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Sports Auto Racing

Mother Nature reigns

Joie Chitwood is a weather guy this time of year, constantly checking for updates online.

Will it rain? Will there be lightning? Will bad weather steal the thunder from his nighttime spectacle Saturday night?

"Those are the elements that you have to deal with," Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway, said Tuesday. "You can come up with every plan you want to, but the weather is the wild card. It's very frustrating. As I start looking at weather updates 10 days out, all it does is create more concern, but hopefully we'll get lucky."

Not so much last year, when rain washed out qualifying for the Coke Zero 400 and the race was delayed 85 minutes because of more bad weather. After another rain delay, the race finally ended at 12:48 a.m.

"This is pretty cool," Kevin Harvick said after winning the race.

That's probably not what Chitwood was thinking. As the new point man for the operation in Daytona, he came in to try to help salvage the public relations quagmire that was the 2010 Daytona 500, featuring the infamous pothole that delayed the race for more than two hours.

Punch lines immediately ensued: "The pothole looked like it belonged in Brooklyn," comedian/actor Tracy Morgan said.

Then came the rains in July for the Coke Zero event. Finally, this February, under splendid skies, rookie Trevor Bayne won a memorable Daytona 500 race.

Now it's back to fingers crossed.

The weather gods do not appear to be cooperating. Thunderstorms are in the forecast for Thursday, Friday and Saturday — potentially impacting practice, qualifying runs and the race itself, set to start shortly after 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

"You have to work in the moment with NASCAR," Chitwood said. "It can be very frustrating. When you see a forecast that says '30 percent chance of rain,' you really don't know what that means."

"I would love to get a forecast that says zero percent chance of rain, absolutely, but that's not going to happen in Florida. That's life as an outdoor promoter in Florida."

At this point, some traditionalists are wagging their finger and screaming "it serves you right," for moving the old-school Firecracker 400 from its 10 a.m. starting slot on July 4. That's a much better time in terms of weather, and it allowed fans to bounce back home at an earlier time.

Of course, 8-tracks and black and white TVs were also popular at one point. Everybody has to roll with the changes.

"The reason we put the lights (on the speedway) was to make the experience better for fans," Chitwood said.

"Actually, with a 10 a.m. start on a holiday, it's still hot by noon. At 7, the temperatures are a lot more comfortable. We want to make sure that fans enjoy the event."

gdiaz2@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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