Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Hung Out to Dry – Drastic Measures Needed to Get the Wet Out

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Having been in a holding pattern since the rains rolled in Sunday morning (Feb. 26), I have had ample time to ponder what changes NASCAR could implement to help alleviate these weather maladies that have done much to dampen the spirit – and credit card balance – of thousands of race fans.

While not exactly the 1979 Daytona 500 (albeit in reverse), this has been a historic 54th running of the event. The first weather-delayed Daytona 500 in history, though there have been two rain-shortened races in the last decade, with the 2003 and 2009 races being called before the end of 500 miles. What then could be done to help prevent this from happening in the future?

My first thought was – and always has been, a giant awning. No, not the Sun Setter Awning that the guy who looks like former vice presidential candidate John Edwards is still hocking on TV, but one that at least covers the turns. It doesn’t need to be metal; there are plenty of high strength polymers that could be employed. They make up the majority of popular pistol frames today, and would do just as well keeping water off the racetrack.

The Formula 1 course in Singapore is a prime example of this – and this for a series that runs rain tires yet. Perhaps there is a way to make them retractable? After all, there are several MLB ballparks that have retractable roofs. Sure a racetrack is larger than an entire ball field and with as many tracks as there are in tornado country, maybe this one might not work. Just thinking out loud here, trying to get the juices flowing.

Thinking along the more cost-effective side of things, we’ve all watched Major League Baseball games when as the rains begin to fall faster than the players can wipe off the ball, bat and gloves, the army of groundskeepers that roll out the massive blue tarps to cover the field. Looking like big, blue bails of nylon, the tarps help to preserve the integrity of the playing surface, preventing outdoor stadiums from turning into soggy mud bogs for when play resumes. Often the delay is only as long as the rain showers and once the tarps are recalled, it’s business as usual.

Why not engineer the same thing at a racetrack? Sure, it might be a bit far fetched for someplace like Daytona (which everybody said could not be lighted to race at night), but at a short track like Martinsville or Bristol, the tarps could be neatly concealed within the walls to cover the corners, while the frontstretch could be the focus of the familiar jet dryers and guy-wielding-a-broom.

Living in Michigan, one of the familiar sights on the roadway six months a year, are the familiar green MDOT plow trucks. Tasked with clearing the roadway of water that has turned solid and piled up two feet high, this same cutting edge technology could be also applied to the task of drying off a racing surface.

The bottom edge of the angled blade (or better yet, an awesome V-plow) could be fitted with a squeegee – i.e., a giant windshield wiper – to help move the water down off the banking and any standing water on the track. The heat generated from the friction of the blade would help dry the track as well.

These same trucks have dump truck boxes in the rear that would make a happy home for a TF-30 jet engine, which is current used to dry the tracks. There is plenty of real estate on those big machines with which to fasten water dispersing mechanicals; lets maximize it.

As I sat resembling the Gorton’s fisherman in my slicker, perched in the Keech Tower following the Lenny Kravitz pre-race concert, the familiar jet blowers took to the banking in turns 1 and 2, in an effort to help keep from losing the track completely to moisture. While their efforts were admirable, much like the Czech military in 1939, there was not much the small band of machines could muster.

The first thing that came to mind right after, “I should probably get out of the 30-mph blowing water” was, why for what is billed as “The Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing,” are there as many trucks on hand to dry Daytona as there are at any other track we go to? Wouldn’t NASCAR invest in more than what looked like seven of the jet blowers out on the track? There should be at minimum 20 for an event of this magnitude – and for as much as tickets command for the event.

Considering we’re down one courtesy of something broken in the rear driveline of the No. 42 of Juan Pablo Montoya, they’re going to need more anyway, so why not double down and make it happen? Sure they’re pricey, but with all of the attention ServiceMaster received – as well as Tide after the supernova in turn 3, perhaps both companies would be willing to help sponsor some more trucks on the track with their name on them.

But at what cost you ask? The jet blowers consume upwards of 300 gallons per hour of fuel. Multiply that by 20 and the cost of aviation fuel, as well as the crewmen who run them, and the bill tends to go up mighty quick; say at the same rate as getting involved in multiple green-white-checkered restrictor-plate wrecks.

That being said, how about combining them into one massive jet-dried apparatus? Take a semi truck with a flat bed trailer and mount 10 of them on the trailer, pointed in different directions. That way you can maximize the man hours and get more of the track dried faster in certain areas of the track. If one of these tumbles down the banking at Talladega, I will not be held responsible. Probably best to keep it to the flatter tracks of the front/backstretch.

Not all of these ideas are the answer to everything. Heck, they might not even be feasible. Not to sound cliched, but if we can put a man on the moon, we should be able to find a way to dry off pavement and not inconvenience a slew of fans, teams and network programming.

That’s all I’ve come up with for now. Call it the ramblings of a madman, held in hotel confinement for 36 hours, followed by driving 20 hours on two hours sleep – after having been up 21 hours the day before. At least I didn’t come down with the food poisoning that Buddy Baker did on Thursday this week. And my rental Dodge Durango did not explode.

I would love to hear some of your ideas as to what NASCAR could do better to help dry the tracks off and get things going quicker. Please feel free to save your “hot air/journalist” blasts however.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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