Watching all that rain and all the delays before they finally called the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last Monday took me back a few years. Somehow, I recall a time in the early 1960s when it started raining at a NASCAR race while they were fairly close to halfway. If I’ve got it right, they kept running under yellow until they passed the halfway mark, and then stopped it. When it didn’t let up, they called the race.
As I understand it, the fans were “visibly upset” about the whole deal. Can’t say as I blame them a lot.
That incident jumped into the front of my memory more than 10 years later at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway when we were running the International 500 – a 500-lap ARCA race on the 1/3-mile track. This race always drew a big crowd, and this particular night we were jammed.
It started raining at 230 laps. It started raining HARD at 235 laps. Two laps later and the cars were making roostertails, splashing water all the way up in the flagstand. An ARCA official in the infield (not John Marcum or Frank Canale) looked over and gave me a signal, twirling his finger as if to say “Keep ‘em running.”
Now, one of the things about being a flagman is that you are the most visible official to the fans and also the easiest for them to get to when they wish to vent their feelings.
Recalling that NASCAR event, I decided that since I was holding the flags, I was the guy responsible for the drivers’ wellbeing. I put the yellow away and got the red flag out at 240 laps. I was trying to dry out in the office and John Marcum was telling me that he thought I made the right call, when our race director, Milt Hartlauf, walked in and said, “Way to go, Potts. You just saved us from having a riot on our hands.”
I didn’t have to point out that I was going to be the first casualty of any riot.
After we decided to finish up the race the next day, I suggested to Milt that he call Sunoco and try to sell sponsorship on it.
“For half a race?”
“Better than half, we can call it the Sunoco 260.”
Apparently he thought better of it or Sunoco didn’t go for it, but we did finish the race the next evening. And with a pretty good crowd on hand.
Being in the flagstand with precipitation coming down can be a very uneasy feeling. Once during an ASA race at Queen City Speedway near Cincinnati in the early ’80s, a very light rain started about 150 laps into a 200-lapper. We had 30 cars on the track, and it appeared the track was staying dry. (This has nothing to do with Darrell Waltrip’s “vortex” theory. The tires and the heat of the cars keep the track dry as long as they’re running at racing speed and there are enough of them.)
Rex Robbins, our president, and I agreed that we’d be OK as long as we didn’t have to slow it down and it didn’t start raining harder. Leo Parrish, the chief tech inspector and pace car driver, then stationed himself in Bob Senneker’s pit, right next to the crew chief. Bob was leading the race, and Leo rightly figured that if anybody wanted the race stopped, he would be the one. The crew chief stayed in touch with Bob, naturally, and Senneker kept reporting that the track was fine. We finished that one without any problems, which is something of an achievement in itself.
I thanked Senneker for his help after it was over, and said, “If you had a tire start going down or developed a miss all of a sudden, would you have changed your mind about the track?”
The answer was as expected: “Now would I do anything like that?”
Actually, I can’t remember many cases of ANYTHING going wrong with Senneker’s car. Bob was the only guy I’ve ever seen bring an ill-handling car into the pits after a practice session and not touch it. He would sit down in a lawn chair in front of it as if to say, “C’mon, you %$#@*&!, shape up!” He would then go out and qualify in the top-two or three positions. Also, he was probably the smoothest driver I’ve ever seen. When he spun on cold tires before a restart at Milwaukee once, I wanted to know what went wrong with the car. He said he was trying to warm the tires up too quickly.
Worst rain I ever saw? During a companion race with CART at Atlanta. Started raining right after we got to the track on Sunday and rained really hard for hours. I was glad when they called it, because it was still raining hard and I wanted to get out of there. I was afraid the place was gonna fill up with water.