NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Christian Koelle)

Did You Notice?: All-Time Weirdest NASCAR Rain Delays

Did You Notice? … The rain delay at Texas Motor Speedway is extending into record-setting territory? As I write this column, we are on our third postponement of a race scheduled to run Sunday, Oct. 25. A misty light rain has fallen seemingly forever, pushing back the start to at least Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN. It’s the first race in the modern era to be pushed back three consecutive days due to rain.

52 laps are complete but NASCAR’s inability to stop the race before misting cost some drivers dearly. Kevin Harvick is off the lead lap after smacking the wall off turn 2 … and he’s not alone. Denny Hamlin lost precious track position sliding up in the same area. So did rookie Cole Custer, while Chris Buescher is already 10 laps down after wrecking.

You may think pushing back to Wednesday makes this race the longest NASCAR red flag in history. You’d be mistaken (Hat tip to Frontstretch’s Zach Sturniolo for this one). On March 11, 1973, NASCAR was forced to stop a Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway due to rain after 52 laps. They waited two weeks to come back and finish. Didn’t matter to NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough; he wound up leading all 500 laps of the event, setting a modern-era record.

This race isn’t the weirdest red flag for rain I’ve seen either. Here’s a few doozies that come to mind in my time. (Keep in mind I’m a millennial, albeit just barely. So if you have an older, crazier story about NASCAR rain delays, please feel free to share in the comments! We’re all in this together.)

Fontana, 2008. I will never forget this race for as long as I live. A rare set of heavy rains drenched the track all weekend at Auto Club Speedway. Back then, this race was the second event on the NASCAR schedule and teams had made the cross-country trip 3,000 miles after the Daytona 500.

The west coast swing was designed to provide good weather during a time when the east coast is buried in winter. So to have moisture was frustrating enough. But the track didn’t hold the rainwater well, and unseasonably cold temperatures made it difficult to dry out. Cup qualifying and races in lower series were all pushed back heading into Sunday’s main event.

Just like at Texas, NASCAR tried to give it a go. But even under cloudy skies, so-called weepers seeped in from under the track’s surface and moistened up the pavement. Slick spots caused two hard crashes that wiped out top-tier drivers like Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Casey Mears.

“The track ain’t ready,” Earnhardt said after his wreck. “It was dirty. Bad move.”

By lap 41, the caution flew for rain. NASCAR decided to halt the race and send track workers out with saws to cut through the pavement, bleeding out moisture. The red flag lasted over an hour but it was all for naught when rain fell again, pausing the race with 87 of 250 laps complete.

NASCAR continued to dry the track for over four hours, creating a scenario where the race wasn’t officially called until almost 2 a.m. ET the next day. It caused a 16-hour workday as the culmination of a weekend of constant delays and postponements, held one week after the most important race of the year. To add insult to injury … officials didn’t spread the word to everyone. Half the TV compound, among others in the garage, didn’t know the race was called until NASCAR officials had left the track.

In four years of working that particular job in NASCAR television, it was the most frustrated I’ve ever been at a racetrack. Carl Edwards wound up winning the next day and joked, “I can’t say enough about my snorkel and floatation device. The guys at the dive shop really came through for me in a major way.”

A fellow TV worker made light of the situation in a few weeks and made T-shirts for everyone called, “Don’t Weep for Me Fontana.” Twelve years later, though, just thinking about that mess still drives me crazy. Indianapolis Motor Speedway had their tire debacle later that year, so people often forget about this California mess. But that weekend did as much to cement the long-term damage at Auto Club Speedway than having it replace the Southern 500 on Labor Day Weekend.

Michigan, 2007. This race was the Texas two-step before the Autotrader Echopark Automotive Downpour 500 eclipsed it this week. Michigan International Speedway became the first race in the modern era to be delayed two consecutive days after heavy rains and fog drenched the track.

Kurt Busch wound up winning the event in what was a short turnaround for race teams. Bristol Motor Speedway’s August night race ran as scheduled that week. That meant everyone flew home Tuesday late, then turned around for haulers to enter Bristol by Thursday. It’ll be a similar setup for teams at Texas; they’ll rush home after Wednesday’s race (we hope) to prepare for Martinsville Speedway on Sunday.

Daytona 500, 2012. This event was the first Daytona 500 postponed in the 54-year history of the race. Rescheduled for a Monday night in primetime, the move came after officials tried to dry the track for four hours.

What transpired was one of the wackier Daytona 500s in recent memory. Remember how Juan Pablo Montoya found a way to hit the jet dryer under caution?

The incident caused a red flag with 40 laps to go as track workers had to put out a giant fire in turn 3. In the end, Matt Kenseth came out on top and holds the unique distinction of winning two Daytona 500s affected by rain. (His other victory, in 2009, was shortened by 48 laps due to a downpour).

1993 Atlanta. Practice and qualifying for this race went on under the black cloud of a brewing storm. On Sunday, the decision was made to postpone a full week after there was no chance for NASCAR to clear the track.

But the issue wasn’t rain. Instead? A blizzard enveloped the area. More than three feet of snow fell in the mountains outside the track while 50-mph winds turned visibility to near zero. Over $300,000 in damage to Atlanta Motor Speedway was reported, although the oval turned race-ready by the following Sunday.

