Lee Raskin Archives
It was the first racing fatality ever at Sebring.
John went on to say, “I wish I had paid even more attention to my superstitions with that black spider. Maybe things could have been a little different for Bob Goldich.”
A stunned “Wacky” Arnolt learning of Bob Goldich’s fatal accident at Sebring — John Weitz/1957 Sebring photos: Lee Raskin Archives
Since watching Rush, I haven’t been able to let that Nurburgring black spider scene go. The spider wasn’t coincidental–it was intentionally written into the script by Director, Ron Howard and writer, Peter Morgan. But why? Did Howard know something about John Weitz’ black spider experience at Sebring 56 years earlier? Could there have been more to this perpetual spider superstition going on at the 1976 German GP at Nurburgring prior to Niki Lauda’s horrific accident? Why wasn’t the Rush audience let onto this racing superstition as well?
Ron Howard, please tell us what the heck you were thinking?
Written by Lee Raskin, copyright 2013– Lee Raskin is a motorsports historian, author, and a long-time Arnolt-Bristol and 356 Porsche vintage racer. He has written extensively about James Dean and his racing endeavors with his Porsche Speedster. and ultimate death behind the wheel of his Porsche 550 Spyder. See: Porsche Speedster TYP 540: Quintessential Sports Car (2004); James Dean At Speed (2005)
‘Rush’, the movie/ IMDB
‘Wacky’… a true story. Lee Raskin, Copyright 2009
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My professionally contracted rider, Kevin Magee, was bitten by a spider at Sear Point’s last race in 1994. He was very sick and went to hospital. No one could fathom why/what. Spent the weekend there…no racing. Spiders ARE dangerous. However, symbolic stories without contact…are fodder for believers…not of any validity to non-believers (me).
I am German. I never heard that black spiders mean bad luck or death to a German. For those who believe in superstition black cats do but not spiders.
Niki Lauda is Austrian. It is different culture even though the language is technically the same. As most Austrians like to believe Beethoven was an Austrian and Hitler a German I could not fully rule out that Austrians are afraid of spiders though.
Best regards, r