Race Weekend Central

Beside the Rising Tide: Making The Call

Rain at a race track. It’s never much fun but sometimes it’s inevitable, like ants at a picnic, right wing lunatics with wild conspiracy theories, or English sports cars rendered immobile by electrical gremlins. (Let us all give thanks our friends at AMC never offered an electric or even a hybrid Gremlin.) As long as races are held out of doors occasionally a hard rain, it’s going to fall.

Yes, once upon a time Bruton Smith proposed adding a roof over Bristol. My guess is that would have caused major issues. With grandstand seating surrounding the track 360 degrees the carbon monoxide buildup in the garage area and even in the grandstands would have knocked a bunch of folks for a loop. And the amount of rain runoff off of that roof likely would have flooded the surrounding property three or four feet deep.

It’s always a dilemma for race track general managers and promoters, especially when the forecast in the days leading up to the race indicate a likelihood of rain the day of the event. I’m here to tell you I have attended races that went off without delay and ran their full distances despite weather forecasts so grim Noah would have been having panic attacks. On the other hand, I’ve driven to other race tracks under sunny blue skies with the forecast calling for “partly cloudy with outside chance of pop-up thunderstorm” and then sat all afternoon in the driving cold rain, miserable and shivering so hard my teeth chattered. And no one but no one predicted that the one race at Pocono last year, already delayed a day by rain, would be stopped short of full distance by thick fog. Even Pennsylvaians, who are well familiar with Mother Nature having more tricks in her bag than Felix the Cat, never saw that one coming. As recently as last Saturday, NASCAR got a full NXS race in despite a pretty grim forecast in the hours leading up to the event.

One consideration has to be for the comfort, safety and hard earned dollars of fans who drove in from out of the area to watch the race from the grandstands. Tickets alone cost a pretty penny. Then figure in jacked-up motel and hotel room prices in the area, vacation time taken from work, and the inflated price of gas to drive the Holiday Hell RV or Family Truckster to the track. And because of real world concerns (kids having school, the need for mom and dad not to lose their jobs etc.) some of those who’ve laid out all that cash just aren’t going to be able to stick around and catch the race on Monday. For the benefit of those fans one school of thought is that the decision to postpone the race until the next day should be made at the absolute last moment particularly at race tracks with lights. I do recall one race at Talladega, already rain delayed until a Monday which should have been run on Tuesday (the next race-able day is typically NASCAR’s goal) that was postponed until later in the season because of a grim forecast for Tuesday. And of course by ten o’clock Tuesday morning the rain had stopped completely and they’d have been able to get the race in, no problem at all. Yeah, some folks were pretty unhappy.

Sure, everyone wants a chance to see the on-track action…but sometimes rain changes the game. (Photo: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP)

On the other hand, look what happens when NASCAR does try to wait out the weather: fans who arrived in their seats an hour or more before the scheduled race time to beat traffic and the crowds at the gates then sit there and get soaked. And yet some would propose that NASCAR postpone making the call to delay the race until 10 or 11 at night, just in case? I’m not sure you’re doing anyone a favor there. Because in fact sometimes you don’t need to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows. And when your shoes and socks get so wet your feet smell like dead frogs for a week afterwards it’s very likely you’ll choose to watch your next Cup race from the comfort of your couch.

Yes, in one instance NASCAR decided to let the Firecracker 400 at Daytona run until three in the morning. Apparently that’s what the TV network broadcasting the race insisted on for logistical reasons. I don’t recall the decision being widely praised by either fans in the stands or those of us watching at home. For parents who had kids with them at Daytona it was a nightmare. Even most adult fans are as some sociologists politely put it “graying.” (What they mean to say is we’re older than dirt.) Most of us are no longer able to keep on rocking until a quarter till three. Yeah, I get it. Back in my twenties and thirties I used to be able to turn in at 3 or 4 AM, sleep in until noon, then as Jackson Browne put it: “Get up and do it again. Amen,” Like I said, I was at home downing record amounts of Red Bull trying to stay up. I’m rather glad I wasn’t leaving the track at 4 AM with a bunch of guys in lifted Ford Super Duties that hadn’t slept in 20 hours and had been drinking beer since they got out of bed.

Even minus the drunks, weather can play hell at a race track. Powerful electric storms can harm or kill those who don’t seek shelter. Tragically that’s what happened at Pocono a couple years ago, moments after the race ended. About a half hour before that race ended the Weather Service had issued a “severe weather warning” for the area. When a “severe weather watch” is issued it behooves everyone to keep an eye on what’s going on and make plans where to head if severe storms do hit. When a weather watch is upgraded to a “severe weather warning” it’s time to take immediate action to protect yourself and the people you may be with. Yep, sometimes you’ve got to tell grown adults who don’t have the sense God gave a goose to get in out of the rain. And when considering whether and when to postpone a race that’s one huge consideration track management has to take into account.

