Presidents Race Facts, History, and Trivia
The Racing Presidents
Participants in the presidents race include the 4 presidents whose images appear on Mount Rushmore, plus one new member who was introduced for the 2013 season:
- #1 George Washington, our 1st president
- #3 Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd president
- #16 Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president
- #26 Teddy Roosevelt, our 26th president
- #27 William Howard Taft, our 27th president
Rules of the Race
There are few rules to the presidents race. In the middle of the 4th inning of every home game, the racing presidents are introduced individually as they enter the park through the center field fence. They then race along the warning track, turning for the final sprint along the first base foul line toward a makeshift finish line near the Washington Nationals’ home dugout. Starting in 2012, the team experimented with mixing things up by shifting occasional races to the 3rd base side.
Presidents Race History and Records
Most notable among presidents race records is Teddy Roosevelt’s winless streak, which lasted from the race’s inception on July 21, 2006 through the final race of the regular season on October 3, 2012. Roosevelt lost 525 races before notching his first victory.
2006 Presidents Race – Champion: Thomas Jefferson
In 2006, the presidents raced officially began during a July home stand, just after the Lerner family purchased the team from Major League Baseball. In this shortened first season, the presidents race remained a hotly contested contest between Thomas Jefferson and Abe Lincoln until the very end, with Tom pulling away on the very last game of the season. Teddy Roosevelt did not draw a lot of attention to himself. He simply failed to win a single race.
Final 2006 Standings
2007 Presidents Race Champion: George Washington
The first full season for the racing presidents was 2007, and it was a bit of a coming out party for Teddy Roosevelt, who stepped up the antics on opening day with a zip line stunt from the roof of RFK Stadium, and began losing in more spectacular ways. The Let Teddy Win movement began to draw attention, but unfortunately for Teddy, the winner’s circle continued to be elusive, and as the summer wore on, it became clear that this was to be George Washington’s year. Our first president surged ahead, and had the season title easily wrapped up by mid-September.
Final 2007 Standings
2008 Presidents Race Champion: Abe Lincoln
Many anticipated that Teddy Roosevelt would christen the new Nationals Park with an opening day presidents race victory. Unfortunately, Teddy was caught cheating in the first of many mishaps in 2008 which included among other things encounters with panthers, bananas, and Martha Washington. The big surprise was Abe Lincoln’s emergence as a dominant sprinter, leading many observers to speculate whether Abe was juicing. “Honest” Abe had no competition for the 2008 title. Only a final day rain-out curtailed his bid for a 50-win season.
Final 2008 Standings
Game-by-game results and highlights from 2008 can be found at the Presidents Race 2008 Results & Highlights page.
2009 Presidents Race Champion: Abe Lincoln
Abe Lincoln continued his presidents race dominance in 2009, pulling away from the pack late in the season, and frequently taunting his opponents. Teddy passed the 250 loss milestone in July, and was distracted at various times by clowns, weather, and Twitter. That Cat returned to make several appearances, most notably when getting Teddy disqualified for “unauthorized use of a feline.” Teddy mysteriously missed 5 races due to injury late in the season, but his most notorious moment came on the road in Pittsburgh, when he was leveled by a racing pierogie on national television.
Final 2009 Standings
Game-by-game results and highlights from 2009 can be found at the Presidents Race 2009 Results & Highlights page.
2010 Presidents Race Champion: Abe Lincoln
The 2010 season kicked off with an injury in Teddy’s first race, and things went downhill from there, as Abe Lincoln held off furious runs from both Tom and George to lock up another title.
Along the way, things got dirty, with a number of on-field skirmishes, sometimes involving That Cat, the sponsor GEICO Gecko, mascot Screech’s mom, or visiting celebrities such as Brian from Family Guy, The Grinch, and Mr Kool Aid, but almost all involving Lincoln.
In July, Teddy let out his frustrations on Abe with a memorable right hook.
Final 2010 Standings
Game-by-game results and highlights from 2010 can be found at the Presidents Race 2010 Results and Highlights page.
