Garrett Horton · Friday September 9, 2011
As luck would have it, the best race of the NASCAR season came on a Tuesday morning when most race fans were at work. An estimated crowd of only 30,000 returned for the rain-delayed event at Atlanta, an Advocare 500 where approximately 87,600 fans were set to attend for Sunday. Fortunately, for those who were able to attend, their wait was well worth it as they saw two of the sport’s greatest battle it out for the lead over the last 100 miles. For all those who couldn’t make it, however, they had to watch it on television, just like everyone else. And even that option proved difficult: with the race coming on at 11 AM EDT on a Tuesday morning, many were stuck at work or school and didn’t even have that option. Unless you have DV-R, you either had to read or hear about the amazing battle between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson at the end – a disappointing reality that just isn’t the same as catching it live. So, while Gordon-Johnson should be the topic of the week, it hurts knowing so many people missed it and that changes could have been made to have this race run on its scheduled date.
Luckily, rain delays are usually uncommon, as Atlanta’s postponement was only the second of the year; in fact, it was just the second NASCAR event pushed back to a Tuesday in the past 30 years. Yet, despite the rarity, the situation still presents a huge inconvenience to not just the fans but everyone involved in the sport. Drivers are usually busy during the week making appearances (a few of them made a White House visit this week that was jeopardized by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee), sponsors are affected by a weaker viewing audience, and crew members have less time to prepare for the upcoming race. There is no way to prevent it from raining, obviously, but it is time for NASCAR to take a look at their current procedure with rain delays and ask if there is any better way to handle inclement weather.
In my opinion, there were plenty of solutions to fix the Atlanta problem. As it became more apparent that the Southeast was going to be flooded with rain over Labor Day weekend, it was clear that there wasn’t going to be much green-flag racing. Obviously, there was none at all, other than some intense jet drying action, and NASCAR made the call to reschedule for Tuesday – knowing that the weather would still be bad on Monday. While it bothered me — as well as many others, I’m sure — that they wouldn’t even attempt it on Monday, it was the right decision. Something the sanctioning body didn’t even consider once, though that should be noted is the fact that the start time could have been moved up earlier to beat the impending weather. Jeff Gluck of SB Nation wrote earlier this week that NASCAR doesn’t do that because attending fans might not get the memo and potentially miss most of — or possibly the entire — race. Gluck made a good counterpoint to that, saying plenty of fans would miss it anyway if it were to be rescheduled. Either way, the pending weather creates a no-win situation… but as a fan watching from home, wouldn’t you rather the start time be moved up earlier rather than pushed back to a workday?
On that note, it sure would be nice if rain-delayed races weren’t run so early in the day. I understand that is in the best interest of the teams to run it as soon as possible, but the fans are the ones who keep this sport alive. Many of them would be able to watch if they were run at night, or even the afternoon, where you could “call in sick” for just half of a day instead of an entire one.
Then, there’s another option: I am a firm believer in rain tires. We have seen the Nationwide guys try it out recently at Montreal, a move that received mixed reviews, but look at it this way — no fan in attendance got ripped off because the race was postponed. Maybe they got soaked, but at least they were guaranteed to see a race. At times, it looked more like a Demolition Derby than an actual event, but it’s clear that’s what a lot of viewers would rather see (why else do so many hate the new Bristol?). The rain simply added another element to those battles, and aren’t these drivers supposed to be the best in the world? All the wrecking that occurred in Montreal, I tend to blame not so much on the rain as much as the drivers unfamiliar with the terrain. A few more attempts at it and I expect they can get better at handling a moist track. Granted, road courses and the Nationwide Series are perfect places for rain tires to be experimented with, and I’m not saying that they should be in the immediate future of tracks like Daytona and Talladega. It does, however, need to become a more common practice because, again, it would help the odds of getting a race in on time.
My personal favorite solution is simple though — a big tarp. Darrell Waltrip brought it up years ago during one telecast, suggesting it that’s what NASCAR should do, but it never seemed to catch on with anyone else. I certainly don’t buy his “Vortex Theory,” but as far the tarp goes, I agree 100 percent. It won’t make the rain go away, but it would eliminate the two-hour, track-drying process. Just like with rain tires, I don’t expect a gigantic tarp to cover Daytona and Talladega anytime soon, but Martinsville sure could make use of one (or hundreds). Maybe they could install some sort of tarp roll out machine that comes out from the infield/pit road wall. If baseball games do it for their rain delays, NASCAR should think about it, too.
Whether any of these ideas are feasible or not, that’s up for a different debate. What can be agreed on by everyone, however, is that races pushed back to a weekday simply suck for the average race fan. To NASCAR’s credit, they try their best before calling anything off but it is time for a change with the system. Here we are, in 2011 with internet on our phones, Facebook and Twitter yet there remains no better option than jet dryers going at a snail’s pace around the track. Hopefully, the right people will put their heads together for a better solution, creating a backup plan that’s far more effective in the next few years.
One can only hope… because races like Tuesday’s thriller don’t deserve to be overshadowed by Mother Nature.
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