Some of the most exciting motorsport moments have happened during rainy weather and slick tracks. These tricky conditions bring out a new type of skill that drivers need to make use of if they still want to be fast.
NASCAR will only race in the rain on road circuits. However, on speedways NASCAR does not race in the rain due to the weight and high speeds that the cars carry into the banking’s.
Stock cars are extremely heavy vehicles. Couple that with extremely high speeds on banked corners and you have an extremely delicate situation where grip is essential. If there is water on the banking of the circuit, the drivers may as well be driving on ice.
Racing In The Rain
Racing in the rain can be treacherous. Not only is the track extremely slippery, but the spray coming off of cars in front of you means that you can’t see a thing. When we see Formula 1 and other single seaters racing in the rain, we often hear the drivers complaining about the visibility, or lack thereof.
In addition to that, the slippery conditions will make the cars extremely difficult to control. We regularly see drivers spinning and losing control of their cars especially when the rain starts to get heavier.
Even slightly damp conditions can be tricky. The conditions could be too dry for wet tires, but slick tires will still struggle on a damp circuit. This is arguably where we see most drivers making mistakes and crashing.
But it is also where we see the insane levels of skill that the top drivers possess. The likes of Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton have all earned themselves the titles of ‘rain masters. Most people will argue that only the best of the best can be fast in the rain.
Some of the most exciting Formula 1 races have happened when the heavens suddenly opened up over the racetrack. It means that drivers are prone to making mistakes, but it also means that strategy plays an extremely important role in the race itself. Choosing the perfect moment to go onto wet tires can result in a driver gaining a lot of time while to others lose out. At the same time, going onto wet tires too early can result in that driver losing out.
This is especially true with larger racetracks like Spa in Belgium which covers a large area. It can sometimes rain on one part of the track while the rest of it stays dry. This makes for exciting racing because drivers need to know how to navigate through that one particularly treacherous area.
Aquaplaning is something just about every racing driver is very well aware of. Especially if they have raced in the rain. It’s a scary moment where a layer of water builds up between the surface of the road and tires. This leads to an instant loss of traction and no control input will work for a short amount of time (steering, braking or throttle). It is essentially like driving on ice.
Rain can also mean lightning. Of course, a race would be cancelled in a lightning storm, but the risk of a stray lightning bolt hitting lose to the circuit still remains. It’s a rare occurrence, but definitely one to keep in mind.
Another risk of heavy rains and storms is that the medical helicopter is unable to fly. In Formula 1, as with most major forms of motorsport this is an absolutely non-negotiable requirement. If the helicopter is unable to fly, cars will not be on track.
Rain On Ovals
So, rain makes the racing more exciting, drivers require more skill, and NASCAR is all about entertainment value to its spectators. So why don’t they race in the rain on oval circuits and speedways?
Imagine being on a 2-mile oval circuit with 40 other cars. There will be no clear air, and just a lot of spray. None of the drivers will be able to see in front of them or behind them. This is of course a pretty big safety issue.
In addition to that, stock cars are extremely heavy, and on oval circuits their average speed is very high. The banked corners mean that the tires need a huge amount of grip in order to support the weight of the car and the speed it is traveling. I personally would not want to be aquaplaning at 200 miles per hour on a banked corner.
If there is even the slightest bit of moisture on a banking the tires can quickly lose all of their grip, which would result in either a huge spin, or a big crash. Therefore, it is crucial that when NASCAR races on an oval circuit they need to ensure that the entire circuit is dry.
If there is a light shower on an oval circuit, NASCAR will take a short break from racing until the rain has stopped. Once the rain has stopped, they send out a few Toyota Tundra trucks onto the circuit equipped with drying systems called Air Titans, which were implemented in 2014.
The Air Titan drying systems are essentially monstrous hair dryers that blow out 70-degree Fahrenheit air at 570 miles per hour. The Air Titan drying system can dry a football field in 30 seconds. It normally takes around 90 minutes for a number of Air Titans to dry a completely wet racetrack. At larger circuits, NASCAR can sometimes use up to 20 of these units.
If there is a storm or a much larger rain shower which carries on over a longer period of time, it is common for NASCAR races to wait out the rain even into the night. In some more extreme cases, the races can even be rescheduled for the next day.
