“After the rain stopped and we started racing again, it’s like everybody lost their head,” said veteran driver Jeff Gordon in an interview on Fox television after finishing fourth in Sunday’s rain-delayed Daytona 500.
Sunday’s 56th running of “The Great American Race” was a tale of two races.
The first was quiet and unassuming. It was made up of single-file, almost polite racing, with very little passing. It was not what fans had expected to see. Thankfully it lasted a mere 38 laps and with the exception of Martin Truex Jr.’s engine blowing up, it was almost forgettable.
Then the rains came, soaking the Daytona International Speedway. At times it was heavy. Other times it was light and showery. But it kept raining for nearly four hours. When it finally stopped, crews took to drying the 2.5-mile track for another two hours.
Drivers, crewmembers and fans found shelter wherever they could for the duration. At one point there was a tornado warning, and the grandstands were evacuated.
It was like a scene from a Hollywood movie.
Meanwhile, most drivers took refuge in the exclusive motorhome lot, tucked away, warm and dry in their half-million-dollar custom coaches to wait for the rain to stop. Most took to watching television, checking the weather radar and texting with their crew chief as to the latest news. Jimmie Johnson tweeted about watching the Disney movie “Jungle Book” with his youngest daughter Evie.
Both drivers and media members took to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to express their frustration about having to wait around for Mother Nature to finish with her unwanted interruption, taking time to chat with fans in an effort to make the time go by quicker.
It took most of the afternoon for the rain to stop.
Apparently, you can’t put a NASCAR driver in his or her car to race for 45 minutes, then take them out and ask them to sit around for more than six hours with creating a strange and different kind of animal.
The lengthy delay changed everything and everybody. Maybe it was because the drivers knew that the track would cool down. That would give their race car all the grip needed to make the kind of quick moves that might be necessary. The cool weather also meant that the engines, choked by the restrictor plate, could take advantage of the cooler air and make generating just a little more horsepower than before a bit easier to do.
When the race resumed following a record-setting six-hour, 22-minute rain delay, it bore little resemblance to what had occurred before the rains came. What was once a quiet, unassuming and orderly event became a wicked wild child filled with torn-up sheet metal and dashed hopes.
“When cars are grippy, people are crazy -- they like to go,” said team owner and driver Michael Waltrip when he was interviewed after being involved in one of the many late race wrecks. “The cars are real grippy under the night sky and the cool temperatures, so there’s a lot of lanes and people are trying to use everyone [of] them. It’s a great race for the fans and it was really fun to be out there and to be a part of it.”
Once the racing started again, it was also fast. Very fast. As the laps wound down, Fox television announcer Chris Meyers announced that rookie Austin Dillon had been clocked at over 204 miles per hour in his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
That is fast.
“We seem to do really well when we have delays here in Daytona,” said Brad Keselowski, who finished third. “Maybe we should just run 50 percent of the race and pause for four hours. The racing Gods are trying to tell us something. We need a four-hour intermission in the 500. That will be our next format change. Whatever works. I am glad that it worked.”
Maybe Keselowski has something there. The racing was better after the rain.
The problem is, what to do while you’re waiting for the rain to stop.
Follow me on Twitter: @BobMargolis
* Driver quotes are from post-race transcripts supplied by their respective manufacturer.