Race Weekend Central

Potts’s Shots: Racing the Rain

We’re seeing a case of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t this week.

NASCAR decided to call the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona after 112 laps on Sunday and after the third of three red flags because of rain. Aric Amirola picked up his first Cup win and the first for Richard Petty’s No. 43 since 1999, 30 years and two days after Richard won his 200th in the same race.

I know everybody reading this probably knows all about the race and what happened, including the REALLY Big One that involved something like 26 cars, so we’re not going into all that. We’ve got some great writers at Frontstretch that do their job reporting on the races and analyzing what happened. I’m a columnist, and my writing is usually pretty well opinionated.

I can’t say I was surprised to read on the internet on Monday that Brian Vickers and Kurt Busch, who finished second and third, respectively, weren’t really happy about NASCAR’s decision to call the race at that point. Well, considering where they were running, that figures. From what I could see, the forecast for the rest of the day wasn’t any too favorable, and I’m sure that played a part in the decision.

Folks, I’ve been in that position, Both as a race director and as an advisor to the race director, or whoever had the responsibility to make the final decision. I’ve sat there and watched it rain, watched it ease up, even stop, and then start up again about the time we got the track dry – and it’s a whole lot easier with a short track, even if you don’t have all those fancy vacuum cleaner trucks.

And I’ve had the person in charge call me on the radio and ask me what the U.S. Weather Service is saying. I made it a point to have the nearest weather station’s phone number on speed dial, or at least an area TV forecaster I trusted. At Indianapolis Raceway Park, it was usually Chuck Lofton at WTHR or “Swoop” Gregory at WISH (I think).

In the 11 years or so at Corbin Speedway, I developed a great relationship with the people over at Jackson, Ky. Once in a while they’d even answer the phone by saying, “Hello, John.” I suspect they had our location marked on their radar screens, because they’d tell me it was about to ease up and we had a window of about an hour, or just to forget it because it was going to get worse instead of better.

Despite this, there were times when the weather would clear up within an hour of our calling the race. The people who predict this stuff for a living used to tell me this can happen if there’s a wind shift in the jet stream of a few degrees or something like that.

A promoter is sitting on a pretty narrow fence in a situation like this, and chances are no matter what decision he or she makes it’s not going to sit well with somebody.

It’s not hard to imagine that the tracks in Iowa have had their fill of this kind of thing over the past week.

Over the years, I can recall situations that were sometimes humorous.

There was the ASA race at Atlanta when it rained so hard all day long that I wanted to hear them call it off because I wanted to get out of there before the place filled up with water.

Once at Clay City, Ky., I was in the flagstand working practice on the dirt oval when the tower told me to look at the deep end of the drag strip.  You could see it past the end of the grandstand. Sure enough, here comes a wall of water about a quarter-mile away. Throw the red, make sure everybody has at least slowed down, gather up the flags and split. Usually not in time to keep from getting soaked.

And at the Nashville Fairgrounds, with the GATR trucks practicing, glancing over the backstretch and seeing another one of those walls of water coming. I’m sure the drivers thought I was crazy when I put the red flag out and turned the red lights on, but they got the message soon enough.

I suppose the luckiest one we had was at an ASA race at Queen City Speedway near Cincinnati. It started spritzing (that’s the only word for it) at about 170 of 200 laps. We still had about 30 cars on the track spread out and nobody was slipping.

Bob Senneker was leading, so the late Leo Parrish, our tech director and pace car driver, went directly to Bob’s pit and asked crew chief Howdy Thomas what Bob thought of the track. Bob told Howdy it was fine, and Leo spent the rest of the race standing there with him.

One guy got a little out of shape coming off the fourth turn but caught it, and I asked Leo about it. He said, “That guy was wormy when we started, Bob says it’s fine.”

I knew there was a chance that if we had to go yellow and slow things down, we’d lose the track, but we were lucky that day. When this kind of thing happens, try to at least understand what the people running the place are going through.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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