The 2014 Daytona 500 has been halted because of weather conditions. According to USA Today, a tornado warning has been issued, fans have been asked to leave, and the cars have been put on pit row. The event was only 38 laps into the race when the decision to stop was made. The race, which is normally 200 laps, can have a winner if only half that number is reached. According to NASCAR rules, a winner can be declared at 100 laps.
While injuries caused by storms at NASCAR races are rare, a fan killed in August of 2012 remains on officials’ minds. According to the Pocono Raceway’s Web site, the death was caused by a lightning strike as fans were leaving. It was later concluded that the evacuation made during the Sprint Cup at Pocono in rural Pennsylvania was made more than half an hour after conditions were known to be severe. At least nine other fans were treated in area hospitals when separate lightning strikes injured them at around the same time while on the track’s property.
Like Daytona, Pocono has a 500-mile race but lays claim to being the first such race for NASCAR in 1974.
It appears that NASCAR anticipated the bad weather. According to the Bay News 9 out of St. Petersburg, Florida, a newly designed road jet dryer called the Titan Air System could help get the race going again before the day is over. Whether it will be deployed remains to be seen, however, as the rain seems to be very heavy.
But there have been problems with jet dryers in the past. At the Daytona 500 in 2012, a huge fire was started when driver Juan Pablo Montoya collided with one of the jet dryers while the yellow flag was up. The wreck caused a two-hour delay.
There is also concern about the the tornado warning that was issued earlier in the day. According to AccuWeather, a tornado watch is when weather conditions appear that could allow for a tornado. A tornado warning, on the other hand, is when a tornado has been observed. According to area weather reports, today’s warning went into effect north of the racetrack.
If the race is unable to continue today, NASCAR officials have announced that they will try to re-start it on Monday. With more than 150,000 fans waiting to see who will win, NASCAR is in a hury to get the race going again. In any case, if the Daytona 500 remains halted to wait for better weather, a lot of money is sure to be lost.
The irony lies in the history of the race. Prior to being called the Daytona 500,it was known in area newspapers as the “beach race.” It started in the 1930s and took place on a beach alongside an area highway. According to the Web site TicketCity, the wind, sand, water and rain were just part of the event, and the only technology the drivers employed against the elements were windshield wipers, radiators and their own chutzpah.
According to a 2012 story in Yahoo! Sports, the seat belt was practically invented at one of the races when a driver named Marion MacDonald decided to use a rope to keep himself from sliding all over the seat as he tore down the shifting sand. In case of a wreck, he reportedly kept a pocket knife taped to the steering wheel so he could cut himself out. Some people may think that opening a knife while tied inside a tumbling car on fire would be difficult, and MacDonald thought so too. To prevent that problem, he kept the blade out as he raced.
Given the unsafe conditions presented for Sprint Cup cars, all it takes is watery weather to red-flag the Daytona 500.
By Randall Fleming
Follow Randall Fleming on Twitter: #BreweryObserver