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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Daytona 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Daytona 500

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Daytona 500

Joie Chitwood III
Mike Helton
February 27, 2012


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

THE MODERATOR:  Good morning.  Thank you for everyone being in here.  We have an update on the Daytona 500, and at this time I'll turn it over to NASCAR president Mike Helton.  He's joined up here also by president of Daytona International Speedway, Joie Chitwood.
MIKE HELTON:  As you know, yesterday during the afternoon we chose to postpone or were forced to postpone the start due to weather, and we scheduled a noon restart today based on the information we had yesterday in the hope and belief that there was good opportunity to be on the track by noon today in an effort to run the Daytona 500.
Through the evening and as we collaborated this morning with all the stakeholders, Joie from the racetrack, weather experts and other industry folks, including the broadcast partners and other representatives, based on the weather forecast that everybody has convinced us of from here through mid‑afternoon, 60, 70, 80 percent chances of rain, we're going to wait in announcing right now that the effort to run the Daytona is now shifting from noon until 7:00 p.m. this afternoon.  So we hope to have "lady and gentlemen, start your engines," at 7:02 and then warm up and go to green flag.  We believe this is a reasonable expectation, and we also believe in a modern world with the technology that we have to interpret weather, forecast it and try to stay on top of it within a reasonable amount of time, that having everyone sit around and wait for several hours today up until the point where we're confident or have more confidence that we can run the race was more prudent to do it this way.  So that's what we're announcing right now.
Joie?
JOIE CHITWOOD:  Yeah, one of the things that was very important by announcing it at this time, we were able to communicate with our fans.  The last thing we wanted to do was have our fans wait through another long day of rain delays and jet dryer activity, so we felt like this gives them some clarity so they can come up with their plans, and hopefully that means stay at home, stay at their hotel, rest, whatever it is they need to do and they can come out and enjoy the event this evening.  One additional update with this:  John Cena was going to stay and participate in pre‑race ceremonies as both the command and the green flag ceremony.  His schedule will not allow him to continue so he will depart.  We'll announce at a later time if we have any additional VIPs that might participate in those additional ceremonies.

Q.  Joie, what time does the race have to stop in order to make the 7:00 start time.
JOIE CHITWOOD:  Obviously it's going to depend on the other weather conditions, the temperature, the breeze.  We believe it's about a two‑hour process to dry the track but it could take longer it depends if there's pockets to get the track dry.  A lot of other circumstances, but based on the weather, based on NASCAR, we think 7:00 is realistic.  We also have some buffer if we had to delay a little longer than that.
MIKE HELTON:  And I'll add to that, while we're suspending the start from noon to 7:00 p.m., we're not suspending our operations.  If weather permits, because it is a long process to dry, we'll be drying the track all day long.  We'll be working on preparing the track for a 7:00 start whenever it's feasible and possible because it is a long process.  So you can see jet dryers out there at noon or 1:00, and that's just us being ready and being prepared and working on the track being absolutely ready as quickly as possible and shooting for that 7:00.

Q.  Mike, what was the discussion with the broadcast partner, obviously this goes into their prime time programming.  What was the discussion with FOX on that?
MIKE HELTON:  Well, they certainly yesterday and today are on board on staying with us and were eager to get going as much as we were, and I'm sure they have some conversations that have to be held with their prime time entertainment group, but they have committed to covering the race whenever we got started, whether it was 12:00 today or 7:00.  It's in prime time, first Daytona 500 in prime time.  It's not a great situation but not necessarily the worst situation for you guys.
MIKE HELTON:  Well, certainly you like to try to make some lemonade out of lemons, and ideally the race would have started yesterday as scheduled, and it would have been sunny, and we would have been celebrating a Daytona 500 champion today, but under the circumstances we're just trying to make the best decisions collectively, including FOX.

Q.  Can you talk about coming in on the backside, some of the points you went over before coming to this decision, and are you reasonably certain that the race will go at 7:00?  If not, what's plan B?  Is it Tuesday?  Is it a day in April?
MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, the biggest thing I want to ask is the collaboration of a lot of different groups, from weather experts to FOX to Joie and the group at Daytona International Speedway to our own group, competition guys and operation guys and everybody collaboratively working nonstop since we knew we were going to have an issue yesterday to make the absolute best decision we could, understanding that any decision we make is not going to be universally accepted by everybody because when it rains, it just complicates things to an extreme that you can't correct.
But we do want to make the best decision possible, and we did that with a lot of people's input, a lot of effort and a lot of thought process going into the community, public service groups that have to support the event, the ticket buyers who invested in their money and time to be here to see the Daytona 500 as part of Speedweeks, and the fans who were at home expecting to sit and watch the Daytona 500.
So we've had a mesh of all of those stakeholders in the decision making process, but also a mesh of all the stakeholders in making the decision to come to the one we did today.  And in today's world, with the ability to communicate, we felt like that instead of sitting here and waiting all day long with the information that we had that presented not a very favorable forecast between now and later this afternoon, I couldn't sit here and guarantee you we'll start at 7:00, but our confidence of starting at 7:00 this afternoon is a whole lot better than it is at noon, which is why we made the plan.

