One of the drawbacks of flat track is that unfortunately if you are involved in the sport the weather will often dictate how successful your event is or even if it is able to happen at all. Every race weekend you are at the mercy of the weather gods, not only on race day, but the weather for a few days before the race can also have a major impact on the track. If it is hot and dry all week before race day, there is a good chance that you will be battling dry and dusty conditions all night long. At the opposite end of the spectrum is days of hard rain before an event or maybe just a torrential downpour on race day. While racers and spectators alike will pray to their favourite weather gods at times like this, many times the dreaded phrase will eventually make its way around the pits: “Today’s race cancelled due to rain.”
For the start of the 2022 season the AFT series had a double-header planned in Florida as part of Bike Week celebrations as well as a test day immediately preceding the first scheduled race. The forecast looked horrible as the week approached and it appears that this was one of the few times the weatherman actually got it right. Practice night was almost a complete write-off as with as many as eight sessions scheduled for each class, riders only managed to get on the track twice before a downpour ruined the evening. The following night saw the first official race of the season postponed with the hopes of getting it in a couple of nights later. Ultimately after an offseason where teams and riders spend months preparing for the first weekend of the year, they were only able to get one race in over a span of four days before deciding the best option would be to move forward towards the next round in Texas.
We have been involved in our share of rainouts over the years and it seems like sometimes those nights are easier to remember than nights where we raced. Many years ago in Welland, despite the rain being almost completely stopped, the races were called as the track just couldn’t take any more water. Making the best of a bad situation we made our way into the Bauer’s trailer as they were pitted right beside us. Over the next couple of hours, we did our share of bench racing as well as downing a few beverages out of the cooler (including an uninvited guest who seemed to help himself to a pop every fifteen minutes or so). As darkness began to fall, talk turned to the TT race taking place in Medina New York the following day. Before you could mutter mud puddle, plans were made for the Bauers to take my son the next day to take part in his first ever TT race, something that very likely wouldn’t have happened if we had raced that night.
A few years back Flat Track Canada had a national scheduled at Western Fair in London but the weather did not look promising at all. I was announcing the event with my buddy Frank Wood and due to construction happening in the main grandstand we were set up in a building way over in turn one. As Flat Track Canada staff were busy trying to get the saturated track in shape, Frank and I sat up in our perch in turn one babbling endlessly on our mics. We did stop briefly when Frank’s daughter brought us some supper, but after eating quickly, we were right back on the mic. I think by the time the race was cancelled, Frank and I had traded stories for well over three hours and at that point, it almost felt like just a couple of buddies shooting the breeze in the garage with nobody else listening.
Certain tracks can handle more water than others and despite sometimes thinking the night might be a write-off, the track has come around to be almost perfect. The surface and angle of the track will often dictate whether you are racing that night or not after a good soaking. If the track is a clay surface and virtually flat, it seems very unlikely you will be able to use it after a heavy rain. If it is a deep cushion track with a bit of banking your odds of getting a race in are vastly improved. I can remember being in Leamington a few years back when it was raining so hard that there was a mini lake forming on the inside edge of the track. Within two hours of the rain stopping bikes were on the track and true to form the track was absolutely mint that night.
Back in 2015 we got rained out on a Saturday night in Welland on the same night the AMA race was scheduled in Lima Ohio. Word quickly spread that they planned on running the Lima race the following day and before I knew it my wife had made us hotel reservations and we were on our way to Ohio. We had a room reserved in Bowling Green and as we got closer to our destination it was shocking to see how much standing water was in the area. It looked like it had rained for two weeks straight as farm fields were now lakes and on a side road beside the highway (I think there was a road there) the water was so high on a stop sign pole that it was only about two feet below the red octagon. When we got to our hotel the parking lot was flooded higher than the floorboards on most of the cars and as an added bonus the rain was making its way past our air conditioner into our room. That might have been the least of our problems in our room I guess as there was a half-eaten sandwich on my side of the bed and probably the only thing that stopped the bugs from getting us was the river of water that was running across our floor. I have never put on so many clothes to go to bed in my life as I did that night. The next morning as we headed to the track, we once again observed flooded land and we started to think that perhaps we had made a mistake in making the drive to Ohio. This fear was put to rest when we arrived at the track to not only see the track groomers out there manicuring the surface but the water truck giving the track a bit of a sprinkle as well. The weather gods apparently wanted to see a race that day as despite flooded areas everywhere, the track took the precipitation like a champ and was as racey as ever when the green flag waved.
Until we are racing in bubbles, races cancelled due to weather will continue to be a problem once in awhile. Just keep watching that forecast, crossing your fingers and you just never know when a good story may come along on a non race night.
- From Todd Vallee