Contemplation of a NASCAR Rain Delay

Daniel CaudillContributor IJune 23, 2010

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 06:  Cars sit on pit road during a rain delay in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 6, 2010 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

This year, as well as countless previous years, NASCAR has had a grimace beast lurking ready to strike at any time; the name of this beast is the rain delay. Everyone hates the words “We will see you tomorrow at 1 P.M Eastern time on *Pick your favorite way to watch/listen to NASCAR*.” We wonder why NASCAR doesn’t just let them race. Why move it to the next day when everybody is at work or school, why not use rain tires, or even from the deep thinker, what did they do back before NASCAR raced on asphalt? Well there are multiple answers for all of those insightful questions.

Your first natural question is probably, “Why does NASCAR not let them race?” There are a couple of easy answers to that question, and a couple of more technical answers. One of the technical answers is that the tires cannot stay on the track due to the lack of downforce on the wet track. There is also the simple fact that the drivers cannot see through their windshields and would be running into everybody at 100MPH at Talladega, now how fun would that be?

People often wonder why NASCAR does not use rain tires on a regular basis. And there are multiple reasons why they do not. Simply put, using rain tires consists of more than just using rain tires. To run a race in the rain multiple factors come into play: the visibility, as mentioned above, the overall wetness inside the car, and the speed factor. When a driver is racing at 100-200 MPH, their reaction time has to be instantaneous when they can see the whole track. However, if the only thing that they can see is the car ahead of them, they will not be able to avoid an accident if one were to happen. The wetness inside the car would throw you off your game if you were a driver; imagine driving down the interstate with a hurricane above you with the driver’s side window open, that is be exactly how they would feel. Now imagine trying to go as fast as you possibly can in that storm; you couldn’t, your tires wouldn’t take it, just as their basically tread-less tires wouldn’t.

NASCAR and Goodyear have cooperatively tried to develop a durable racing tire for rain conditions, with help from drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Sr., Kevin Harvick, and Carl Edwards throughout the years. There has been little to no success. The rain tires were put on once in a points paying race, in August of 2008 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal, Quebec during the NAPA Auto Parts 200 Nationwide Series Race. The drivers had windshield wipers that day, which most drivers used, and the race turned out fairly interesting besides the lack of speed and the overkill of cautions. In the end, road racing veteran Ron Fellows won the first and last to date race with rain tires.

Another thing that is complained about consistently is why NASCAR moves the race to the next available day when it cannot be ran the scheduled day. Usually the next available day is a Monday, which is a work or school day for most NASCAR fans, and this can get very frustrating. However, NASCAR has to get the race in as soon as possible, because if they do not then the teams would not have time to go back to the shop and load up for the next race which would be exhausting moving from track to track within 3 or 4 days and no rest in between.  NASCAR’s solution is simple: if the race cannot be ran within the week it was scheduled, it will be moved to a week after the season is over.

A race has only been postponed to after the season once in NASCAR’s history to date, and that was in early September of 2001. After the bombing of the World Trade Centers on September 11th of 2001, NASCAR postponed the fall race at Loudon, New Hampshire until November 23rd, which was one week after the scheduled season was over. While NASCAR has come close to having to move races to after the season, it has never happened except for this once.

Perhaps it came closest to happening at Michigan in 2007 when NASCAR was expecting rain showers to linger, so they postponed the race thinking that they would get it in on Monday.  Monday the rain continued, so they postponed it to Tuesday expecting the track to dry. And just like Monday it didn’t, so NASCAR tried it one more time on Wednesday.  Apparently the third time was the charm and they got that race in just in the nick of time.

NASCAR never intentionally moves a race to the next day unless absolutely necessary.  If the rain has already come down before the race is scheduled to begin, then NASCAR will try to get the track dry when it stops. They bring out their jet-dryers and dry the track. But when the track prevails and soaks in enough water to form weepers, NASCAR will not have enough day-light, or time left in the day to get the race in so they must call it. If the race is already part of the way done when the rain starts, then NASCAR will throw a caution to keep the cars on the track to keep the track as dry as possible, but if it gets any harder they will throw the Red Flag and stop the cars.

The regulations of NASCAR says that if a race is half-way finished or more, and anything happens to prevent the continuation of the race, than NASCAR has the right to call it. This is not the most exciting thing for a fan to see, and NASCAR knows that, so they try their hardest to keep the race rolling. Once the cars stop after half-way NASCAR still tries to get the track dry, even though it could be called, they still try their best to make the spectators in a spectator sport happy. If the rain starts after halfway and there is absolutely no sign of it letting up, then NASCAR will go ahead and call it and have a wet victory lane.

If the rain begins before the halfway point, NASCAR will try to keep the cars on the track to keep it dry. If the cars do not work, they park the cars and try there hardest to get the race started back due to the simple fact that they do not want the track to have to pay workers another days pay, which cuts into their profits. NASCAR use’s Jet Dryers to keep the track as dry as possible, but if it rains for long enough the track may soak in the rain which could cause an extended problem, called Weepers. Weepers are just as they sound: places in the track that weep water out. Sadly, the only way to fix them quickly is to cut grooves into the track so it will all run out. Nobody likes that, as we saw at California in 2008 when there were multiple wrecks.

If NASCAR cannot get the track dry before it gets dark, then they will reschedule it.  This happens specifically at tracks like Talladega where there are no lights, or when it just gets too late in the day, such as in California, where it may not be too late for the people in California but it is too late for the people on the East Coast where the majority of NASCAR fans are located. As mentioned, the race will be moved to the next available day.

This question is one for the deep thinker, “What did they do before they raced on asphalt?”. Well that is a very good question, and it has one of the simplest answers possible: they simply did not care, they raced. Back when it was dirt, or on occasion sand, they would go out and race on the soggy wet ground.  Even when they did race in the rain, back then there was no such thing as 200 MPH speeds, or tire pressure sensitivity, or any of this high tech stuff they have to deal with today. Back then it was bringing your old Ford out to the nearest corn field, or carved out dirt track, and running with five or six other guys. There would be circumstances that would force the moonshiners away from the racetrack, such as a hurricane, but back then, people raced for the love of it, no matter the conditions.   

Over the years, NASCAR has changed rules, safety procedures, tracks, and drivers; but one thing they cannot adjust for or control is the weather. There will always be rain to deal with. In the future, there may be different ways to deal with it, just as it is different now from in the dirt track days.