A running gag with the Presidents is that Teddy Roosevelt can never win a race - he came close in 2012, after apparently defeating the other 3 presidents: while Teddy was "Tebowing" near the finish line, George Washington drove up in a car and whacked him in the back of the head with a baseball bat. In 2012, shortly before the Nationals' postseason run, Teddy won his first race and then won 4 straight. In 2013, the fifth contestant - Taft - was added, followed by the sixth contestant - Coolidge - in 2015.
The origin of the race
The predecessor to the Presidents Race was the PNC Dollar Derby, an animated cartoon displayed on the giant video board during the 2005 inaugural season at RFK Stadium. Sponsored by PNC Bank, the Dollar Derby cartoons depicted a car race between three US historical figures whose faces appear on U.S. paper currency: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexander Hamilton. Each represented a section in the stadium (orange, red, and yellow seats). During the races, one competitor would generally have some early mishap such as spinning out, leaving the other two competitors to race to the end. Each racer won a fair number of times.
For the 2006 season, the Dollar Derby was replaced by the Presidents Race, a cartoon depicting four, not three, presidents racing through Washington, DC and avoiding obstacles such as traffic cones, open manholes, and closed streets. The event generally received some applause.
After the team's purchase by Ted Lerner during the 2006 season, the new owner announced changes for the stadium and a "grand re-opening" of RFK Stadium after the All-Star Break. Among the changes: the Presidents' Race became a live event first held on July 21, 2006.
The race still began with an animation on the video board: the four cartoon presidents dashed through Washington, D.C., and headed towards RFK Stadium. Immediately after disappearing from the screen, the costumed live-action presidents emerged from the right field corner as 10 feet (3.0 m) tall men with large caricature foam heads. The presidents bolted out from right field and down the first base line, past the visitors' dugout, and to the finish line by home plate.
Beginning in the 2007 season, the animated lead-in was replaced with a taped video of the caricature-headed presidents running from the White House, around various Washington landmarks, and heading towards RFK Stadium. The 2007 season's promotions included giveaways of 7.5 inches (19 cm) bobbleheads of the four Racing Presidents.
In 2008, the Presidents Race became a highlighted attraction of the team's new stadium, Nationals Park. Images of George, Tom, Abe, and Teddy are featured on stadium signage and at the team store/gift shop, which is now named "Rushmores." The racing presidents themselves began greeting visitors before games at the main entrance, and posing for photos in a "Kids Zone" after the presidents race through the end of each game. The race itself was also lengthened, with an extended introduction and a longer distance, running from center field clockwise by the first base foul pole and down the foul line towards a finish line near the Nationals' dugout.
In 2009, a new food concession was opened at Nationals Park called Teddy's Barbeque, featuring images of Theodore Roosevelt and a signature food item—a 13 inches (33 cm) beef short rib called the "Rough Rider".
Teddy's losing streak
The running joke of the Presidents Race had been Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt's inability to win a race. The reasons for Teddy's failures had consistently varied, ranging from tripping, confusion, being attacked by a man dressed as a shark, attempting to tweet while racing and subsequently falling over, to striking up conversations with fans and forgetting to run. In 2006, he was also disqualified for cheating when he drove a golf cart past his competitors, and for emerging from the visitors' dugout instead of running the length of the first base line.
Teddy's shutout—and his antics—continued through the 2007 season as he was disqualified on opening day for zip-lining into the infield from the top of the stadium. He was also disqualified in September for riding in a rickshaw pulled by a bicycle. The 2007 season's promotional Presidential bobbleheads generated anticipation that Teddy would see his first victory. George, Tom, and Abe each won the race on their respective days, and they were escorted by the "Secret Service" to guarantee the runaway victories. Teddy's bobblehead giveaway was September 1, and 42,000 fans showed up to watch as Teddy was carried in on a throne while the "Secret Service" held back the other three racers. Halfway home, Teddy asked to be lowered and was dropped; while his escort was helping him to his feet, the other racers got around the blockade and George won the race by a couple of feet.
On September 23, 2007, in the final game at RFK Stadium, Teddy was heavily anticipated to finally win. When the race started, the Nationals bullpen held George, Tom, and Abe back to help Teddy to victory. But Teddy never showed up; the video board showed him at the unfinished Nationals Park.
With the opening of Nationals Park in 2008 came increased fanfare for the presidents race and a growing fan fervor for Teddy including a fan-generated "Let Teddy Win" campaign tied to the presidential election season.
Teddy's losing streak was extended with the stadium's inaugural game, as he ran off-course across the outfield and was distracted by members of the opposing team. In subsequent races, Teddy was disqualified for cutting the outfield corner and for riding a motor scooter. The theme of sabotage was also introduced in 2008 as Teddy was tackled or tripped just short of the finish line on several occasions by visitors from the stands, including costumed bananas, panthers, and mascots from other teams.
Teddy mania reached a fever pitch during a June 2008 series against the Baltimore Orioles, when Teddy was tripped short of the finish line by the Orioles mascot "The Oriole Bird." On June 28, 2008, the presidents race was suspended for a day as Teddy won a one-on-one "grudge match" race against The Bird, giving Teddy his first victory. However, it was announced that the "unsanctioned" race would not be recognized in the standings by "The Presidents Racing Association of America." The next day, Teddy refused to race with the other presidents, choosing to help the Nationals grounds crew instead. The interleague rivalry between Teddy and the Orioles Bird extended into 2009, when the mascots tackled each other in back-to-back games at Nationals Park.
