When rain leads to fire: Weather plays big role in Daytona 500

News 6 Sport Director Jamie Seh shares a wild inclement weather memory that brought more than delays

FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2012 file photo, emergency workers put out a fire on a jet dryer during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Juan Pablo Montoya's car struck the dryer during a caution flag after something on his car broke. Matt Kenseth won the race. (AP Photo/Bill Friel, File) (Bill Friel, AP 2012)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Daytona 500 draws over 100,000 fans to Daytona International Speedway every year. The weather is a big factor for the success of this race. Not only will it impact the amount of fans that attend, but as one may already know, it impacts the drivers and their crews too.

While inclement weather won’t be an issue this year with plenty of sunshine and mild temperatures in the forecast this Sunday, it’s really been a problem in the past.

Erik Jones walks down pit road after rain caused a delay in the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

News 6 Sports Director Jamie Seh has been at the Daytona 500 year after year, through the good, the bad and the ugly. One race that really stood out in her memory was her first on-site coverage of the Daytona 500 in 2012, when the weather brought a series of problems.

“The race was supposed to run per tradition on Sunday — nope! It rained heavily that Sunday and washed it out to Monday,” Seh said.

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The rain didn’t let up the following day until the early evening, delaying the race until then.

“Finally it cleared up and the race got underway at around 7p.m., the track was finally dry and the anticipation, frustration, anxiousness of drivers was high!” Seh said. “Fans did stick around and they saw something no one could have anticipated.”

Light rain was still falling, posing an issue for the drivers.

"Certainly we'd like to think that when we do run the Daytona 500 and the trophy is handed to the winner and there is a Daytona 500 champion for 2012," said Helton, "that that sustains and then launches us into the 2012 season with all the right effort and promotions." (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

On oval tracks like the one in Daytona, the cars run on slicks. These particular tires don’t have tread. As the tires heat up on the track, some of the rubber sticks to the pavement which gives the driver a little more grip. It also helps with the longevity of the tire.

When the tire is rubber-to-rubber, it doesn’t wear the tire down as quickly, allowing for the tire to last a bit longer. When it rains though, all the rubber tends to get washed off the track; not only do the tires wear down faster, but the wet surface can cause the driver to lose control and spin out, possibly causing a big crash when flying down the 2.5-mile-long track at speeds approaching 200 mph.

Carl Edwards pit crew gets his tires ready to go for the Daytona 500. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Road tracks are a bit different. This type of track allows for races to continue in rain because the crews are able to run tires suitable for rain and can turn on wipers.

There are safety measures and weather plans in place at Daytona International Speedway that are there to keep the race as safe as possible for the drivers and the fans. Trucks equipped with Air Titans will blast the track with air, pushing the water toward the infield where the drains are, and are capable of drying the track in about 90 minutes.

Back to Seh’s story — The Air Titans were on the track during a late caution to help dry the track a little more. During that caution, cars were still on the track, and that’s when Seh says no one anticipated what was about to happen.

“Driver Juan Pablo Montoya was looking to gain a little ground during the caution and was cruising along at a faster pace. He crashed his race car into the back of a jet dryer truck at turn three!” Seh said.

This crash was just the beginning. There was a huge explosion.

“The track even caught on fire! You could see flames ignited by oil or fuel form a narrow band on the track. That was a wild occurrence that would not have happened without wet weather!” Seh said.

Thankfully, everyone involved in that collision was okay. Even Seh had her own “weather-related” mishap that day.

“That was the Daytona 500 when I tripped, fell, split my lip open, went to the infield care center and got a tetanus shot,” Seh said.

Don’t worry, our sports director handled that like the champ she is. You can catch Seh and Ryan Welch’s coverage — as well as highlights of the Daytona 500 — during this weekend’s evening newscast on News 6!

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About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.