It’s almost certain that no one was happy about the fact that the 62nd running of the Daytona 500 only saw a few laps completed before rain brought everything to a halt on Sunday and ultimately pushed the remainder of the race into Monday afternoon. Rain outs at race tracks never work in anyone’s favor. A significant number of fans will have to go home only having seen 20 laps contested in the ‘Great American Race’. Crew members will now have an already tight turnaround for the next race set for Las Vegas Motor Speedway(first practice on Friday) in less than a week squeezed that much tighter. And with reduced crowds on Monday, business likely won’t be as good at concession stands and souvenir trailers either.
So that begs the question- Why not start the race earlier when it’s obvious that weather could disrupt the proceedings later in the day?
There are so many reason why the answers to that question played out the way they did.
Getting to the most obvious talking point first. The President of the United States was planning to attend and serve as the race’s Grand Marshall. The leader of the free world can’t just change his schedule at the drop of a hat. And no business that has any business sense whatsoever is going to tell a President who is popular with the majority of its fan base to stay away.
Readers may have as political of an opinion here as they want, but President Trump didn’t cause the rain to occur and the extra few minutes taken to make way for his arrival made virtually no difference.
The real reason for the late start that led to the fact that rain wound up getting in the way is almost certainly due to the television networks that cover the sport. Fox and NBC, since their arrival, have had much say in regard to matters such as start times. Whether the POTUS was coming to this race or not would have made little difference.
The traditional start time for this race from “back in the day” was closer to 1:00pm eastern. But NASCAR’s TV partners don’t want to start that early if they can avoid it because that would put them on at 10:00am on the west coast. Granted, there are NFL games and other sports that have 1:00pm start times but there is far less flexibility in the schedule of a league that can have 12-14 games playing on the same day.
It’s easy for those who have no investment in the sport to sit back and say something to the effect of “If I was running NASCAR I would start the races whenever I want to and the TV people would just have to adjust”. But the fact of the matter is NASCAR’s TV partners are pouring millions of dollars into a sport that has seen many of its tracks have to cover or remove seating because of drop-offs in attendance.
Just like the point about not turning away a prominent figure who you know is popular with a majority of your customer base, is any business not going to listen to an entity that is providing a large portion of their revenue?
If it were solely up to me, I would much prefer earlier start times for NASCAR races. But it’s not up to me. And furthermore, if someone said they would pump millions of dollars into my business, but in exchange, I had to give up control of the times in which my business opened and closed, I would make that deal every day of the week.
So when it gets down to it, NASCAR made the decision it had to make in regard to the start time of the Daytona 500 and it’s the same decision anyone with any business sense would make provided they can put their political opinions aside for a minute.
NASCAR did what NASCAR had to do.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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