Crisis control boss Joie Chitwood (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
for so many years -- runs the most important track on the NASCAR tour, Daytona International Speedway, and it's been suddenly hit by two days of racing, forcing the first-ever postponement of the season kickoff Daytona 500.
Dealing with that is a management and logistical nightmare, of course, for everyone involved, fans, teams and track promoters.
Running Daytona on a good day is a major project, much less on a tough day like Sunday, and Monday.
But Chitwood, remember, ran Indianapolis Motor Speedway, until getting the call from the France family to take over this place 18 months ago. And it was Chitwood in the middle of that Formula 1 firestorm in 2005 when Michelin decided its tires wouldn't work on the track and pulled out, on the eve of the race.
Chitwood was cool that week…and he is cool here during this mess.
Chitwood is also relentless.
Life as boss at Daytona does have some perks, like lining up the pre-race show: here including model Kate Upton (L) and actress Jane Lynch, Chitwood and the Harley J. Earl Trophy (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
In fact people who have watched him during his brief time in NASCAR (he arrived here in late 2009, took over this track in late 2010) have been highly impressed with his talents, particularly situational awareness and crisis control, and his intelligence -- one reason he studied at Cambridge University in England.
Chitwood does more than just run Daytona; he's also in charge of keeping an eye informally on all the France family tracks and the people on the rosters. Several tracks have had management shakeups lately, probably with input from Chitwood one way or the other. Part of Chitwood's background in stock car racing comes from his time building and running Chicagoland Speedway.
So in watching how this sport handles this particular problem, keep an eye on Chitwood himself, a man with a solid smile, and a calming, quiet yet forceful demeanor. He just turned 43, and he's still on the fast-track upward in this sport. This, remember, is only his second Daytona SpeedWeeks….
Here, with the rain:
The first call to postponement came at 5:30 p.m. ET, till Monday noon.
The second call came at 10 a.m. ET Monday, with rain continuing to pelt the 2-1/2-mile track, till 7 p.m. ET.
While continued rain is possible, NASCAR president Mike Helton said the sanctioning body would still consider a third postponement till Tuesday, before considering other options, such as Easter weekend.
Jet dryers sweeping the Daytona track (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By moving the Daytona 500 a week later than usual this year, NASCAR lost the President's Day Monday holiday as a rain date for the 500.
That move was made in part to give Fox TV more early season continuity in its stock car coverage by eliminating the off-weekend in March, and in part to deal with the possible season expansion by the National Football League.
While those two may be good reasons, the date move took even more wiggle room out of the already demanding Sprint Cup schedule: only two off-weekends -- Easter weekend April 8th, and the July 22nd Sunday week.
Losing President's Day: "I'm sure I'm going to have some customers tell me about the date change and the challenges that we have with it," Chitwood concedes.
"But weather is unpredictable.
"I don't anticipate this would force us to change the date (back) in the future.
"Based on the NASCAR schedule, the TV schedule, this was the right move for the industry.
"We'll continue to work with the last weekend of February.
"It's unfortunate this had to happen the first year after we made that change. I'm sure I'll be talking to a number of customers in the weeks ahead about that situation."
Chitwood's general game plan is based on the typical Daytona 500 running about three hours and 45 minutes.
Even if the track could have been dried Sunday evening, "If you started the race at 10 p.m., that would put you at about a 1:45 a.m. finish," Chitwood said. "Then you have to think about the couple hours it would take to send all our customers home.
"I'm not really sure that's the environment we want to do that."
So how much will this cost? That will probably be addressed in the next quarterly call for ISC stock.
"You don't generate any more revenue on a rain day; all you're doing is eating up expenses," Chitwood says. "I can't quantify a number, other than it's going to cost us more to run this event based on having another day of expenses with no revenue associated with it."
One seemingly simple but still demanding issue is the track's use of school buses to transport the 150,000 or so fans from satellite parking lots to the track itself. On a Sunday, or President's Day Monday holiday, those buses are available.
Not this Monday.
"When you look at the community and its needs," Chitwood says, "we felt noon was the earliest we could run the race and not really affect the community -- from a rush-hour perspective and school starting.
"A challenge for us is we no longer have the ability to use school buses. We have to find more private coaches to use."
Moving the starting time back to 7 p.m. ET, however, could open that school bus option again.
When it comes to grace under fire, Joie Chitwood (L) certainly showed it during the infamous 2008 Brickyard 400 (Photo: Getty Images with NASCAR)