DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. _ In the midst of an exciting and highly compelling Daytona 500, the red flag was thrown and the race halted not once, but twice for a hole that developed on the racing surface between Turns 1 and 2. Sitting in the bottom groove, cars continually hit the reported 9x15x2 inch hole causing concern for NASCAR and prompting immediate work to repair the track.
First noticing the issue after John Andretti cut a tire and hit the wall on Lap 118, the drivers brought the cars to pit road and waited for the work to be completed, along with the fans at home and those in the grandstands.
As the repairs were approached the hour mark, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France explained the situation to everyone involved.
“Combination of moisture and the cold temperatures. The normal solutions you would normally use to patch the track are not working,” France said. “But we’re actually turning the corner. We’re on our third different solution. Normally we would have had it resolved a lot quicker. That is the problem.
“The good news is we will get it solved. In the midst of probably our best Daytona 500 in a long time. Obviously, we all want to get it started.”
When the red flag period passed the hour and fifteen minute mark, some fans began packing their things and heading for their cars. Frustrated with the track and with NASCAR, many fans opted to make the trip home early instead of waiting around for a possible, but uncertain fix.
“We’re not going to sit up there for those guys who don’t know what the hell they’re doing with that track,” a fan leaving with his family said. “They’re trying to put cold patch in a cold track and it won’t work. They said it’s going to be at least another hour.”
These fans had come from Toronto to see this weekend’s events and explained there was no point in sticking around if they were just going to call the race.
“We’ve got to drive all the way back to Orlando and get on the plane tomorrow. What’s the point of sticking around for a few more hours if they’re just going to call it?”
“The wait is ridiculous,” a clearly upset fan from California said. “I think a good suggestion is to take a flyer and have each driver sign it that says ‘I understand the situation and insurance coverage if I hit the pothole and crash my car and get severely injured it’s on me. It’s not on the insurance companies, not on the track owner, not on NASCAR. Let me race.’
“Have each racer sign a waiver and understand these are the circumstances and if I decide to race it’s in my control.” His buddy added, “They could have started an hour and half ago if they just put two cones out there and said go around.”
The California-native jumped at his friend’s suggestion saying, “Or a big metal plate they put on the regular streets. You could cut a larger section out (of the track) and put the plate down in there. Those plates are not going to come up by getting hit by one of those cars.”
Travelling from the other side of the country, this fan had no qualms about expressing his disgust with the situation, but also said this was not going to keep him from watching NASCAR or possibly returning to the speedway in the future.
“We pay a lot of money to go see a race and they’re all broke down here,” yet another fan said. “This is the second year here, got rained out last year. I would actually love to stay and watch the race, but it’s getting dark. I don’t want to sit in the cold. I’m not prepared for it.”
With unusually cold 30 degree temperatures in the Daytona Beach area, the first attempt at fixing the hole lasted for just about 15-20 laps. As cars raced over the bumps and bottomed out on the track, the repairs were chipped away and the hole actually grew larger.
Leading the race at the time, Kevin Harvick radioed his crew saying, “Everything that was in the hole is out of it.”
Understanding the risks and potential dangers NASCAR was once again forced to throw the red flag to fix the hole.
This time NASCAR sent officials to scour the garage area for Bondo – the material used to patch race cars. After nearly 45 minutes of work, the drivers were called back to their cars and the racing resumed.
In all, there were two hours and 25 minutes of red flag periods and three hours and three hours and 47 minutes of actual racing – a total of six hours and twelve minutes.
Following the race, track president Robin Braig did his best to defend his track and the 32-year-old racing surface.
“We have many dips throughout this surface,” Braig said. “So it couldn’t have been in a worse spot. We’re not sure whether we had pavement failure or perhaps a car dug into it and lifted the pavement out. We have to study that, evaluate that.”
After describing in detail the process of going through three different attempts to fix the problem in the first red flag and the final decision to use Bondo to seal the hole, Braig admitted the track should have been better prepared and accepted full responsibility.
“We take full responsibility,” said Braig. “We got to get better at doing our patchwork. If we have to do it again, we have to figure out the compounds. We really got to understand the temperature and the heat of the pavement. We just couldn’t get it to bond.”
Addressing the issue of those fans that left the race early, Braig indicated the track’s guest services department would be reaching out to fans individually through various methods to listen to their concerns. Admittedly, though, Braig said he could not blame some people for heading home early.
“Oh, I absolutely don’t blame them,” he said. “I would suggest to you, as most of us were watching the crowd, when that sun dipped down, we lost about 20 degrees of temperature, that didn’t help us not very much either.”
While the lengthy delay was needed to make the repairs, it was a definite black-eye for the Daytona International Speedway. Fans in the grandstands were upset with the uncertainty of the situation, those at home had to deal with lengthy red flag periods of no race and the drivers were forced to race, take a break, regroup, race, take a break and then race again.
In the end, the fans that did stick around saw one of the greatest finishes in recent Daytona 500 memory, but for those that left, no finish could top the inconvenience of the hole that sank their Daytona 500 experience.
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