Important racing question: Can NASCAR race in the rain?
Can NASCAR race in the rain? NASCAR racing enthusiasts have asked this at least once. Well…
NASCAR wasn’t always racing in rain.
It is on rare occasions that NASCAR races are continued if it rains while the race is going on. The intensity of rain, the type and the state of the track are all taken into consideration before going ahead with racing in the rain. NASCAR races are delayed or postponed on ovals while rain tyres are opted for in case of road races. The races are only held if the race director deems fit.
NASCAR racing vehicles use soft rubber compound tyres for racing. The tyres are smooth and flat to ensure a better grip on racing tracks. They facilitate cornering at higher speeds making the race more exciting for the spectators. The smooth tyres do not channel the water away on a wet surface. This leads to cars hydroplaning at great speeds on a wet surface. That is why races on ovals are either delayed or deferred in case of inclement weather.
Races on the road tracks are held in the rain depending on how heavy the rain is and how motorable the track is. NASCAR vehicles, on the road tracks often travel at speeds 200 miles per hour (320 kph) or more. They often follow each other closely. On wet tracks, the spray from the tyres of the racing cars reduces visibility considerably. This leads to accidents and crashes. Even road NASCAR races are either delayed or postponed in case of very heavy rain.
When did NASCAR roll out the rain tyres?
On October 25, 2020, The NASCAR race was pushed back by three days to Wednesday. The cause was a continuous drizzle. Although the race was the longest delayed race of the 21st century, it is not the longest delayed race ever. In 1973, Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough had to wait for two weeks to win the race which was stopped because of rain after 52 laps had been completed.
In 2021, blame it on global warming; several races have been affected by rain. On May 23, the stock car race at the Circuit of the Americas, Austin was held in rain. Officials sent out Air Titan trucks to blow out some of the water off the tracks. There were two incidents, both of which were caused by poor visibility in the cars’ wake. Chase Elliot won the race in 54 laps.
The 2021 Daytona 500 was delayed by six hours because of rain. NASCAR started the race at 9 pm Eastern Time. Heavy rain caused the Xfinity race at Daytona scheduled to run on 27 Aug 2021 to be postponed by a day. No driver likes driving in rain nor do fans want to wait in rain for a race to start.
Rain tyres were first used in the 2008 Xfinity Series race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. That year, both the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series were affected by rain. The Xfinity Series race was called off after 48 laps. Ron Fellows of Toronto was declared the winner of the race. Rain tyres were first used in the Cup Series in the 2020 Bank of America ROVAL 500 Series at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.
What rules apply when it rains in a NASCAR race?
When inclement weather strikes, the NASCAR rule book says that the race director is the sole judge of the state of the course. The race director can rule whether the race is a “wet start” or a “damp start”. A wet start is declared when the entire racing surface is wet. A damp start will indicate that some parts of the course have moisture on them while other parts are dry.
The race director can also declare the course “not race-ready” in case of heavy rain which forms puddles on the surface and poor visibility in the wake of the speeding cars.
In case a “wet start” is declared the NASCAR rule book states that
- All vehicles must mount rain tyres, activate their flashing rear lights and have a working windshield wiper installed
- Normal starting procedures follows.
For a “damp start”
- All vehicles may elect to mount rain tyres at the discretion of the crew chief. The rear flashing lights are to be activated and a working windshield wiper mounted.
- Any team making a pitstop in the subsequent pace laps for rain tyres will forfeit its starting spot.
Teams are allowed to change to either rain tyres or dry-weather slicks after the green flag at the discretion of the crew chief.
What is the problem with NASCAR racing tyres in rain?
Drivers, even streetcar drivers do not like driving in rain. It reduces the speed of the car and cornering is slower. NASCAR dry-weather tyres are called slick tyres. They are made from a soft rubber compound and are smooth on the surface. They are designed to give the tyres maximum surface contact with the track surface. The tyres rely on downforce to grip the surface.
NASCAR races held on ovals are all counterclockwise and involve a lot of banking. On a wet surface cars travelling at speed will hydroplane and skid either off the track or into one another. Moreover, rainwater washes away the rubber that has been gathering on the track over time. This makes the surface of the track rough and can wear the slick tyres down rather quickly.
Although drivers get extended weekends at the courses, it might rain on one of the days and might be dry on the race day. Conversely, it might be dry on the preceding days and rain on the race days. In such a case drivers do not get to practice on the course in all kinds of weather making inclement weather difficult to handle. And races in the rain are boring for both drivers and spectators.
NASCAR does race on wet days on road courses. The rain tyres fitted on the cars are threaded. This allows the tyres to channel the water aside and retain some grip on the road surface. But races could be delayed or deferred in case of continuous or heavy rain. All oval races will be delayed in case of rain. NASCAR these days uses Air Titans to blow away the water and dry the course after rain.
What happens if it rains during a NASCAR race?
In NASCAR or any series, the safety of the drivers and the expensive cars is of primary importance. Recently many races have been held at night which increases the possibility of a NASCAR race on the scheduled date. But delays are bound to occur frequently as a result of global warming and unscheduled rains. No one can predict the weather but what happens when it rains when a NASCAR race is in progress?
If it rains heavily before a race, the race director will deem the course not ready for racing. Drivers will start the race until the course is relatively dry. Even if it is damp, they have the option of choosing rain tyres. If the race is held on a wet course, the safety of all concerned will be compromised. Despite that NASCAR has conducted a few races in rain with rain tyres.
Even the slightest drizzle during a race will cause the yellow flag to go up and persistent rain will mean the red flag will go up. All contestants are then required to pit and await the official signal when the course is clear. Once the rain stops, the race officials will send Air Titan trucks to dry the course. These trucks use compressed air at high pressure and at a high temperature to blow out the water and dry the surface.
In NASCAR a winner can be declared if the race is stopped due to inclement weather and the race is half or more completed. It is in such circumstances when the team’s tactics, strategy and a bit of luck kick in. A driver may persevere with worn tyres when he anticipates a red flag due to rain while another driver pits to change tyres. If the race is curtailed, the first driver gains. If the race is continued on a damp/wet course, the second driver gets an advantage.
If the race is less than half completed, NASCAR will delay the race to a more agreeable time or more favourable racing conditions. Usually, the race is rescheduled for the very next day. In rare cases, contestants and spectators might have to wait for more than 24 hours for a race to be completed. These delays weigh heavy on spectators purses and cause less attendance.
As long as NASCAR races are not conducted in covered courses we can expect delays due to inclement weather. It is difficult to have a road race in covered courses but ovals might be covered in the future. If the course is not too wet NASCAR officials will try and complete the race on rain tyres. If not, the race will be rescheduled for another day. Delays due to rain are not likely to go away soon.
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