Q.  Is there a Plan B if it doesn't go?
MIKE HELTON:  Tuesday is an option.  We're focused on today and this afternoon right now, but just so everyone knows, Tuesday is an option before we'd have to reconsider packing up and leaving.  But tomorrow is an option.

Q.  I'm assuming this is a situation where you guys look at it and say we want enough of a window to get the entire race in, that it's not a situation where we want to get it started and get it halfway.  And also, with a 7:00 start, is there a drop dead date or time as far as if it's raining then but we can get on the track at 7:30, we're not going to call it at 7:00?  If we can't start exactly at 7:00 we're not going to give up at that point?
MIKE HELTON:  You're right, it is a function of the entirety of the event, essentially not started yet.  Our effort is to run the entire 500 miles, and that's the decision that we'd make initially that includes the entire 500‑mile distance.
And the flexibility throughout yesterday still exists today.  We're targeting 7:00 because we feel like it's realistic.  If it takes a little bit longer to get ready to go, I think everybody is willing to do that to accomplish the conclusion of the Daytona 500 within a reasonable amount of time.  So 7:00 is not a drop dead critical moment.  It's just the time that we felt like it gave us our best shot right now.  But we could go a little bit later if it's necessary.

Q.  Given all the time about primetime and what that would mean for the Daytona 500, all the exposure and extra attention on this race, do you make this decision any different than any other race because it's the Daytona 500 as far as stops and starts or trying to get it on prime time TV or anything?
MIKE HELTON:  Well, there's no question that the Daytona 500 is our premier event, and it starts our season, so that has a lot of challenges if it doesn't go just right.  But at the end of the day it's a function of NASCAR along with the racetrack.  Joie certainly has a whole lot more attention and emphasis on the Daytona 500 and Daytona International Speedway, and we have respect for that and consider that highly as we would at any other track or event that we might be in this situation with.  But from NASCAR's perspective we try to make the decision that's good for the entire industry, but certainly we would have liked for the Daytona 500 to run on schedule yesterday with a bright, sunny day.  But it didn't quite happen that way.  So now we're just trying to get it done as correctly as we can.

Q.  What were the challenges that you faced in staffing for an extra day or talking with agencies to get extra security in here?
JOIE CHITWOOD:  We actually run the gamut.  We employ a lot of school busses to transport vans from Lot 7 and Lot 10 on the property.  There's a number of corporate folks that are working today as it relates to guest service options so we have an all hands on deck call, so you do what you need to do.  You adapt, you overcome.  I think our team realized that was the challenge today.  I think more than anything, though, what we didn't want to have happen is have our fans sit here through another long day and not really be able to understand what was going to happen.  So by getting out in front of it, getting the next plan, I think information is the key.  Now they can adapt and change their schedules.  For us it was a challenge but we were ready last night with a plan for today, and I think moving the start time now back to 7:00 fits our plan just fine.

Q.  Mike, can you kind of quantify what the impact of a postponed Daytona 500 will be kind of on the industry with the difference in ratings most likely?
MIKE HELTON:  You can't really do that until it's concluded.  You know, obviously the best‑case scenario, especially with the momentum we've had through Speedweeks, a lot of great races going back to the Rolex 24 throughout the entire Speedweeks up through tomorrow we've had a lot of excitement, a lot of promise, and we really are excited about the Daytona 500 running.  But that's not to be.  So I don't know that you can place any kind of quantitation on what that means just yet until it's all said and done.  But 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 that that sustains and then launches us into the 2012 season with all the right effort and promotions.

Q.  Is there some sort of an ordinance that you had to work out with the town of Daytona with traffic or anything like that?
JOIE CHITWOOD:  No, we have a great relationship with the city of Daytona Beach and they understand that we're a unique property and they allow us to do certain things.  So at this point we feel like this plan works for the community and the racetrack.  But no different than setting the time at noon today, same thing, we have to consider the ramifications of the community, the traffic, businesses, things like that.  So I think this postponement to 7:00 continues to fit in with working well for both.

Q.  As far as the cars in the garage, what can teams do to the cars and what can't they do?
MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, they'll not do anything.  The garages have already been secured.  The garage area will stay open for the balance of the day, but the stalls that hold the cars have been secured, and they will be treated just as if they would have been first thing this morning later this afternoon.  So basically they can fire them up, warm them up, get them up to temperature, and then we'll roll them out and go at it.  And John Darby will make the call on any unique changes that they might be able to make under the circumstances.
But the current state is that they're under the same regulations that they were last night when we put them in the garages.



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