What Happens If It Rains At The Indy 500?

The finish of the rain-shortened 2007 Indy 500 - Photo: Robert Laberge
The finish of the rain-shortened 2007 Indy 500 - Photo: Robert Laberge

The weather forecasts are looking bleak for this year’s Indianapolis 500. There’s a high chance that thunderstorms will pass over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday. While the IndyCar Series races in wet conditions on road and street circuits, Firestone hasn’t developed a tire to safely race on an oval at speeds over 200 miles per hour. It wouldn’t be the first time rain has pushed The Greatest Spectacle in Racing back to a later date or ended the race prematurely.

The threat of Mother Nature has loomed over the iconic race since its earliest editions. The fifth Indianapolis 500 in 1915 was initially scheduled for Saturday but was postponed until Monday because of rain, and the Speedway didn’t want to race on a Sunday, May 29. It should be noted that Memorial Day was always on May 30 until it was fixed to the last Monday of May in 1970.

Under modern circumstances, when or if the rain stops, the Speedway dries the racing surface with jet engines towed by pickup trucks. The engines blast the pavement with hot air. Depending on the environmental conditions, the process can take between 90 minutes and three hours. Temperature, cloud cover, and humidity all impact drying time, and time is of the essence. IMS doesn’t have floodlights to race at night like Daytona International Speedway and other modern speedways. Racing must stop once the sun sets.


The 1997 Indianapolis 500 was the most recent edition to be postponed past Sunday. The race began on Monday but was stopped after 15 laps. For the race to be deemed official, at least half of the 500-mile distance (101 laps around the 2.5-mile track)needs to be completed. It was halted until Tuesday, when the rest of the race was run, with Arie Luyendyk controversially winning in a single-lap sprint.

The 2007 Indianapolis 500 was the last time that the race was stopped before the 500-mile mark. Dario Franchitti took the first of his three Indy 500 victories after a lengthy Sunday at the Speedway. A red flag on Lap 113 turned into a three-hour rain delay. After the race resumed, rain began falling again on Lap 166. Officials declared the race over then and there with 415 miles in the books with the Andretti Green team and Franchitti’s then-wife Ashley Judd celebrating in the rain.

Rain or shine, the Indianapolis 500 will be a memorable experience for every fan traveling to the track on Sunday. I can’t say the same for the viewers at home stuck watching the broadcasters desperately attempting to fill dead air.

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