Lightning has long been a safety-related topic across North American professional sports. Since 2012, NASCAR has drastically changed its lightning policy. You be wondering why their policy has changed and whether NASCAR will stop races for lightning.
NASCAR stops for lightning because it is their responsibility to keep fans, drivers, and personnel safe during a storm. In the early 2010s, NASCAR left its lightning policy up to their respective tracks, but a tragedy at the Pocono Raceway in 2012 resulted in a firmer approach.
Below, we will explore further as to why NASCAR stops a race because of lightning. We will also discuss NASCAR’s lightning policy, and whether they continue to delay races in the event of inclement weather, or if they postpone them until a later date.
NASCAR stops for lightning because the safety of the drivers, fans, and personnel are high priority in the sport. Flashes of lightning could decrease visibility for drivers, which could lead to wrecks. NASCAR also ensures that fans and personnel seek shelter if a storm approaches.
When you watch sports taking place outdoors, you probably notice that they will delay or even postpone an event because of heavy thunderstorms in the area. Even football, which will continue to play even during a rain or a snowstorm, will send its players to the locker room when lightning strikes.
However, when you drive your road car, no one is making you pull over during a lightning storm. Sure, you will change your travel plans when a heavy rain or snowstorm hits. However, lightning is rarely a big deal unless it brings a severe storm.
So why does NASCAR pause the race when there is lightning but no rain? Since safety is a high priority in the sport, it is the primary reason races pause during a lightning storm. Flashes of lightning, especially a lot of it, can cause visibility problems for drivers, which can lead to wrecks.
NASCAR must also keep the spectators in mind. When a thunderstorm approaches, their top priority is to ensure the fans are seeking shelter. By pausing or postponing a race, it helps ensure fans do not get seriously injured if lightning happens to strike in the grandstand.
Like all other safety procedures in NASCAR, the organization has a detailed policy and protocol to follow when lightning strikes. In 2019, NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell explained the lightning policy.He revealed that if a lightning strike occurred within an eight-mile radius of the event, NASCAR would immediately stop the race and evacuate everyone, the fans, drivers, and teams, to safe destinations.
O’Donnell also stated that NASCAR does not use anything special to determine how far a storm is. Instead, the policy is rather straightforward. They have designated people at the track to monitor the local weather. Those monitoring and tracking potential storms in the area will then notify NASCAR officials to stop the race.
Many point to the tragedy at Pocono in 2012 as the catalyst for NASCAR adopting its current weather policy. That year, lightning struck and killed one fan while injuring nine others at the event after NASCAR canceled the race because of lightning in the area.
At the time, ESPN reported that NASCAR did not have an umbrella policy regarding severe weather at its events. Instead, they left the policy up to their respective tracks, or clusters of tracks owned by the same umbrella organization.
The issue was, at the time, although the tracks had their own safety plans, NASCAR, not the tracks, decided whether to keep racing or to postpone the event. Since then, NASCAR worked and came up with safety plans that worked in everyone’s best interest.
They may cancel NASCAR races in thunderstorms if the situation poses a threat to safety. If rain is present, the cars could hydroplane, and visibility would be an issue as the cars don’t (usually) have windshield wipers. NASCAR can continue racing 30 minutes following the last lightning strike.
O’Donnell also noted that NASCAR’s lightning policy is not much different from those of the NFL or college football. The difference is that the NFL and NCAA can resume a game in the rain, butNASCAR cannot resume a race. NASCAR cannot continue to race in the rain even if the lightning passes because the cars usually don’t have windshield wipers and there is the possibility of hydroplaning.
Therefore, during a thunderstorm, if lightning is present, NASCAR can, at minimum, continue racing 30 minutes following the last lightning strike. However, if that storm brings rain, NASCAR officials cannot resume the race until they have dried the track.
During a race taking place during the day, NASCAR may cancel a race and postpone it for the following day if the thunderstorms in the area are not stopping. Scattered thunderstorms, in other words. During isolated storms, NASCAR may restart the race, but it always remains situational.
The 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway is an example that highlights NASCAR’s logistics. Lightning halted the race with 33 laps remaining and they eventually called the event, granting Justin Haley his first NASCAR win.
However, it was the rain bumping the race from July 6th to July 7th that weekend that really showed off NASCAR’s weather logistics. While the rain stopped on the night of July 6th, 2019, NASCAR officials determined it would have taken too long to dry the track.
Had they raced after officials cleared the track of water, O’Donnell estimated they would have finished the race between 2 am and 3 am. O’Donnell cited past misfortunes as the reasons for abandoning the race on Saturday, and they collectively agreed to attempt to race on Sunday.
Then lightning occurred on Sunday, July 7th. While NASCAR ideally wanted to run the last 33 laps of the race, it wasn’t feasible to do so in the interest of safety. Since they completed over 50 percent of the race, they could call it and declare Justin Haley as the winner.
A NASCAR lightning wait is 30 minutes long. In the event of lightning in the area, NASCAR must stop the race and wait at least 30 minutes without lightning before resuming. Even if 29 minutes go by and lightning strikes during the 30th minute, NASCAR must wait an additional 30 minutes.
Every sporting organization has their own set of policies for lightning. However, when you look at them closely, most are generally the same. One common denominator is that they all have a designated waiting time before they resume an event, and NASCAR is no different.
For example, consider that you have turned on a NASCAR race, excited that you found the time on a Saturday or a Sunday to tune in. Except the problem was, you only saw the drivers standing around, tarps over the car, and the broadcast talking about a lot of nothing, trying to maximize their airtime.
However, one look at the track shows that the surface isn’t wet, so rain isn’t delaying this race. Then, the broadcast informs you lightning was the culprit, and the race cannot continue until NASCAR clears its lightning wait.They must complete the 30-minute wait without any lightning occurrence to resume racing.
NASCAR will often postpone the event for the following day if the weather shows no signs of letting up. However, this is not always the case. You may recall that, at times, NASCAR resumed a race if they didn’t believe the race would end well into the night.
As the 2020s rolled around, NASCAR has ended up postponing races into the following day more often, as opposed to trying to continue them. Not only is it safer for everyone attending the event, but it is also easier on the drivers since they know when they will return to the race.
This is what occurred during the 2020 Daytona 500. After 20 laps, rain forced NASCAR to forgo the race and resume it on Monday, February 17th, at 4:00 pm. The race took 3 hours and 42 minutes to complete, meaning it lasted roughly until 7:30 pm. Had NASCAR tried to resume the race on Sunday, it would have forced drivers to put in a prolonged day, instead of the much shorter day on Monday.
NASCAR stops races for lightning, and they have developed a strict lightning policy following an incident at Pocono Raceway in 2012. NASCAR’s lightning wait is 30 minutes following the last lightning strike. If there is rain or scattered storms, they are likely to postpone the race to the next day.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.