The other party with a vested interest in when the race is run is the presenting network. They are paying obscene amounts of money for the broadcast rights to these races even in an era of cratering ratings. They’ve advertised and promoted the event as starting at such and such time (and I hate those later start times this year that further complicate things when bad weather threatens). They’re going to take a financial bloodbath if the race gets delayed until a weekday. On the other hand FOX and NBC are often loathe to have an afternoon race delayed by bad weather moved until prime-time preempting their highly rated regular fare like “Modern Speechless Goldberg Survivors.”

And yes, ratings aren’t going to be particularly good for stock car races run on Mondays. It’s just the way things are. Most people have either work or school commitments that have to take priority over seeing the race. Gotta pay that inflated cable bill to get FS1 and NBCSN anyway, right? And today (this is being written on Sunday evening) I’m hearing from a whole lot of pissed off fans who won’t be able to watch the race tomorrow. A lot of them feel NASCAR should have waited a lot longer before postponing the race on the outside chance that maybe somehow they might have gotten it in today especially at a fan favorite track like Bristol.

Well for those folks, I guess on this one we have to agree to disagree. I mean come on, most of you have DVRs right? Not knowing how to operate one or extend the recording time is not an insurmountable technological challenge even for a geezer like me. When in doubt look for the red dot button. Mine even has an “R” right on it which A) I can see when I have my reading glasses on B) I figured out doesn’t stand for “red”. And for those who just can’t cotton to that new-fangled technology the race is usually re-aired a couple times after the fact. Just stay off Twitter and the Internet if you want to be surprised by who won.

Because of the huge financial and time outlay fans attending the race in person have to make, I prioritize their needs and well-being. If you’re watching at home you really don’t have a lot of skin in the game. Missing the race is an inconvenience not two weeks’ or more worth of paychecks up in smoke.

I’ve always advised folks planning to attend a race to make plans to stay over on Monday with the boss, the motelier and whoever is watching the pooch at home. If that means arriving at the track on Saturday rather than Friday so be it. Would you rather miss qualifying or the race? If the race runs on Sunday as scheduled you and the family have a free day off to hang out or a more leisurely ride home. You can play fun trivia games like you and the Mrs. Trying to remember which kid is which and what their middle names are or the kids trying to guess what year mom and dad graduated high school. (the Bronze age most likely.)

Of course your mileage (and opinions) may vary but as far as I’m concerned there’s one thing worth than laying out a grand to take the family to see a Cup race….laying out a grand for the family not to see a Cup race.

About the author

Frontstretch.com

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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Bill B

Assuming the radar was accurate, NASCAR made the right call. When I checked Sunday around dinner time the entire area was covered by heavy rain. I couldn’t believe they made the call to cancel the race as early as they did but they got lucky and the weather forecast held up.

Yeah, DVRs are so easy to use that a caveman could figure it out.

I think most people that can drive to and from the track (no hotel stay necessary) are waiting to purchase their tickets until they have a good idea of the weather since sellouts are rare these days. So maybe a lot less fans got screwed by the weather than back when you had to preorder tickets months in advance.

May want to check that last sentence Matt, “worth” should be “worse”.

Max

I was there this weekend in a motorhome, and we did decide to leave on Sunday as we were in biblical amounts of rain with no end in sight. We could have stayed Monday, but the weather forecasts for that area on Monday were not good with a 70% chance of rain through the afternoon.
But like you say, one can never tell about the forecasts although I will say that we got this weekend pretty much what they said we would get.
IF we had stayed until the race ended, we would have gotten home around 11 pm and that played into our decision as well.
There are certain races, and Bristol spring race is one, that just get snakebit by weather. I thought that by moving the date from frigid March to April would be great, but now it is looking like April isn’t much good either….

bud sudz

Weather was also the justification for Saturday night races. It gave the fans an insurance day for the weekend. However, now Richmond, Charlotte, etc are going back to Sunday afternoons. Now, if we can just get them back into the 1:00 pm start times that made sense for so many years.

Steve

It really blows my mind how folks can spend absurd amounts of money to attend a nascar race, but have no contingency plan in place for a rain out or postponed race for the next day. Every time I went to a Cup race I always made sure Monday was part of the plan. If you have vacation time, take an extra day or come in on Saturday like Matt said. Its well worth it and you won’t find yourself out a pretty penny never to have seen the race.

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