Why Doesn’t NASCAR Race in the Rain?


Why Doesn’t NASCAR Race in the Rain?

Despite being planned to try to get the best weather possible NASCAR races do sometimes encounter rain. In fact all motor racing has to plan for weather issues during the race. NASCAR may suffer more in the rain than others due to the nature of the racing, the car set up and the tracks that are used. We will explore when NASCAR does and doesn’t race in the rain in more detail below.

Although NASCAR currently races in the rain on road courses, the weight of the car, driver visibility, wear on tires, proximity of cars and speeds of oval tracks presents serious safety barriers to wet weather racing. However, rain tires are being tested at shorter oval racetracks to try to overcome these barriers.

Although rain is avoided in the vast majority of NASCAR races, especially those held on oval tracksOpens in a new tab., there are some situations that it will make it possible although certainly not preferable, to run a race in the rain. We cover these and what weather is best to run a NASCAR race in the following sections.

Why Does NASCAR Not Race In Rain?

The majority of NASCAR races are held on ovals, which cannot be raced on during periods of rain. This is because NASCAR uses very soft tyres at the ovals. Also, all the turns are all in one direction which means that the tire wear is concentrated on one side.

Therefore, the tyres are smooth and have no grooves. This means that they have no capability for running in the rain, as without grooves the rain cannot be channelled. This was evidenced during the 2001 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where a small, unexpected rain shower caused multiple drivers to lose control of their cars, leading to a multi-car accident.

NASCAR did experiment with wet tyres in 1995, but the project was abandoned due to poor reviews from the test drivers. In rain, at that time, the races would be a battle of who would finish, rather than who was fastest.

The cars would also have to be fitted with windscreen wipers. Aquaplaning could also take place, which is where a layer of rainwater builds up between the surface of the road and the tyres. This causes an instant loss of traction, which means that the drivers have no control and are essentially passengers in their car.

rain delay nascar, bristol, why not race in wet

At speeds of up to 200 miles an hour the safety implications of this are huge. As you can see from the table below.

Problems with NASCAR
Racing in the Rain
Effect on NASCAR Racing in the Rain.
Slick TiresNASCAR Drivers want as much tire on the road as possible, and tracks are designed to accommodate this. Norml car tires have tread, groves that help grip on less even surfaces, NAScAR tires, usually, don’t and are called slick tires. This is great on a smooth dry track, and like driving on ice if there is a layer of water on the track.
Standing WaterStanding water on the track is dangerous, it’s dangerous for you if you hit a shallow puddle on the road at normal speeds, so imagine what it is like for a car going upwards of 180 miles an hour. The car loses grip instantly and all control is gone.
VisibilityRain itself will cause a reduction in visibility, add to that the fact that NASCARS are often pack racing. It doesn’t take much to image the water being thrown up in the air and onto the windshields of race cars. You can try this yourself, wear a white t-shirt, go and ride your bike in the rain and then check the back of your t-shirt. Now times that by about 50 and you have an idea of how bad it can be.
Stopping distances and brakingDrivers Ed teaches us how much rain (and ice) can increase stopping distances and braking distances in road cars. Considering NASCAR is known for crashing, bumps and bangs, adding less effective brakes into this may turn it into a demolition derby rather than a car race.
Aquaplaning / HydroplaningWater builds up between the tire and the track, which causes the tire to lose contract with the surface of the race track and therefore grip. This means, in real terms, the car becomes a 3000lb+ brick travelling at 150 miles an hour with no way to steer. Lets that sink in for a while!
Fan EngagementRain brings cautions, even if the cars are fitted out for wet weather. A wet track increases the chances of crashes, slows down the race considerably, and becomes not who finishes fastest, but merely a case of who can finish in one piece!
Race Track SeatingMost Seating at NASCAR tracks is outdoors, hence the focus on fine weather. COld and wet weather for 5 hours is no one’s idea of a great day out.
Rain Driving ExperienceNASCAR is a fair weather motorsport, and drivers in the top levels simply don’t have the levels of experience yet. This leads to misjudgements and errors. However the only way to get experience is to race no matter the weather. to do that there would have to be some pretty major changes in the car setups to at least prepare them for inclement weather.
Oval TracksIn Road racing corners speeds are vastly slower than on oval tracks, oval track corners can be taken at up to 200 miles an hour, and they are doing this repeatedly. This means even if cars used rain tires the heat generated from banked oval corners would shred them after a few laps.

Does NASCAR Race Road Tracks In Rain?

NASCAR can race on road courses during rain, but they have to use special rain tyres that can only be used on road courses. On an oval track, no dry line will form, but on a road course racing is possible, and can be very exciting.

