Throwback Thursday: Scientology Goes Racing

Hollywood's Favorite New-Age Religion Tried, Failed to Spread Its Message With Speed

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Racing ain't cheap, and teams are seldom in a position to turn down money. This leads to some off-the-wall sponsorship deals. Crypto-currencies. Taylor Swift. Jesus. And, for a few glorious years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, "Dianetics," in a campaign bankrolled by the Church of Scientology.

Incredibly, it wasn't the only sci-fi-ish religion to dabble in racing (more on that shortly). But it was by far the most prominent.

In case you're not familiar, "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health" was a self-help book by Scientology founder/science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in 1950; it formed the basis of a sort of proto-Scientology metaphysical movement that swept the nation in the postwar years.

Though that movement fizzled, the ideas contained in its founding document would be incorporated into Scientology as it is known today and the book itself remains an important text to the religion's followers.

Mr. Hubbard, meanwhile, loved fast cars and motorcycles. Elements of the modern church leadership, perhaps emulating their founder, reportedly share the same passions. Noted Scientologist Tom Cruise played a stock-car racer in the 1990 film "Days of Thunder" and has a high-octane fleet of his own. Further, Scientology is aggressively evangelical, rarely hesitating to spend vast sums of money on opulent buildings and star-studded promotional campaigns -- and racing teams are always desperate for sweet, sweet cash.

So this foray into motorsports sponsorship isn't as bizarre as it might at first seem.

The result was a string of endurance racing prototypes, a 1988 Indy 500 car, a short-lived "Dianetics Racing Team" Nascar effort (its motto? "Ignite your potential") and possibly some racing motorcycles. Outside of the big series, it's all a bit sketchy, and even in the case of the Nascar run, we're having a tough time figuring out how exactly things played out.

There is one clear bright spot on the church's racing record: The Dianetique (that's French for Dianetics) Spice SE86C car managed a class win at the 1987 24 Hours of Le Mans.

It would be Scientology's -- and driver Philippe de Henning's -- best result. The Dianetics ALD C91 entered in the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans did just 16 laps before retiring with a gearbox failure.

Most famously, the church slapped Dianetics decals all over the Vince Granatelli Racing Lola/Cosworth driven by Roberto Guerrero in the 1988 Indy 500. It crashed out in turn two, having failed to complete a single lap.

Not every driver was willing to let Scientology turn their car into its rolling sandwich board: Mario Andretti reportedly ordered a Dianetics logo removed from his car before competing in the 1988 GTE World Challenge of Tampa, claiming he had nothing to do with the sponsorship deal and did not want to appear to be endorsing the Scientology. Of course, Mr. Andretti is an exceptional case; few teams have the luxury of turning down money.

Shockingly, this record marks Scientology's racing ventures as less successful than those of the Raelians, who believe life on earth was created by extraterrestrials and once claimed to have successfully cloned a human.

Graham Kozak is associate editor at Autoweek, a Crain Communications sibling of Ad Age.

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