Why Not Just Use Rain Tires?
In most racing series around the world, such as Formula 1, cars are able to fit a set of wet tires when it starts to rain. These differ from slick tires in a number of ways which helps to give the cars better control in wet conditions.
Firstly, wet tires are slightly larger than slick tires. This is because of the fact that race cars are so low to the ground that the slightest bit of water on circuit can lift the wheels off the track and cause aquaplaning if the car was to go through a puddle of water. Making the wet tires slightly larger helps to control this issue by lifting the floor of the car by a few millimetres.
The next factor that differentiates slick tires from wets tires is the more noticeable one. That is that they have grooves in the them. ‘Channels’ are cut into the surface of the tire (much like the ones you will find on your road cars). The remaining rubber that ‘sticks out’ is the tread.
As the tires turn on the car, the grooves channel the water out from underneath the tires, and this is what allows the tread to contact the tarmac. This means that the tire has more contact with the actual road than a slick tire would in the rain. Wet tires can displace up to 65 litres of water per secondwhen cars are traveling at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour.
Naturally, a wet track surface means lower temperatures. Lower track temperatures mean that it is more difficult to build heat into the tires and therefore they will have less grip. Having these ‘tread blocks’ on wet tires allows the tire to flex more and allows it to build up heat much easier and much quicker. If these tread blocks heat up too much, the tend to break apart and crumble into rubber marbles. This is why you often see Formula 1 drivers purposely driving over the wetter parts of a circuit rather than the dry. These tires need to be kept as cool as possible.
With that in mind, if you were to put wet tires on a stock car and send it around a circuit where the average speed is 200 miles per hour (including the banked corners), the tires would overheat extremely quickly and would start to break apart after only a few laps. It would be impossible to keep the tires cool with the banked corners putting so much energy and heat into the wet tires.
In addition, the speed and weight of the cars, including the smaller tires, means that stock cars in NASCAR require huge amounts of grip and traction, which are both reduced in wet conditions. Racing in the rain would mean that teams and drivers would waste huge amounts of money on wet tires and crashed cars.
Why Can NASCAR Race In The Rain On Road Circuits?
In the past we have seen NASCAR racing in wet conditions on road circuits. They will of course then use their wet tires as opposed to the slick tires. The difference, however, is the fact that the average speeds (especially cornering speeds) are much lower on road circuits as opposed to ovals.
The wet tires are more capable of doing what they are designed to do: displace water from underneath the car. At the same time, they are also less prone to overheating and breaking apart without the massive cornering forces being put through them.
Controlling the temperatures of the tires is much more manageable when you are not cornering at 200 miles per hour twice every minute. The issue is not with NASCAR and stock car racing itself, but more to do with the oval racetracks.
Could We See Rainy Oval Racing In The Future?
It could be a possibility that NASCAR would race in the rain in the future. With the rate at which technology is developing at this moment in time, designing a tire that can sustain wet weather racing on an oval is possible.
The problem is the time and costs involved in designing such a tire. It will require a lot of time to develop in the first place and will need to go through the required testing to ensure that it is safe for use. This process will also cost a significant amount of money.
I personally would love to see NASCAR racing in light rain conditions. The racing would be extremely exciting, and the drivers will need heaps of talent to keep their incredible machines under control in the steep high-speed banking corners.
For the time being though, we will need to be patient with forced rain breaks and suspended races before the action resumes. Safety is the most important aspect of motorsport. We all want to have fun and be entertained, but we have to ensure the safety of our talented drivers and passionate fans.
NASCAR is a sport filled to the brim with excitement and entertainment. However, all of that seems to stop when it rains. The main problem with racing in the rain when it comes to NASCAR is that it simply is not safe. The root cause of this safety issue is not the stock cars themselves(as we see them race in the rain on road circuits) but rather it’s the oval circuits that cause the problem.
The high speeds and steep banking corners mean that the cars require a lot of grip and traction, which is hugely reduced in wet weather conditions. Wet tires will not hold up on oval circuits due to the high cornering speeds, and they tend to overheat and break apart.
As much as we would love to see NASCAR races in the rain for our excitement and entertainment, it is unfortunately not possible at this point in time. Perhaps in a few years we will see the introduction of a wet tire that is capable of racing on an oval circuit.