Daytona 500 Delay Not Good, But Once It Might Have Been Far Worse

Daytona avoided bad weather for so many years that some joked its founder, Bill France Sr., had a direct line to a "higher power," through which he made requests for good weather on the day of the Daytona 500.

As you now know, what has transpired at Daytona International Speedway has never before taken place.

The track held its inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959, 53 years ago. As incredible as it may sound, for all that time the race was never rained out until, of course, this year.

Oh, the rains came. More than one 500 was cut short because of bad weather. But none was called off completely and rescheduled for another day.

Until, course, this year.

The race’s ability – fortune, really – to avoid bad weather year after year was ultimately a matter of luck. No one can control the elements. Mother Nature pretty much does what she wants and we just have to go along with it.

For reasons of her own she decided to leave Daytona pretty much alone season after season.

Until, of course, this year.

There we a lot of media wags who felt it was a mere mortal who assured reasonably good weather for Daytona for years and not some type of mythical spirit.

It was believed, cynically of course, that “Big Bill” France, the man who founded NASCAR and built the mammoth 2.5-mile Daytona track, had a direct line to, shall we say, “The Man Upstairs.”

That had to be what it was. Otherwise, how could France’s showplace track avoid the weather scourges that sometimes plagued every other speedway?

There were times when skies were black and distant thunder rumbled as us media types headed to the speedway during the early morning hours.

It was so ominous that we just knew the skies would open up and there would be such a tumultuous rainfall there was no way the 500 was going to start – much less finish.

But as the cars lined up on the grid awaiting the command to start engines, darkness would dissipate and not a single drop of rain fell for 500 miles.

Or if it did, it stopped and the racing surface was dried soon enough for the entire distance to be completed.

Or it began to rain only after the event had passed its halfway point and was thus official, no matter what happened afterward.

Bottom line – Daytona avoided a complete postponement year after year after year.

We just knew why. France had gotten on his direct line to Heaven and made a request that was honored. A force stronger than Mother Nature told her to lay off. Ol’ France had real power on his side.

Seems that power had been passed on to his son Bill Jr. and other high-ranking NASCAR and International Speedway Corp. executives.

Until, of course, this year.

I’ll grant you that Daytona, in fact all NASCAR competitors, fans and media, have been very fortunate indeed that the 500 avoided postponement for so many years.

There was a time that if the race had been called off a particularly awkward and expensive scenario would be created.

For many, many years, NASCAR did not have a “next clear day” rule for postponements. A race that could not begin, or officially end, was not rescheduled for the next day.

For example, a Sunday race was not automatically slotted to run the following Monday.

Instead, the race was rescheduled for the next “open” weekend. And if that did not come seven days later, it would have to be the following two, three or four weeks afterward

The weekend had to be an open one. A track’s race date was not moved aside to make way for one lost by another.

The main reason it was this way was to satisfy the concerns of most race promoters.

At that time few of them felt a race on Monday would succeed and, as a result, they would lose money.

They argued that fans had to work and would not come back a day later – they simply couldn’t. At the least that meant a loss of concession income.

The promoters said they had a better chance at a profit if they could take some time to market the race again and rely on a weekend’s worth of new activity to lure back the fans and their money.

So NASCAR enacted the “next open weekend” policy.

However, it could play havoc the schedule, as tracks whose race dates were in late winter or early spring were highly susceptible to bad weather.

After Daytona, races at Rockingham and Richmond followed in quick succession, although sometimes not in that order.

Tropical breezes don’t blow in Rockingham or Richmond in late February or early March.

North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham was a handsome facility. But it was often plagued by rain, which forced several postponements and some awkward rescheduling. Hope this helps.

Many times their race weekends were plagued with rain – or even snow. It happened so often at Rockingham, located in the Sandhills area of Southern North Carolina, that it became known as “Rainingham.”

When it happened, a Rockingham race was obviously reset for the next open weekend. Trouble was, it was very seldom seven days later.

Often it was two or three weeks before one of the track’s postponed races could take place.

And there was always this thought: What if Daytona, Rockingham and Richmond were postponed it successive weeks? It was a possibility after all and, as a result, the open-weekend policy would create an unimaginable mess.

Uh, run a rescheduled Daytona 500 in May or June?

Fortunately that never happened.

Eventually common sense took over.

First, teams decried the open weekend policy, saying it cost them a heullva lot more money to pack up and leave a track rather than just stay overnight.

To resupply, re-pay for weekend’s worth of rooms and meals and to absorb all the travel costs therein – again – was simply flushing the budget for what was essentially going to another race.

To compete on the full schedule was expensive enough without having to pay for what amounted to one, not to mention maybe two or three, more events.

Fans also expressed the opinion that it cost them less to stay one extra day, if they could, than to repack, rebook and refuel for another weekend.

NASCAR agreed. It was logical and practical.

This isn’t to say the next clear day rule is the perfect answer. Racing on a Monday most decidedly has many inconveniences.

And, as we know, if that Monday proves unacceptable, the race moves to a Tuesday. If that does not work out things get pretty darn dicey.

Well, we now know that won’t be a possibility at this point of the season because the 500 was run, thankfully, last night.

Maybe, just maybe, it was a bit late before Mother Nature got the message to lay off.

But, finally, she did.

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