On Sunday, July 26, 2009, during a game against the San Diego Padres, Teddy used a motor scooter to pass the field and cross the finish line first. However, after the judges' consideration, Teddy was disqualified from the race, and remained winless.
From July 31 to August 3, 2009, the Presidents appeared at PNC Park in Pittsburgh in the Great Pierogi Race. During the first night's relay race, Potato Pete TKO'ed Teddy with a flying tackle. The following night Teddy ran into the wall after leading the race and lost.
On September 8, 2009, Teddy appeared to have won his first race, but was disqualified for recruiting an extra mascot onto the field to interfere with the other presidents.
On April 23, 2011, Teddy and Abe both raced two pierogi racers (Jalapeño Hannah and Cheese Chester) in the Great Pierogi Race in Pittsburgh, during a Pirates-Nationals game. Despite an early head start before the race officially began, Teddy loses to Hannah.
On July 4, 2012, ESPN's SportsNation featured the President Race at the conclusion of their "101 Celebration Fails" episode. George fell at the beginning of the race, and Teddy had tried numerous antics to defeat the others, including throwing a rack of basketballs in front of Abe. After gaining a massive lead, he stopped just short of the finish line to celebrate; while Teddy was kneeling, or Tebowing, George approached from behind in a SportsNation van and clubbed Teddy with a baseball bat, once again dealing Teddy a loss.
On August 17, 2012 (the 499th Presidents' Race), held during the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week". Teddy appeared wearing shark teeth and a makeshift dorsal fin. Starting the race in last position, Teddy was assisted by another man in a shark suit who systematically tackled each of the other presidents, allowing Teddy to pass. Just as it looked like Teddy was going to win, Abe (the 1st one tackled) passed him and crossed the finish line.
On July 23, 2013, in another race against The Pierogis, Teddy was tackled and beaten up by all four pierogies.
On October 3, the final day of the 2012 regular season, Teddy finally won his first race, breaking a 525-race losing streak with help from a poorly designed Phillie Phanatic. The victory marked the first time the Nationals earned a playoff appearance since moving to Washington in 2005 and the first playoff game in Washington since 1933 when the team in Washington was the Senators. The Rough Rider then won the next three races, all in the 2012 National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. However, the ninth inning collapse by the Nats in the fifth and final game ended the season.
On August 15, 2014, at Nationals Park, Teddy avenged his five-year humiliation in Pittsburgh by tackling Potato Pete near the finish line. On September 28 of that same year, Teddy, with a little help from The Penguins of Madagascar, won his first season-long race title.
It was announced in a blog on the website of The Washington Post on January 25, 2013, that a likeness of William Howard Taft ("Bill" for short), the 27th President of the United States, would be added to the roster of entries for the 2013 season, making him the first new entry - and the fifth overall - in the race. The character debuted at the NatsFest event on January 26, 2013. Bill made his debut in the race on Opening Day April 1, in which Bill pushed Abe down leaving him, George, and Teddy until Bill pushed Teddy to the wall in right field foul territory but Teddy tripped Bill leaving George to win the race. On May 11, 2013, Bill wins his first race when he and Teddy were left racing after the other three presidents were taken down. The next day on May 12, Teddy wins his first since the 2012 playoff in a dizzy bat race as he and George were left near the finish line with the latter loses his bat leaving Teddy to win the race. Both Bill and Teddy had each won 11 races in the 2013 season.
Midway in the 2015 season, it was announced on July 1 in the Washington Post that a likeness of Calvin Coolidge ("Calvin" for short), the 30th President of the United States, will be the sixth racing president and second new entry, but the first entry during a MLB season. Calvin debuted on July 3, the eve of his 143rd birthday, in which Calvin appeared behind the other five racing presidents knocking down Abe and then Teddy near the finish line for his first win.
The Nationals' racing presidents have become established as fixtures in the Washington, D.C. social scene. The presidents have made numerous appearances at the White House, including the annual Easter Egg Roll and the Independence Day fireworks. The presidents also appeared at several Inaugural Balls and were in the Inaugural Parade after the election of President Barack Obama. In 2008, racing president Teddy Roosevelt entered and finished D.C.'s Marine Corps Marathon in full costume.
The Presidents Race has also received acclaim throughout the sports promotions industry. Some awards the Presidents have garnered: 2013 - Winner: IDEA Conference Golden Matrix Award "Best Interactive Feature" 2012 - Winner: Gameops.com Best of 2012 "Best Contest or On-Field Promotion" 2010 - Honorable Mention: Gameops.com Best of 2010 "Best Contest or On-Field Promotion" 2009 - Winner: Gameops.com Best of 2009 "Best Contest or On-Field Promotion" 2009 - Winner: Washington, DC St. Patrick's Day Parade "Most Humorous Float" 2009 - Winner: IDEA Conference Golden Matrix Award "Best Interactive Feature" 2008 - Honorable Mention: Gameops.com Best of 2008 "Best Contest or On-Field Promotion" 2007 - Winner: Gameops.com Best of 2007 "Best Contest or On-Field Promotion"