2011 Presidents Race – Champion (tie): Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson
The 2011 season included the debut of new patriotic jerseys, appearances by John F. Kennedy, pro wrestler John Cena, and That Cat, plus lobsters, monkeys, leprechauns, and more. But the season will most be remembered for the campaign of new Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth, who declared his support for the Let Teddy Win movement early in the season, and later took things into his own hands, trying twice to stage a presidents race coup and even winning a race himself before finally giving in to a higher power.
Final 2011 Standings
Game-by-game results and highlights from the 2011 season can be found at the 2011 Results & Highlights page.
2012 Presidents Race – Champion: George Washington
2012 was a breakthrough season for both the Nationals and for perpetual loser Teddy Roosevelt. As the team soared to the best record in Major League Baseball, pressure grew from all corners to Let Teddy Win. Competing players weighed in, law professors proposed legal remedies, the Orioles’ Adam Jones joined the movement, and calls for a Teddy victory came from The Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal to a Ken Burns-narrated video on ESPN.
After The White House issued a statement, the Nats turned the final homestand into a tribute to Teddy, and finally let him taste his first victory on the final game of the regular season. Teddy went on to win all three post-season races.
Along the way, Teddy attacked Pierogies and Birds, and ran into distractions including Batman, lobsters, apple pie, Popsicles and Twitter. The presidents treated fans to an entertaining week of Olympic tributes, and became a YouTube sensation by dancing Gangnam Style. The team briefly experimented with changing the direction of the race based on team wins, but scrapped the idea soon after.
Final 2012 Standings
Game-by-game results and highlights from the 2012 season can be found at the 2012 Results & Highlights page.
2013 Presidents Race – Introducing William Howard Taft
In 2013, the Nationals introduced a fifth racing president, William Howard Taft. Neither Taft nor Roosevelt tasted victory early on, and they battled for last place in the standings. Meanwhile, the presidents were visited by Teddy’s great great grandson Winthrop, HBO’s VEEP Selina Myer, The Orioles Bird, The Racing Pierogies, That Cat, a giant cicada, Mr. Kool Aid, the Sharknado, Martha Washington, Sharky, the grounds crew, Teddy’s pet moose Bullee, a rally pigeon, and a dozen other mascots from the DC area..
Videos and race-by-race results can be found on the 2013 standings page.
Final 2013 Standings
|William Howard Taft||11|
More Fun Facts
The presidents race started on video. The predecessor to the presidents race was the PNC Dollar Derby, introduced in the 2005 season as an animated race on the RFK Stadium video scoreboard, featuring famous figures on American currency. Rooting interests were tied to sections of the stadium. George Washington ($1 bill, orange seats), Abraham Lincoln ($5 bill, red seats), and Alexander Hamilton ($10 bill, yellow seats) raced in go-karts around Washington, DC, with one of them always crashing before the end of the race. In 2006, the Dollar Derby was replaced by the presidents race, featuring the four Mt. Rushmore presidents, but it remained a scoreboard-only feature until mid-season.
The first live presidents race was held on July 21, 2006, when the Washington Nationals hosted a “Grand Reopening” of RFK Stadium after the Lerner family had been named as the team’s new owners by major league baseball. In a demonstration of commitment to the Washington Nationals fans, the team kicked off a “Paint the Town Red” weekend, during which fans received giveaways and new investments in the fan experience were unveiled. These included a new food court at RFK stadium as well the live-action costumed racing presidents, a brainchild of then entertainment manager Josh Golden. The Nationals defeated the Chicago Cubs 7-6.
The presidents race winner is not always predetermined. While some theatrics are occasionally planned in advance, the race more often than not has been real. Once the presidents break for the finish line, there has historically been only one rule handed down by the Nationals: Until October 3, 2012 Teddy was not allowed to win.
The racing president costumes were created by Randy Carfagno Productions, a New York City manufacturer of theatrical puppets and costumes. When a costume malfunctions, it must be sent back to New York, as happened during the 2009 season. The Nats racing presidents wear regular sneakers instead of cleats during the race, because they spend so much time cruising the Nationals Park stands before and during games.
