In a race car, I’ve been in some pretty hairy situations. I shattered my ankle in a collision at Road Atlanta once during testing – an extraordinary, high-impact wreck that I could see coming for maybe one or two seconds. Another wreck happened in Atlanta, and I tumbled through the air, which was quite unpleasant.
But when I raced in the rain, I was the most terrified I’ve ever been.
Rain has played a significant part in the season thus far, delaying and stopping races as well as postponing them, as was the case in Texas last weekend. So it’s no surprise that many fans have asked, “Why don’t you just put rain tires on the cars and race?”
After all, F1 drivers race in the rain, and we all drive in the rain daily.
The 2008 and 2009 Napa Auto Parts 200 Nationwide races were held at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada. It’s a road course, an F1 track, and it poured both times, and NASCAR had never run a race in the wet before.
One disadvantage of racing in a foreign country is that it is difficult to postpone a race. Passports and visas are required for your trip. You’re only allowed to stay for a set number of days, and you must respect that. When competing in an international event, the race must occur rain or shine. As a result, Goodyear developed a unique rain tire.
The fact is, NASCAR drivers do not drive in the rain. Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, and a few other NASCAR drivers competed in the 2008 race. However, many of the others were experts. People who aren’t regularly on your circuit tend to show up at road courses, especially international road course races. And because those people come from a road or even a sports car racing background, rain driving is second nature to them.
I don’t think any of us took NASCAR seriously when they announced they would race in the rain before the race. We had no intention of doing so. “We’re committed to it, so let’s make the most of it,” it was like once it started.
One of the few advantages of driving in the rain is keeping your brakes cool. Apart from that, we had no idea what to expect, particularly grip. Building experiences and getting a feel for the car in a corner is a big part of driving a race car. The world’s best drivers are those who can do it the quickest, who can gain a feel for their car the fastest. As I previously stated, none of the NASCAR drivers had ever raced in the rain, and the grip changes continuously in the shower. On a road course, you’ll spend a lot of time off the track – and in the mud. You bring a lot of the dirt back onto the way when it turns to mud. This raises its own set of problems.
The 2008 Napa Auto Parts 200 lasted 48 laps out of 74.
It didn’t take me long to figure out how a NASCAR race in the rain differs from a Formula One race. The greater the number of cars on the track, the greater the amount of wheel-spray. There were 43 stock cars on the way in Montreal, far more than in F1, and each car picked up and shot around the back half of the car as it raced through the rain. Consider a large cloud of spray erupting from the top of the racetrack. That was how it felt. It merely obliterated your visibility. There was no sign of a brake light.
Imagine driving at 180 mph down straightaways with only 20 feet of visibility in front of you. You’re completely deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly de But here’s the thing: if you don’t drive at full throttle, you’ll be run over by someone who does.
“Just don’t wreck,” became my plan in the end.
Cars were smashing under yellow because they couldn’t see each other, even at 35 mph, when the race was ultimately red-flagged. I came in 12th place. A JR Motorsports teammate, Ron Fellows won the race, a driver on a road course.
When the race began a year later, it was raining in Montreal, but it was much lighter. It was enjoyable when it was lightly sprinkling. Running a race in half-dry, half-wet circumstances, on the other hand, is perhaps the most difficult situation you can find yourself in on a race track. When you race with a rain tire on a partially dry track, the tire soon overheats due to the amount of rubber on the tire. They’ll practically melt off the car and explode, and you’ll have an extremely bad wreck.
We were all on rain tires in the final laps of the 2009 Napa Auto Parts 200. It was fairly dry on the track, and the automobiles’ tires melted. In the end, I came in fifth place.