According to USA Today’s Mike Hembree, there was one driver who stuck in the garage through the blizzard. Reigning NASCAR champion Alan Kulwicki and his team were there working on the No. 7 car after a disappointing start to the year. It was the type of work ethic that won the independent driver the 1992 title; sadly, he’d crash out in this race and be killed a month later in a plane crash heading to Bristol.

Here’s another trivia question. Who won the Atlanta snowstponement? None other than Morgan Shepherd, earning the final Cup victory of his career.

Did You Notice? … One quick hit before taking off…

  • I understand Ben Rhodes‘ frustration with Kyle Busch Motorsports in a chaotic NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series race at Texas Sunday. He felt Christian Eckes kept running him up the racetrack. But nothing justifies coming out of turn 4 and intentionally knocking Eckes in the right rear. … Not at the speeds they run at Texas.

It’s easy to forget a wreck at this track, off the same turn, killed Tony Roper back in 2000. There should have been discipline here, and I’m surprised NASCAR didn’t do something.

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About Tom Bowles

Avatar
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.

8 comments

  1. Avatar

    Tom,
    I am older than most, but the worst thing NASCAR did was at the 1968 World 600 (now Coke 600) in Charlotte. It ran 255 laps total. They ran the majority under caution in order to complete half of the race, 200 of 400 laps. I think they finished 255 or 258 total, but the bulk was under caution in light rain. Buddy Baker won and it goes as a victory, but they didn’t consider waiting until the rain date. At that time, printed on the ticket was the rain date and they would have returned.
    Most people felt robbed. I was in the 8th grade, and had cut grass to get a top-row ticket at Charlotte. It was a tough pill to swallow.
    While waiting on a clear day may be a pain for some and others cannot attend, it is better than what they did that day at Charlotte.

  2. Avatar

    Not sure I have all the details correct so perhaps someone can flesh this all out. Back in the spring of 1997 there were rain delays Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. (During the rain delays Darrell Walltrip famously called NASCAR officials “Nazis” The teams and TV folks had to get to Sonoma for the next race so Talladega was postponed until Saturday May 10th the weekend after Sonoma. It seemed that the drivers by and large just wanted to put the race behind them. That was one of the rare caution free races at Talladega. Mark Martin (Remember him?) won the event.
    It wasn’t weather related unless you stretch the term a bit but in the days leading up to the 1998 Firecracker 400 at Daytona Florida was being consumed by wildfires. In their infinite wisdom NASCAR held off on delaying the race even as a hundred thousand plus fans headed towards the track. Finally common sense (and some governmental arm-twisting got them to delay the race until October 17th.

  3. Avatar

    Matt,
    That’s pretty much what happened in both cases. In 1997, Talladega and Sonoma were back-to-back and teams didn’t really swap out equipment away from the shop like they do now. So, everyone had to go back to Charlotte to get their road racing equipment, then drive cross-country. It rained for much of the weekend in Alabama. The Busch race on Saturday got in, but not without weather issues. NASCAR put the race on May 10 because it was Mother’s Day weekend (a off-weekend at the time) and NASCAR didn’t want to race on Mother’s Day.

    I would absolutely consider the Florida Wildfires in 1998 to be weather-related. It was far drier than normal that spring, which made things…combustible. Add in the typical electrical storms in Florida when it gets warm and you have trouble.

    There were active fires within a couple of miles of the track by the time NASCAR chose to postpone the weekend. All the teams were already there and had to get back to Charlotte with a bunch of major arteries shut down. That’s in addition to all the smoke in the air. Today, there are signs on Route 40 headed towards Volusia Speedway Park that note trees that were replanted after the fires (or at least there were the one time I drove out there in 2011).

  4. Avatar

    I have to agree with Ben Rhodes here. When you get that high coming off 4 at Texas it can be easy to spin around sideways. So while he did get into the 18 there, the 18 should have lifted as he went up the track and tried to give more room off 4 as he should be aware that that outside truck is going to be upset (likely lack of experience). While it certainly looks intentional from replay. Knowing how that track drives on a simulator and how easy it is to lose it off of 4 when you get up that high, I can certainly see where he is coming from. If the 18 wasn’t there the 99 truck may have been spinning through the grass. So I certainly see why NASCAR did not penalize anyone.

  5. Avatar

    It’s 4pm eastern …I’m trying to see if they started but it’s not on tv. Does anyone know if they restarted or are planning to?

  6. Avatar

    Many years ago it began raining right before the Firecracker 400 at Daytona. An eager reporter on TV asked then 24 team crew chief Ray Evernham ‘How does rain right before a race affect the cars?” Evernham looked right into the camera and deadpanned “It gets them wet.’

  7. Avatar

    When will NASCAR learn that the air titans do not work on a cold humid day. We were at Texas some years ago on a rain delay. The jet driers came by and dried the track, then the air titans came by and wet the track back. We watched for many laps all the same. Dry then wet. Compressed air in a cold day holds a lot of moisture.

  8. Avatar

    Tony Roper hit the wall in the frontstretch dogleg at Texas in Oct 2000. I was filming on a 16mm camera at the time. Can even tell you who made contact with him, because I interviewed that driver.