Wednesday, February 18, 2009

You can't argue with Mother Nature, but...

Rain happens. Unless you're living in the Sahara desert or in Death Valley, chances are you see some rain once a week or so. Sometimes that rain falls on a Monday, which is just fine for most of the world because not much ever happens on a Monday. But sometimes that rain falls on Saturday and/or Sunday and that throws the best laid plans of weekend revelers into disarray.

Whether it's a weekend cookout with the family at the park or the Daytona 500, outdoor activities are always at the mercy of Mother Nature.

With the shortening of this year's Daytona 500 to 380 miles, there are a lot of complaints that NASCAR shouldn't have called the race and they did so out of greed and disdain for the fans.

I have criticized NASCAR and Fox for the late start time, but I also believe that they moved the start back in order to broaden the audience not shrink it. Now, we can debate until next year's Daytona 500 whether or not that has worked or not, but the fact is NASCAR and Fox actually want as many people as possible to watch the race - either in person or on television.

NASCAR has run the Daytona 500 for 51 years and in that time it has never had to run the race on a day other than the one on which it was originally scheduled. Four of those 51 races were shortened by rain; two of those were in 2003 and in 2009 (of course the 2006 race ran the final hour in a steady drizzle too). The 1995 race had a lengthy rain delay but eventually ran to its full conclusion. That's not a bad record, all things considered.

I have no problem with rain postponing, interrupting, or even bringing an early end to any NASCAR race. While NASCAR now has its hands in many more pieces of the pie than it did back in the 1990s, they still haven't found a way to influence the weather.

I do have a problem with the late starts. I don't believe it adds anyone to the audience by starting at 3 P.M. And when you have races at Michigan or Martinsville, tracks that don't have lights, any slight delay from the weather means the race will be shortened. Two cases in point: I sat in the rain at Michigan in June 1991 from 10 A.M. until the scheduled start of the race at 12:30 P.M. The rain stopped and the track was dried and the green flag came out around 2 P.M. under bright sunny skies. The race ran to its conclusion. In June 2006 I sat through a mid-race rain delay at Michigan and the race was forced to end early because there was no chance to dry the track because it was getting dark. If you start at 1 P.M. and have a delay you have time to give the paying customers what they've paid for. If you start at 3 P.M. and have a delay (and don't have lights) you're sending everyone home early and upset.

Even at some tracks with lights, a delay is going to mean a premature end to the race. It takes a couple of hours to dry Daytona. Just like we saw on Sunday, a two-hour rain after halfway is going to mean the race is over. Track drying would have started at 9 P.M. or later, and under a best-case scenario that would have meant an 11 P.M. restart. While I would have stayed up to watch, that's not a good circumstance for anyone.

There's nothing you can do about Mother Nature. NASCAR made the right call under the circumstances on Sunday. There was no chance the racetrack was going to be dry within a reasonable amount of time.

There are things that can be done to change the starting times. The race needs to be moved earlier in the day so a slight delay doesn't mean a premature finish to the sport's signature event.

And it sure would be nice to see the Daytona 500 winner celebrating under that bright, sunny Florida sky again.

1 comment:

  1. Yes rain is going to happen and the rulw has been since day one after half way it is a race. This was all fine when when it cost $2.00 to get into a race now when a family pays hundreds of dollars to see a race it is not fine. The track gets all ut's money, I assume the drivers and owners still get all their money but the fan gets shafted. I have seen races where NASCAR has rushed to get to that halfway point maybe it's time that the fan gets a portion of their ticket price back if a race is shortened maybe then NASCAR would work harder to get a race started when rain is coming and not be as quick to call a race.