By Doug Halberstadt
The Daytona 500, NASCAR’s opening and premier race of the season, is supposed to be the sport’s chance to shine. This is the one race of the year where the hard-core racing fan may find himself sitting next to someone who may be watching his or her first race ever.
Unfortunately for NASCAR, the race took a back seat to the track. A pothole on the track in between turns one and two stole the show. The hole caused the race to be stopped twice. The first time the race was stopped for an hour and 40 minutes while crews attempted to repair the track. After clearance from NASCAR officials, the track was deemed safe to resume racing. That only lasted for about 38 laps or so, and then the caution flag appeared again because of the same hole. This time, the action was stopped for another 40 minutes or more.
What an embarrassment for the track and the sport. Here you are hosting the biggest event of the season, and your track isn’t even race ready. They’ve only had several months to prepare for “The Great American Race.” Officials should have inspected the track and taken care of any potential problems prior to hosting nearly 200,000 fans in the stands and millions more watching on television around the world.
The weather was the scapegoat. Rain and cold temperatures were offered up as the show-stopping villains. FOX television commentators Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip tap-danced around the issue during the delays. In my opinion, Joy erroneously stated, “No one could have anticipated this.”
WRONG. Track officials should have been prepared for, and aware of, the possibility of any type of asphalt problems. The track surface has multiple seams and cracks and, therefore, is automatically susceptible to water damage. I hardly expect this comes as news to anyone assigned with the responsibility of taking care of the most important racing surface in the sport.
I’m aware that the track has been used extensively over the past week. The ARCA race, the Nationwide Series race and the truck race all used the track for multiple practice sessions, time trials and, of course, their races. Ironically, they didn’t have any problems with the track. It wasn’t until the main event that fans had to sit through two lengthy and embarrassing interruptions.
In what could have been a great opportunity to draw in new fans to the sport of auto racing, NASCAR dropped the ball. It’s pretty unrealistic to expect anyone other than the most devoted NASCAR fans to sit through the entire five-and-a-half-plus hours that it took to get from the green flag to the checkered flag.
I’d say those who tuned in for the first time probably lost patience and found something else to occupy their time. There had to be something more interesting than watching a pothole patch dry, twice.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Feb. 17-23, 2010 issue