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Rain, rain, go away.......But what to do if it doesn't?


  Marcos Ambrose, racing in the Montreal rain last summer. Yes, these guys can race in the rain, but it's just not the same sport....and what would the fans think? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern
   mikemulhern.net

   MARTINSVILLE, Va.

   Clay Campbell looked up at the cloudy but clearing skies Monday morning, and the boss of Martinsville Speedway just sighed.
   Would that Saturday's beautiful, warm, sunny spring weather had held up for Sunday's Martinsville 500, but no such luck.
   And the cold drizzle that forced postponement of NASCAR's sixth tour stop of the season until Monday once again raised the issue of rain and stock car racing.
   Formula 1, sports cars, Indy-cars all race in the rain, but then they don't race on 190 mph high-banked ovals.
   NASCAR has tried racing in the rain a few times.
   About 10 years ago, when preparing for that Pacific trip to Japan (Motegi and Suzuka), NASCAR had Goodyear design some grooved rain tires for these 3500-pound stockers. And NASCAR even qualified over there once in the rain.
   Then NASCAR actually used those rain tires at Montreal last summer in a Nationwide race. It was an experiment that didn't go that well at all; despite several years of preparation, some teams forgot windshield wipers and defoggers and all the accoutrements that are necessary for seeing in the rain. After all it's not about racing in the rain, per se, that is the issue, it's seeing – for the drivers and for the fans.
   GrandAm races in the rain are not unusual, but they're not that much fun, unless you like watching huge rooster tails of water chasing each other around the track.
   Maybe there is a way for NASCAR to race in the rain – covered grandstands....domed tracks...better rain tires.....maybe even better asphalt...
   But so far it hasn't been discovered.
   And the March equinox and September equinox are notorious for rain. Watkins Glen, Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Loudon, N.H.....
   Maybe moving some of these rain-prone events to a different time of the year? Maybe run Martinsville on a Saturday night in the summer....
   Campbell concedes "Rain is probably riskier this time of year....but you can have issues, no matter what time of year."
   Just two years ago NASCAR had 10 of its 36 Cup qualifying days rained out.
   What to do, other than just grimace and bear it? Is the potential for rain and rainouts simply part of the sport, part of the cost of doing this business?
   Or is this sport too big now to be able to afford the loss of a big race?
   Back when the NASCAR tour ran only 28 to 30 weekends, it was possible to factor in an off-weekend for a rainout. No longer, not with 38 weeks filled with action, in a 42-week season.
   "The problem is we've got so many race weekends," Campbell points out. "You don't have any leeway. There's no place to put 'em.
   "And we have been pretty fortunate over the years not to have that many rainouts.
   "It's a tough deal...so you just about have to run it 'the next clear day.'
   "And I think all the fans factor that into their plans. If you look at our campgrounds, it looks the same today as it did Sunday. So a lot of people know that's just the way it is – if it's rained out Sunday, we'll go on Monday.
   "Now it's tough on everybody. Nobody wins in a situation like this. And we certainly hate it for the people who bought their tickets and can't come back. It's a bad deal.
   "And we've got 2,000 people we have to pay for working Monday.
   "But that's the business we're in.
   "That's the thing about March: one day it can be in the 70s and the next day in the 30s.
   "Is there something we could do to change things? I don't know what that could be."
   NASCAR even tried to get drivers, one rainy Friday, to run laps on rain tires at Watkins Glen, a venture that drivers didn't buy into.
   And Terry Labonte once tested those Goodyear rain tires here, but he quickly discovered that unless that track is perfectly laid out for water drainage, one of these race cars will simply hydroplane when it hits a wet spot.
   "I remember Terry trying those," Campbell said with a grin...."And it didn't work."
   Even if drivers and crews could figure out a way to race in the rain, what about the fans?
   "I think our fans deserve better than having to sit out in the grandstands in pouring rain and watch a race," Campbell said. "Even if we could figure out a way for the racing to work, I don't think it would be good for our fans."

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I used to throw NASCAR under

I used to throw NASCAR under the bus for not having rain tires or at least "try" to give a wrecking ball swing at the racin'.in.the.rain issue vs Campbell's assertion of "I don't think it would be good for our fans." The general typical response of someone of NASCAR's ilk who doesn't want to "inve$t" in anything to make the racin' better. Not to even go there with F1 and other racing series outside the US that do race in the rain. But what about right here in the US. Have THE FANS backed away from racin' in the mud and rain? NO. There are dirt tracks all over this country and the action is incredible.

But when you look at the BIG picture. Can NASCAR, just with the Cup Series, afford to have rain tires in a race? With the amount of cautions, tire changes throughout a race, Goodyear would go bananas just trying to keep up. It's not like Formula One, where if there's a chance of rain or rainy conditions, you're down to four sets of tires: soft compound, hard compound, intermediate rain and full wet. And since F1 races only last a minimum of 90 mins, you'll only change tires no more than 2 to 3 times a race?! Imagine that, in a Cup race in partly sunny, partly rainy conditions for 400, 500 miles with 43 cars. It would be nuts.

I understand all the

I understand all the technical and aesthetic aspects of racing in the rain....but one question i have is the huge expense this sport faces when it has to postpone a race like the Glen last summer, and Martinsville and Texas this spring. I may not have an answer, but this sport isn't an old country sport any more where we can just come back next weekend and try again.

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