It’s race day! Millions of people are on-site at the NASCAR race or watching from the comfort of their couch at home. Whether it is a day at Sonoma, Daytona or Talladega, all NASCAR drivers, pit crew and fans are anxiously waiting for those famous four words – “Gentlemen, start your engines”. Looming overhead, the heavenly nemesis of NASCAR appears; it isn’t engine failure, a burst tire or a driver with a stomach bug, but heavy, black cloud cover. The question on everyone’s minds is – do NASCAR races happen in the rain?
It is rare for NASCAR races to happen in the rain. The type of track, the timing of the rain and the amount of rain all play a factor in whether a race will continue, be delayed, or be postponed to a later date. Rain will certainly delay a NASCAR oval race; whereas it may be possible to change to rain tires and continue on with a NASCAR road race.
Wet weather can often spell disaster for NASCAR teams and fans alike, and its not always a definitive ‘no’ if the heavens do decide to open as there’s many variables to take into consideration. Keep reading to discover what it means for drivers and fans if it rains at NASCAR on race day.
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Can NASCAR race in the rain?
Wet driving conditions are not pleasant for any NASCAR driver, let alone the fans in the stands and the pit crew on the ground. Driving in the rain is difficult under normal road conditions, so imagine racing around a track at 200 miles per hour on near bald tires and with no driver-side window.
Wet conditions can seriously affect a vehicle’s ability to stop or turn and will likely result in some extreme damage. Most NASCAR races travel around to take advantage of the seasonally good weather in a particular location but can NASCAR race in the rain?
NASCAR can technically race in the rain. If on a road circuit, tires can be changed and windshield wipers fitted; however, NASCAR races in the rain are not a common occurrence. At NASCAR oval tracks, the rain will be guaranteed to either temporarily delay or postpone a race to a later date. Wet conditions would not only be unsafe but would lead to a dull, uncompetitive race.
It really doesn’t take much rain at all to delay a NASCAR race. This is because even though it might be technically possible to race in the rain, it would be dangerous and just plain dull.
Because of this, since 2017, NASCAR has allowed the start of the race to be moved up by an hour to get ahead of any potential rain or bad weather. Regardless, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series seems plagued by a rain delay. There are a few factors to consider about why NASCAR does not often race in the rain which we will elaborate on below including:
- The tires used in NASCAR races
- The tracks used in NASCAR race
- Driver safety in NASCAR races
- The competitiveness of a NASCAR race
NASCAR Tires in the Rain
The tires used in NASCAR are not good for wet conditions. NASCAR tires have completely smooth tread and are designed for making as much surface area contact with the track as possible.
Since NASCAR tires don’t have tread, they are dependent on downforce to keep the tires gripped to the track. More surface area means more traction and thus drivers are able to have their tires stay on the track when cruising at speeds of near 200 miles per hour.
On wet tracks, a bald NASCAR tire would surely hydroplane as they have no tread to channel away the water. Drivers aren’t mentally able to hold back on their competitiveness and speed regardless of the circumstances or conditions.
Dale Earnhardt 3 famously said “I’ll apologize to them after they get me to the front!” after being told by his crew chief that he was required to conserve his tires for the remainder of the race.
Rain tires are made specifically for NASCAR road races to displace as much water as possible but this decreases the grip that the tire has on the track and the associated top speed.
Regardless, these tires are very rarely used. The first fitting of rain tires was during the Montreal 2008/2009 season, and then later at Road American in 2014 and finally at Mid-Ohio in 2016. It might take a pit crew only 12-14 seconds to totally refuel and change all 4 tires, but is it really worth it?
NASCAR Tracks in the Rain
Rain will surely result in a delay in every NASCAR race on an oval track where drivers are constantly turning left. The negative aspects of any particular track are amplified under wet conditions.
Wet tracks increase the risk associated with the slip angle or the degree formed between the wheel’s actual direction of travel and the direction at which the wheel is pointing. In addition, any depressions in the track can become hazardous puddles.
NASCAR races on ovals involve a lot of banking that can cause a dangerous, running stream of water in the rain. Corners can also be susceptible to amalgamating this water to the in-field which can become wet and soggy. A wet in-field can mean that a driver will not be able to get off of it and will spin out and get stuck and full of muck.
Heavy rain can wash away any rubber that has been building upon the track over time. A washed track is noticeably rougher and sandpapers down the tires much quicker, so much so that rain is a big part of the approach involved in NASCAR racing.
Rain can be part of the tactics and strategy for a race. A driver pushing his tires could come out in front if there is a rain delay and they are past the halfway point but conversely could end badly if their tires are finished and it doesn’t actually rain.
The Safety of NASCAR Races in the Rain
The safety of NASCAR drivers and their expensive cars is of paramount importance. A wet track is quite simply an unsafe track. So, until NASCAR starts to host events in covered arenas, which isn’t very likely, NASCAR will continue to suffer from rain delays and rescheduling nightmares. At least now more and more events are starting to happen at night which extends the likelihood of a race happening on the scheduled date.
The Competitiveness of a NASCAR Race in the Rain
Watching a NASCAR race is all about bombarding your senses with the thrill of speed. A NASCAR race in the rain would not be enjoyable for anyone: the drivers would need to slow down with rain tires and decreased visibility and the fans would have to watch a lackluster race.
NASCAR races in the rain would hurt the overall competitiveness of the sport and in the wise words of Ernest Hemingway, “Auto racing, bullfighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports … all others are games.”
If NASCAR happened on an oval, the cars would have to be so slow that the race would be dreadful. Alternatively, NASCAR would turn into a demolition derby where the attrition would be so high that it would not be a matter of deciding the fastest driver, but rather just the last driver remaining.
