A few years ago, ESPN looked at how many American roads are named after athletes. Secretariat led the field:
But perhaps nothing drives home the impact of Secretariat’s life more than looking at a map. Like, any map. We know because we’ve looked at them. All of them. In an effort to identify roads in the U.S. named for athletes, ESPN cross-referenced 2010 Census data with Google Maps. We were stunned to uncover 263 roads named after the horse — far more than for any other athlete, human or otherwise. “I’m not that surprised,” says Kate Chenery Tweedy, whose mother, Penny, raised and owned Secretariat. “Secretariat came along at a time of great crisis in this country — Watergate, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s impeachment. And unlike any other athlete ever has, he restored our sense that there is beauty and good in the world.”…
Born in Virginia. Won Triple Crown races in Kentucky, Maryland and New York. So it makes perfect sense that the states with the most Secretariat streets are … Florida and Texas?…
Road experts say there is little rhyme or reason to the way our streets get their names. It’s mostly just real estate developers who submit names to their town, there’s usually a relatively easy approval process, and voilà. Case in point: Somebody in Butte, Alaska, sure likes horse racing. You can take Sea Biscuit Lane to E. Man o’ War Drive, then hang a right onto E. Secretariat Drive — the most northerly road named for Secretariat. And if you wanted to ride Secretariat the 3,920 miles back to his burial site? At the record 37.8 mph he ran the Belmont in, he’d have gotten you there in a little over four days.
As someone who studies suburbs, here is my own theory for this naming pattern. Developers often want names for nicer subdivisions connected to tradition, certain lifestyles, and success. Why not reference both horse racing and one of the most successful horses ever? Horse racing requires money to participate and the audience for horse racing might fit particular demographics. Additionally, horse racing hints at nature. Secretariat is a well-known athlete. Such names will help establish their subdivision as an exciting place for people with means.
My own community has at least a few street names that connect to horse racing. This is not just a connection to racing in the abstract; our suburb has links to horse racing near these sites with a racetrack that was in existence in the early 1900s and another farm with wealthy owners who bred and raced horses in the second half of the twentieth century.
By linking single-family homes to horses and one of the most famous American athletes, how can a developer go wrong?