A second set of presidents was created in 2010. When the Washington Nationals returned from the All Star break and an extended road trip in July, 2010, the racing presidents received a significant facelift. The team declined to comment on the change, but it appeared to be designed to make the presidents look more friendly to the kids. Before the facelift, only Teddy and Tom sported grins, but after the botox treatment, all the presidents were smiling.
The “classic” presidents returned to the field and ran nearly all the races for the 2011 season, with the friendlier, “new look” presidents saved for occasional public appearances. A year later, the 2012 season opened with the “new look” presidents once again taking center stage, where they stayed only through the first homestand, but eventually came back as what appear to be permanent replacements.
Teddy’s costume is significantly shorter than the other racing presidents. Teddy is 9′ tall. George Washington is 9’5″. Abe Lincoln is 10′ 0″, and Thomas Jefferson is the tallest at 10′ 1″. As the most top-heavy president, Jefferson tends to fall more often than the others. The height of the newest president, William Howard Taft, has not been disclosed.
Specific president costumes are not “operated” by the same person for each game. The many members of the mascot team switch off from day to day. Special guests were occasionally invited to partake in the race during the first season, but this practice was curtailed after the presidents race soared in popularity, presumably to make sure nobody would let Teddy win.
Teddy Roosevelt has been disqualified several times. Nationals fans have been teased on several occasions when Teddy Roosevelt used illegal tactics to win the presidents race (descending a zip line, riding a golf cart or rickshaw…); however on each such occasion he was immediately disqualified, and his winless streak continued. In the 2008 inaugural game at Nationals Park, Teddy attempted to take a shortcut across the Nationals Park outfield. Nationals mascot Screech, who judges from the finish line, disqualified Teddy in 2008 for cutting the outfield corner and for using a motor scooter. In 2009, he was inexplicably disqualified for “unauthorized use of a feline”, and in the 2010 pre-season, it was unnecessary roughness.
Interference by other costumed characters cost Teddy Roosevelt a number of races over the years. “Guest” appearances in the presidents race have been made by dogs, bananas, clowns, lobsters, monkeys, leprechauns, and John F. Kennedy; but Teddy’s most frequent nemesis is a panther who first appeared in April, 2008 and returned two months later wearing a red shirt with Teddy’s name crossed out on the back. Since then, “That Cat” has returned to interfere several times each season.
There have been 13 presidents race doubleheaders. On the rare occasion that a baseball game extends to 13 innings or more, the racing presidents return to the ball field in the middle of the 13th inning to run another presidents race. There were three such extra races at RFK Stadium, and there have been nine at Nationals Park. The first was on June 20, 2008, during a 14-inning game against the Texas Rangers. Others occured on September 19, 2008 vs. the San Diego Padres, on April 24, 2010 during a 13-inning loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, on August 26, 2010 during a 13-inning victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, and on September 17, 2011 during a 13-inning affair vs. the Florida Marlins. There were three during the 2012 season: during a 13-inning win over the Cincinnati Reds on April 13, 2012, during a 14-inning loss to the New York Yankees on June 16, 2012, and during a 13-inning victory over the Braves early in the morning of August 21, 2012. The most recent were during a 15-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds on May 19, and a 13-inning loss to the Atlanta Braves on June 20, 2014.
Presidents race bobblehead nights were featured during the 2007 season, and were an instant hit with Washington Nationals fans at RFK Stadium. Attendance on the racing presidents bobblehead nights averaged 33,459 — a 42% increase over that season’s average attendance on non-bobblehead nights. The fifth racing president, William Howard Taft, finally got his own bobblehead night on August 17, 2014.
The racing presidents have a 3-1 record on their bobblehead nights. In the 2007 season, George Washington (July 4), Thomas Jefferson (August 4) , and Abe Lincoln (August 18), each won the presidents race on their bobblehead nights, leading many to speculate that Teddy Roosevelt’s first victory would finally arrive on his bobblehead night. On September 1, 2007, Teddy was carried in on a throne as the other presidents were held back by secret service agents, but the throne was dropped and George ran by him to keep Teddy’s winless streak alive.