NASCAR has to avoid lightning though, which sometimes accompanies rain. The 2021 Cup Series race at the Circuit of the Americas took place in heavy rain, which forced the teams to use wet tyres throughout. It also was met with mixed opinion from the drivers. Kevin Harvick said the following.

“We don’t have any business being out in the rain, period….I’ve never felt more unsafe in my whole racing career, period.”

Kevin HarvickOpens in a new tab.

Although other drivers were not quite so vocal, there was a consensus that visibility is an issue that affects all NASCAR drivers in the rain. There are more cars on the track, and even with road races spreading out cars along the track the number alone makes them more likely to form groups, than in Formula 1 for example.

However, the turns were still very slippery due to the rain, which caused multiple caution periods during the race. NASCAR do have procedures for starting a race in the rain (these are aimed at road races) They include:

  • All Cars to have Rain tires on
  • All cars to have their red flashing light on at the rear of the car (to help visibility)
  • A working windscreen wiper fitted.

In damp, but not heavy rain, they loosen these rules a little, the flashing light and windscreen wipers still need to be on and fitted, but the tires become a team and pit crew decision. However, if they then decide to change to rain tires they will lose their starting position.

How About Dirt Track Racing In The Rain?

NASCAR does race on some dirt tracksOpens in a new tab. and has since 2021 when they were reintroduced to the calendar. An example of this is Bristol Motor Speedway. However, the 2021 race at this track was delayed due to heavy rain, which swamped the dirt track.

Dirt tracks can also take a long time to prepare when the conditions are right, taking between two and four hours. The dirt can also be washed into the grandstands, which can cause dust to stick to the seats. The pit road can also fill up with water. Therefore, NASCAR cannot race on dirt tracks in the rain, especially heavy rain.

nascar rain

What Happens If It Rains During A NASCAR Race?

If rain falls on a NASCAR track at which the drivers can’t race on in wet conditions, the race will be paused. It may be resumed when the track dries or postponed until the next available date, often the very next day. If over half the race has been completed, a winner may be declared.

With very light rain, the yellow caution flags would be waved, and the pace car Opens in a new tab.comes out. This forces the drivers to slow down. If the rain continues a red flagOpens in a new tab. would be waved, which would force the drivers to pull into the pits.

The Daytona 500, which is NASCAR’s most famous race, was delayed due to rain for 6 hours and 22 minutes in 2014, which it the longest delay in the 60 year history of the race. Not only was the race delayed there was also a tornado warning at the track and fans has to evacuate till it was cancelled.

Imagine how fast a NASCAR would go if it was caught in a tornado ( though not sure vertical speed counts!!)

When the rain stops, the track marshals are sent in trucks with blowers that attempt to dry the track. The trucks use jets with a speed of 568 miles per hour, which help to increase the air temperature by 70 degrees, which will help to remove the water and increase evaporation.

The marshals may also cut grooves into the circuit to help with water removal. However, this water removal is often not possible, and the race may be postponed or brought to a premature finish, such as the 2009 Daytona 500, which only lasted 162 laps.

Can NASCAR Reschedule Races Due to Rain?

If the rain is persistent the race can be moved the the following day, or in the case of 2007 Michigan 400 NASCAR postponed the race till the Monday, when when it rained they postponed it till the Tuesday and another rainstorm came through, and finally they got lucky on the Wednesday.

This happened again in the 2020 season at the Texas Speedway Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500. Where persistent rain pushed the race to be postponed on the Sunday. 52 laps had been completed before the red flag came out and the race was postponed until the Wednesday of that week. Kyle Busch emerging from the delayed race victorious.

It is a incredibly difficult to move or reschedule a race longer than a day or two as teams have to transport their cars and equipment to the next racetrack as well as setup and test the cars for the upcoming races.

The recent pandemic has also caused races to be rescheduled closer together and 2020 saw a few midweek races. Although possible, it does put extra demands on the drivers.

Bristol Speedway once saw a race postponed for two weeks due to weather.

In fact only once has a race been rescheduled to the end of the season and this was not due to rain. After the Terror attack on September the 11th, NASCAR cancelled the race at the New Hampshire motor speedway and rescheduled it for November the 23rd. (a Friday to allow for 2 days of weather rescheduling)

Has NASCAR Ever Used Rain Tires On An Oval Track?

Up until 2020 the view was that Ovals and rain tires just don’t combine well. However, there was a question over the shorter oval tracks, where overall speeds and cornering is considerably slower than Superspeedways for example. This gives the tires less wear and more chance to keep their grip.

At the the Charlotte Motor Speedway Royal in 2020, which is a part oval – part road track, the NASCAR cup series used Rain tires for the first time. Although not a resounding success, nor a overall failure, it was the first time they had been used for long periods in a race incorporating an oval and it opened the way for more testing.