Why do NASCARs have Windshield Wipers?
NASCAR vehicles have one long windshield wiper and not two like a normal vehicle. On a road race, like Watkins Glen, drivers are able to stop in the pit to change to rain tires and fit their windshield wiper blade. However, we have already stated that NASCAR rarely happens in the rain, so why do NASCARs have windshield wipers?
NASCARs have windshield wipers because there is a belief that it helps with the aerodynamics of the car by adding downforce. NASCAR vehicles are fitted with one wiper blade, positioned at an upward 45 angle towards the passenger side. Any slight advantage that one NASCAR driver may have over another could mean the difference between winning and losing.
Darrel Waltrip competed in an incredible 809 NASCAR Cup Series races in his 29-year career as a driver and famously said – “If you don’t cheat, you look like an idiot; if you cheat and don’t get caught, you look like a hero; if you cheat and get caught, you look like a dope. Put me where I belong.” Starting in 2015, all NASCAR road races seemed to be fitting their windshield wiper for the duration of the race. This practice became so common that NASCAR considered banning the apparent advantage for the 2019 season. There is yet to be any proof that it is an actual advantage, but nothing gained, nothing lost seems to be the motto.
What happens if it rains during a NASCAR race?
We all know that there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about the weather. NASCAR legend Richard Petty sums it up by saying “the good Lord doesn’t tell you what His plan is, so all you can do is get up in the morning and see what happens next.”
After competing in NASCAR Cup Series for over 35 years and with over 200 wins to his name, we think he could know what he’s talking about. If it rains before a NASCAR race, then the drivers will not start until the course is dry but what actually happens if it rains during a NASCAR race?
If it rains during a NASCAR race, there are a few possible outcomes: a race may be delayed until the track is dried; a race may be postponed to the next available date or, if over half of the race is completed, a winner may be announced. The safety of the drivers, and the integrity of the race itself, would be compromised if NASCAR raced under very wet conditions. With all that being said there have been a few rare cases where NASCAR has raced in the rain.
NASCAR Delay Due to Rain
In NASCAR, the yellow caution flag will go up even with the slightest sprinkling of rain. If the rain persists then a red flag would follow, meaning that the drivers need to pull into their pits until the course is clear.
Even light rain can cause mayhem on the logistics of a NASCAR race and cause the race to be suspended for hours until the track is dry. The longest rain delay in Daytona 500 history was in 2014 which lasted six hours and 22 minutes.
You have to be a serious NASCAR fan to sit around drinking expensive stadium beer for that intermission! Once the rain has finally stopped, crews in pick-up trucks with huge jet blowers off the back of them are sent out to dry the racing surface.
These famous Air Titans use compressed air to push the water off of the course. Jets at a speed of 568 mph raise the ambient temperature by 70 degrees to aid in not only water removal but enhanced evaporation.
In extremely wet conditions, if there is a lot of water on the track, then NASCAR may even decide to saw in grooves into the track so that water can flow away quicker from the track. It’s all in an attempt to get out racing as quickly as possible.
Calling a NASCAR Race After the Halfway Point
Dale Earnhardt once said, “finishing races is important, but racing is more important.” This is never truer that in the case of rainfall after the half way point of a NASCAR race. According to NASCAR rules, a winner can be called if a race is stopped due to bad weather and the race is more than fifty percent complete.
In 2009, rain shorted the Daytona 500 to just 162 laps. This is where tactics, strategy and a bit of luck comes into play with NASCAR. A driver may decide to persevere on wavering tires, in the hope that a rain delay will be announced whereas another driver might pit stop for new tires choosing a more cautious route to the winners’ podium. Either approach might be the correct answer, depending on if the heavens open up or not.
Rescheduling a NASCAR Race Due to Rain
NASCAR ultimately decides on if a race will be rescheduled due to rain. In the case of a rain delay where the drivers have not yet completed half of the laps of the race, NASCAR will delay the race to the next available and agreeable, or dry weather, day. Generally, this means that the race will happen on the very next day
NASCAR doesn’t release attendance figures, but there is no doubt that by eye-balling the stands, you can easily see hundreds of thousands of people are generally there to watch the action, as well as millions more watching from the comfort of their couch at home, complete with race day snacks and a six-pack of beer. It is easy to imagine that rain delays can cause havoc on the livelihood, entertainment and travel plans for a lot of people.
Rescheduling a NASCAR race is a logistical nightmare for the team, the drivers, the venue, the workers, the vendors and the fans. Though a fan can use their same entrance ticket for the new date, this will still likely mean additional travel costs, hotel fares and maybe even a day off from work.
If you call in a sick day, you better hope that you aren’t caught on television with a beer and a hot dog in your hand! There is good news for those fans that are not able to make a rescheduled date though – according to NASCAR, unused grandstand tickets can be exchanged for a grandstand ticket of equal or lesser value and based on availability at the time of making the redemption.
Not all tracks are part of this free Weather Protection Program though, so be sure to check into the up-to-date details with NASCAR as soon as possible after a weather delay. Eligible tickets can be exchanged for any future NASCAR race within one year except the Daytona 500 and NASCAR Cup Series Championship (which is fair enough).
Rescheduling a race is the last option that NASCAR wants to take; neither fans nor drivers are keen on this eventuality. However, if there is no available day and the race cannot be rescheduled before the next race of the season, then the race will be rescheduled after the end of the regular season.
Keep in mind that there is a tight schedule to keep, and many weekends are filled up with other NASCAR races already. Rescheduling to the end of the season is an option, but this has only happened once in the history of NASCAR and it was actually in 2001 in Louden, New Hampshire, and because of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and not due to the weather.