Blame it on the rain " sort of |

Blame it on the rain " sort of

By Roger Diez

Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

If you didn’t watch the NASCAR Nationwide Series race from Montreal last Saturday, you missed history in the making.

As you have no doubt heard, NASCAR ran their first race on rain tires in the 60 year history of the sport. True, it was the second-tier series, not the Sprint Cup, but it was nevertheless a precedent-shattering event.

I found it mildly entertaining, but there was extreme reaction from certain fan and media segments. The most vociferous seemed to be those that are not enamored with road racing to begin with. The internet forums and blogs, and the radio and TV call-in sports shows are inundated with people who apparently think that God intended races to be run only on dry oval tracks. Well, as one whose racing roots are deep in road racing, I say “Get over it.” NASCAR has finally acknowledged that Mother Nature can be accommodated.

Of course, it could have done a better job of accommodation. When the rains came, the caution flag flew and teams were informed that they would have a mandatory three-minute pit stop to change to rain tires and install windshield wipers. That three minutes stretched to more than 30 as track drying trucks circulated, vainly attempting to dry a track for a race that had been declared wet. When the cars finally took to the track, there were interminable laps under caution until the cars were finally turned loose on a partially wet/partially dry track.

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Had they restarted the race sooner, they might have been able to finish it before the monsoon hit and visibility dropped to near-zero. I have some sympathy for the drivers, but not much, because I have raced in heavy rain in open-cockpit cars. At least they had roofs over their heads.

But when rain-experienced drivers like ex-Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve started crashing into people because visibility was so bad, it was time to call it a day. It was interesting to note that Villeneuve made a wry comment about how visibility would have been better if he had a windshield wiper. NASCAR left it up to the teams whether to run a wiper or rely on Rain-X . . . reminds me of their stand on the HANS device a few years ago.

If they are going to run in the rain, they need to set some rules and make the teams follow them. That concept doesn’t seem to bother them on other topics. Fortunately, there were some entertaining moments, like Carl Edwards squeegeeing his windshield from the driver’s seat. That alone was worth the price of admission.

One of the other curious side notes from last weekend was that the rain tires used in the race were date-stamped 2001. In light of the recent hysteria about rubber deterioration and warnings not to use tires that are more than six years old, one has to wonder at NASCAR and Goodyear’s decision to use this particular batch of tires. Of course, tire failure turned out to be the least of their worries. It will be interesting to see the age of the tires they will use today at Watkins Glen in the event of rain. I understand that NASCAR has determined that the Nationwide cars will use rain tires in case of wet conditions this weekend, but that the Cup cars will not. Strange.

Fans of Indycar racing will be happy to hear that the Indy 500 will be on ABC for at least the next four years, through 2012. In addition, four more Indycar races will be broadcast on ABC/ESPN those years, with the remainder on VERSUS. What, may you ask, is VERSUS?

It is a cable network formerly known as OLN (Outdoor Life network), currently serving 73 million households in the U.S. It is carried locally on Charter Digital, DirecTV, and DISH Network. So if you’re still on the rabbit ears, you’re out of luck.

The good news is that all IRL races on VERSUS are guaranteed a three-hour window with no races “joined in progress.” In addition, VERSUS will air a one-hour pre-race show and additional Indycar and Indy Lights programming. The deal goes through 2018, provided VERSUS and the IRL are around that long.