Can you imagine if the Super Bowl was the first game of each NFL season? Well, NASCAR fans can relate, because that's precisely how they feel about the Daytona 500 race -- it's like their Super Bowl. Race teams typically put a great deal of effort into preparing for the Daytona 500, for some, its one of the most important races of the season -- and with good reason. The Daytona 500 draws the biggest crowd, attracts big-time sponsors and also pays the most of any race on the schedule. But unlike other major professional sports, the biggest "game" of the year for NASCAR begins the season instead of ending it.
Realistically, the NFL couldn't play the Super Bowl at the beginning of the year for obvious reasons and the other major sports play more than one culminating game. But that hasn't stopped NASCAR. The Daytona 500 captures the same vibe and is considered the most prestigious race on the NASCAR schedule. Fans wait in anticipation through the short off-season for racing to begin once again, and NASCAR starts the season with a bang. The Daytona 500 sets the tone for the rest of the season.
For a typical event, NASCAR employees and race teams arrive at the race track on a Thursday and don't leave until late in the evening on Saturday or Sunday, after the race ends. Because of some of the distances between venues, the race car hauler drivers have very little downtime during the week. The schedule does have a few breaks throughout the year, but not many -- just three, to be exact.
Each year NASCAR officials factor in several considerations when deciding the schedule. NASCAR currently has little or no inclination to add races to the already long schedule; however, it does evaluate race dates to determine whether a race should be moved to another time of the year or in some cases, dropped from the schedule altogether.
Sometimes a race is lost due to attendance. If NASCAR deems a surrounding community cannot support a race, it can (and will) take away the race date. In 2003, Darlington, S.C. hosted its last Labor Day race. Since then, the Labor Day race, formerly known as the Southern 500, has taken place on the 2-mile superspeedway in Fontana, Calif. The Darlington, S.C. race suffered poor attendance for years and NASCAR finally made the decision that it could make more money racing at the California Speedway that weekend.
NASCAR officials can't please everyone when they sit down and make up the race schedule each year. The logistics involved are enough to give anyone a headache. So what about contingency plans? Why is it that race officials watch the approaching weather with their fingers crossed for luck? After all, a 10-month schedule is brutal enough without needing to make up a race. But as you may have guessed, weather always has the potential to play a major role in race day plans. Read on to learn what NASCAR does if rain or a tragedy cancels a race.