In 2021 NASCAR has continued testing of rain tires both at Richmond in March 2021 and at Martinsville On April the first (amusingly enough) they tested again with the drivers views being mostly positive. Kyle Larson said after the practice

Honestly, didn’t drive way different…You could still slow down good, turn good.

Kyle LarsonOpens in a new tab.

Despite this testing, and a fairly clear move its being planned for, these small ovals are a very different animal from the large and fast tracks like Michigan and Talladega so it is likely to be a long time before you are watching a NASCAR race there while hiding under your rain umbrella.

rain racing nascar, rain crash nascar

Are NASCAR Pitstops More Dangerous in the Rain.

Most aspects of NASCAR racing carry risks with them, pitstops included. Add a wet track and rain to that and yes, NASCAR pits tops are more dangerous in the rain. Although the track may develop racing lines, and drier areas as well as being banked to allow water to run off the pit lane is both flat and much less used. Stopping distances, lack of visibility, standing water and the risk of hydroplaning will be greatly increased.

Although the focus is on how tires and drivers cope with the rain and wet tracks there ill also need to be some consideration on pit lane safety before NASCAR can embrace wet weather racing fully.

What is The Best Weather for NASCAR?

The best weather for NASCAR races is dry fine weather with not too much humidity. Too cold and tires have more difficulty maintaining grip, too hot and oil from the asphalt track can seep through reducing tire grip. Hot temperatures also increase the strain on the driver. Rain will also reduce grip significantly  

In NASCAR races, the track temperature affects the car performance greatly. The track temperature alters the friction capability of the tyres. An example of this can be seen in cool temperatures, where the cars are able to corner faster as the tyres perform at their optimum temperature which helps to provide more grip.

If the track is too hot then it can cause oil to seep out of the surface and oil and tires are not a good mix. It creates sections of track where grip is reduced.

The air temperature, and also the air density, aids or hinders the aerodynamic and engine performance of the car. if temperatures are too hot at races it can mean that the cars have less grip and tend to slide more.

This can make for better and more exciting racing, but lap times will likely be slower. Heat can also make the drivers struggle, as the temperature inside the cars is usually 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the outside. The cars have no air conditioners, and only have a small fresh air tube which is not cold.

Therefore, heat can hinder both the performance of NASCAR drivers and cars. The drivers have to remain hydrated, though not over hydratedOpens in a new tab., to ensure that they can keep concentration levels focusses on racing. If they do not have enough liquids they can suffer from cramping , which will greatly affect their performance.

They will also lose moisture through sweat due to the heat from outside and the effect it has on the heat the car generates. More heat, more sweat, more chance of dehydrating. We cover how drivers eat and drink in the article below. Opens in a new tab.

However, NASCAR as primarily a spectator sport, does tend to be held in the summer months, as this is more enjoyable for the spectators.

Does NASCAR Race In Winter?

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series will begin in late February and run through until early November. This means that they avoid December, January and early February, which tend to be the coldest parts of the year in the majority of the US states that NASCAR races take place in.

If NASCAR was to race in these winter months, the experience would be miserable for the fans who pay their hard-earned moneyOpens in a new tab. to watch the cars. However, the speeds would be very fast, and it would be possible that some fastest race runs ever could be set. There is a saying that “when the sun goes down the speed goes up”. The colder denser air would also give the engines more horsepower.

When the sun goes down, the speed goes up.

However, in very cold temperatures a new tyre may be needed, to adapt to the variables that such cool temperatures provide.

Final Thoughts:

We have highlighted the most important reasons why NASCAR doesn’t race in the rain in the article above, however like a lot of aspects of NASCAR racing this is open to change.

Although we are more likely to see NASCAR racing on fine dry days, with the sun shining, road races in particular are run in wet weather conditions. This is due to lesser cornering speed and wet tires being more suited to this form of racing.

However, in recent years there has been ongoing testing on the use of rain tires in NASCAR at shorter oval tracksOpens in a new tab. like Richmond, Charlotte and Martinsville. So in the not so distant future we may see races continuing or starting when the weather is wetter on these slower oval tracks.

On the record setting tracks of Talladega and Michigan it is likely to be a much ,longer time before the cars and equipment can cope with the speeds and demands of these Superspeed ways.

Just in case though, pack an umbrella.

References

https://www.nascar.com/news-media/2021/05/20/rain-tire-procedures-allotments-nascar-cota-weekend-weather/

https://www.accuweather.com/en/sports/how-weather-can-affect-nascar-drivers/336438

https://www.nascar.com/news-media/2021/05/24/nascar-to-use-wet-cota-takeaways-for-future-rain-races/

https://www.continental-tires.com/car/tire-knowledge/driving-situations/aquaplaning

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