Many motorsports race in both dry weather and in the rain. It adds a new element of excitement to the event and it forces drivers to concentrate even more on just keeping the car (or bike) on the track. But does NASCAR race in the rain?
NASCAR will only race in the rain on road circuits, and usually only if it’s light rain. NASCAR does not race in the rain on oval tracks, as this is deemed too dangerous due to the high speeds the cars reach, especially in the banked corners. NASCAR races are often delayed if it rains.
NASCAR cars are extremely heavy vehicles. Couple that with very high speeds on severely banked corners and you have an extremely delicate situation with 40 cars on the limits of grip. Below, I discuss why NASCAR doesn’t race in the rain in more detail.
An Overview Of 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 often can’t see a thing. When we see Formula 1 and other single-seater series racing in the rain, we often hear the drivers complaining about the visibility, or lack thereof.
In addition to that, the slippery conditions can make the cars extremely difficult to control. We regularly see drivers spinning and losing control of their cars when the track is wet. Even slightly damp conditions can be tricky. The conditions could be too dry for wet tires (as they’ll overheat), but too damp for a slick tire.
Lots Of Skill Required
But this is also where we really 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. Many fans 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. Drivers become more 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 on to the 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 massively. We saw Lando Norris leading the Russian Grand Prix in 2022, only to stay out too long on his slick tires and drop down the order as he struggled to control his McLaren.
Treacherous Conditions & Aquaplaning
Things become even more complex at tracks 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 without losing too much heat in their tires that the dry section becomes difficult too.
Aquaplaning is something just about every racing driver is very well aware of. It’s a scary moment when a layer of water builds up between the surface of the road and your tires. This leads to an instant loss of traction and you’re essentially floating above the track surface, so no inputs will register (steering, braking or acceleration). It’s like driving on ice.
Rain can also come with a larger storm. Of course, NASCAR races are cancelled if there is lightning, but the risk of a stray lightning bolt hitting close to the circuit still remains. Another risk of heavy rain and storms is that medical helicopters are unable to fly. We’ve seen this happen in the past in F1, and without the assurance the helicopter can fly, the race is often postponed.
Why NASCAR Can’t Race On A Wet Oval
If rain makes the racing more exciting, requires more skill from the driver, and NASCAR is all about providing entertainment value to the fans, why don’t they race in the rain on oval tracks?
Well, imagine being on a 2-mile oval circuit with 40 other cars. There will be no clear air – 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.
Heavy Cars & High Speeds
In addition to that, NASCAR 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 slick tires can quickly lose all of their grip, which would result in either a huge spin or a big crash. NASCAR uses slick tires, which provide no grip on a wet track and are designed only for dry conditions.
How NASCAR Dries Track Surfaces
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 (2.0), which were implemented in 2014 (with the first version revealed in 2013).
The Air Titan 2.0 drying systems are essentially massive hair dryers that blow out hot air at 570 mph. The Air Titan drying system can dry a football field-sized area in 20 seconds. It normally takes less than 3 hours for a number of Air Titans to dry a completely wet racetrack, although smaller tracks may take half an hour. At larger circuits, NASCAR can sometimes use up to 20 of these units.
These will only be used if the rain has stopped of course. If there is a storm or a much larger rain shower that 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, drivers are able to pit for a set of wet tires when it starts to rain. These differ from slick tires in a number of ways that help to give the drivers better control in wet conditions.
The biggest difference between wet and slick tires is that wet tires have grooves in the them. Channels are cut into the surface of the tire in between blocks of tread, much like the ones you would find on your road car. These channels help guide water under the tire while the tread blocks remain in contact with the track surface to provide grip. Without these channels, slick tires would just aquaplane.
Key Fact: The wet tires used in Formula 1 can disperse up to 85 liters of water every second when a driver is traveling at 186 mph!
The Temperature Aspect
Naturally, a wet track surface is also at a lower temperature. Lower track temperatures mean that it is more difficult to build heat into the tires and therefore they will have less grip. Having tread blocks on wet tires allows the tire to flex more and allows it to build up heat much easier than a slick tire can.
However, if these tread blocks heat up too much, they can wear extremely fast, only lasting a lap or two on a track that’s too dry. This is why you often see drivers purposely driving over the wetter parts of a circuit rather than the dry in order to keep their tire temperatures within an ideal operating window.
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 in 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.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR doesn’t race in the rain on oval tracks
• The sport employs heavy-duty track drying equipment to try and minimize rain delays
• Other sports use wet tires to race in the rain, but NASCAR couldn’t use these on ovals
Why Can NASCAR Race In The Rain On Road Circuits?
In the past we have seen NASCAR racing in wet conditions on road tracks. They will of course then use their wet tires as opposed to the slick tires. They can do this because the average speeds on road courses (especially those in the corners) 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 multiple times every minute!
Could We See Wet Oval Racing In The Future?
It’s not that unlikely that we could see a tire created that’s capable of handling the forces of an oval race in wet conditions, but at the moment the safety aspects are too important for NASCAR to allow wet oval racing to happen. It would also require a lot of time and money to develop and test a suitable tire, and motorsports across the world are always trying to cut costs.
I personally would love to see NASCAR race in wet conditions more often. The racing would be extremely exciting, and the drivers would need heaps of talent to keep their 3,000+ pound cars under control in the steep high-speed banking corners. However, I’m well aware of the safety implications, and understand why it’s sadly not possible at the moment.
For the time being, we will need to be patient with rain breaks and suspended races when it’s too wet. 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 if we want to be able to enjoy it well into the future as well.
The main thing that prevents NASCAR from racing in the rain is the fact that it simply is not safe. The root cause of this safety issue is not the cars themselves (as we see them race in the rain on road circuits), but rather it’s the way oval tracks are designed and the demands they put on the cars.
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