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SKEPTOID BLOG:

The Hoax Has Been Revealed!!

by Brian Dunning

December 3, 2013

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Donate Congratulations to Roger Woodley, who has correctly identified my hoax piece, as hinted in this previous Skeptoid Blog post.

To discourage random shotgun guessing, I said that any guesses must be properly researched and cited before sending them to me. Roger was one of only a very few people to submit a proper guess, and he got it right on the nose. Here is his entry, which reveals the hoax piece:
Brian -

I believe that the hoax you produced is "The Phantom of the Mulsanne Straight," referencing the 'phantom' 300 SLR, located here: http://www.skepticblog.org/2009/07/30/the-phantom-of-the-mulsanne-straight/

My reasoning/evidence:
- It occurred in France (satisfies hint #1)
- Racing is one of your interests (satisfies hint #2)
- It's an obscure enough subject matter (1970s Le Mans races) to reasonably assume casual listeners/readers have not caught on and pointed out the hoax
- It's a general topic (hauntings) that's filled with these sorts of stories. Most skeptics reading about another 'haunting' story will likely assume it to be true: after all, nearly every place of notoriety seems to have a myriad of ghost stories.
- Your main source for this is a book you read in junior high - however, you can no longer find this book (nor can I)
- Despite not having the book (and, presumably, not having read it for many years), you were able to provide very specific details about the claimed sightings. While the drivers, years, and makes are all correct and easily validated, the accounts are nowhere to be found.
- While not definitive by any means, the amount of specific details also seems suspicious: every mention of a driver includes the make and model of the car they were driving. What do these details add to the story, other than to provide a sort of 'gish-gallop' of racing trivia that overwhelms casual readers?
- Google searches for any combination of {"Le Mans," "Pierre Levegh," "300 SLR", "Mulsanne Straight"} and {"phantom", "ghost", "haunting"} turn up only with references to your original article, with one exception: http://www.ghostplace.com/threads/the-le-mans-ghost.11002/, which describes an entirely different sort of sighting. Surely, with the 'ghosthunters' of the world listing 'ghost trains' at every railroad crossing in North America, a story like this should exist in numerous 'ghosthunting' 'sources.'
- Similarly, searches on google.fr for {"fantme", "spectre", "le mans", "pierre levegh", "300 SLR", "Hunaudires" (the French name for the Mulsanne Straight)} return no relevant results
- A comment to the article mentions the "Brooklands Ghost" - which I can readily find via Google, as does "Dale Earnhardt Ghost," and indicating that "ghosts of infamous motorsports crashes" isn't an unknown subject.
- Searches for "race track ghosts" or "haunted race tracks" lists Del Mar, Brooklands, Talladega (complete with the old "build on an old Indian burial ground" http://stockcar.racersreunion.com/forum/topics/heard-of-any-haunted-auto-race-tracks-or-haunted-auto-race?page=1&commentId=1981311%3AComment%3A598813&x=1#1981311Comment598813) and Goodyear - but none for Le Mans.
- Searches looking to confirm the 1973 incident (vehicle driving in the wrong direction, other drivers reporting it) turned up empty; however, *surely* such an incident would have at least some mention in motorsports forums.
- In describing the Woolfe incident, you stated that he died in the first corner; however, Woolfe died at the Maison Blanche curve (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Woolfe), near the end of the first lap.
- In describing the 1971 incident, you first mentioned David Weir's account, but claim the Corvettes were already out of the race. This puts the incident in the final 7 hours of the race, as the Stingrays lasted through at least hour 17 (http://www.experiencelemans.com/contents/en-us/d166_1971_Le_Mans_24_Hours_Competitors_Results.html). You then stated that Helmut Leuze reported a vintage Mercedes on the track. The ordering of these statements causes me to infer that the Weir incident occurred prior to the Leuze incident - however, Leuze left the race before the final Stingray, which does not fit with the inferred timeline.
Obviously, I can't prove the negative: these stories might very well exist, but the best I can do is demonstrate that they're at least not in the mainstream motorsports or 'ghosthunting' communities. I do not have access to recordings or transcripts of 1970s Le Mans team radio communications, which could confirm these reports - however, I doubt that they exist.

The most surprising thing to me: that I *can't* find any ghost stories stemming from this event. It's such a famous event (in the racing world) that you'd expect there to be tons of ghost stories describing various run-ins with the car and/or driver.
Roger's analysis goes far deeper into the history than I did, so major kudos to him for some complex and detailed research. It's precisely the kind of quality work that we need to do when investigating the historicity of urban legends.

By way of explanation, back in 2009 I thought it would be a useful experiment to post a hoax story, and then see if it got picked up or repeated elsewhere, and then reveal the hoax as a cautionary tale on why we should always double-check our sources. (Sort of a watered-down repetition of James Randi's famous Project Alpha.) At Dragon*Con that same year, I read this story word-for-word in the Skeptic Track, on a live Internet broadcast, hoping it might stir some interest. It never did. And things got in the way, I became busy with other stuff, and before I knew it I had this monkey on my back: a hoax piece floating around out there, with my name attached to it. So now, four and a half years later, I finally got around to clearing the air. You can all now rest assured there are no more deliberate hoaxes out there with my name attached.

For his correct analysis, I am sending Roger a "BULLSHIT" rubber stamp, to help him continue to call out nonsense for what it is.

Several commenters on the original piece rightly pointed out that skeptics can, and should, just enjoy a good ghost story without having to disprove it. So I'm going to leave the story up, and perhaps one day it will make a good bedtime story at a track day.

by Brian Dunning

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