The racing presidents have a 3-1 record on their “T-Shirt Tuesdays.” In 2008, the Nationals introduced “Free T-Shirt Tuesdays”, and gave away racing president t-shirts on selected nights. Again, George Washington (May 20), Thomas Jefferson (June 3) , and Abe Lincoln (July 8), each won the presidents race on their T-Shirt Tuesdays, but Teddy did not come through. On August 12, 2008, Teddy gave up a late lead as he was distracted by a panther that ran onto the field.
GEICO became the official sponsor of the racing presidents in 2006. In 2006, GEICO became the official sponsor of the racing presidents. To kick off the race, a costumed gecko enters the field along with Washington Nationals mascot Screech, and the two characters wait at the temporary finish line for the costumed presidents. The Gecko has rarely participated in the race itself, but it has twice been run over by the presidents at the finish line.
The presidents race route and distance has been changed three times. In 2006 and 2007 at RFK Stadium, entered the park with a running start from a tunnel in the right field corner. The straight-line race route followed the first base foul line from right field toward a finish line near home plate. With the move to the new Nationals Park in 2008, the presidents were introduced individually, and the race route was lengthened to stretch from center field to the far edge of the Nationals’ dugout, after which the racing presidents would exit the field into the stands in Section 127. Unfortunately, the new route lasted through just one homestand. After Major League Baseball complained that the race was delaying the game, the route was shortened and the live introductions of each president was scrapped.
For the last game of the 2011 season, after Nationals players tried twice to interfere on Roosevelt’s behalf, the team reversed the course to run along the left field warning track, a route that was repeated for the 2012 season opener. The Nationals began changing the route more regularly in 2012. A superstitious plan to switch directions only after the Nationals lost a game was scrapped after two homestands that featured lengthy winning streaks.
The presidents race to music by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Since 2013, the race has been accompanied by Tom Petty’s song “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” In previous years, the team has played Los Lobos 1987 cover of the 1958 hit “Come On, Let’s Go” by Richie Valens. As the presidents leave the field, they historically were accompanied by the 1982 hit “I Ran” by English new wave band A Flock of Seagulls. In 2011, the Nationals promised new victory songs which would vary depending on who wins, but it never happened.
The presidents race has twice been named “Best On-Field Promotion” in all of professional sports. GameOps.com, a web site focused on sports entertainment and promotions, recognized the Washington Nationals racing presidents with its Golden Steagle Award for best contest or on-field promotion of 2007. The presidents race was nominated again in 2008, then won the award again in 2009, and again in 2012.
George Washington won the final presidents race at RFK Stadium. At the Washington Nationals’ final home game at RFK Stadium on September 23, 2007, many fans expected to see Teddy Roosevelt finally win the presidents race. However, Teddy appeared on the stadium video screen at the new Nationals Park — apparently having arrived for the race at the wrong location. George Washington won easily to complete the 2007 presidents race season and extend Teddy’s losing streak into another year.
George Washington won the first presidents race at Nationals Park. On Saturday, March 22, 2008, the Washington Nationals hosted a limited-attendance baseball game for a few thousand fans at Nationals Park between the George Washington University and Saint Josephs University baseball teams. Since this was a “dry run” designed to test all the concessions and in-game entertainment, fans in attendance were treated to the first “unofficial” presidents race at Nationals Park. To the chants of “Let Teddy Win!”, Teddy came up short as George Washington was first to cross the tape. Eight days later, at the Washington Nationals’ inaugural regular season game at Nationals Park, George also captured the first official presidents race, beating Teddy at the wire.
You can meet and pose for photos with the racing presidents at Nationals Park. The Nationals’ stadium offers fans many opportunities to meet and pose for photos with the racing presidents. In 2010, Teddy started greeting fans before the games outside the Navy Yard Metro stop on Half Street NE. Approximately 30 to 60 minutes before the game, all of the racing presidents can be found greeting visitors and posing for photos inside the ticket gates at Nationals Park’s main centerfield plaza entrance. After the presidents race is completed in the middle of the 4th inning, the racing presidents return to the Nationals Park concourse behind section 131, where they pose as a group with fans through the 5th inning.