Rain Delays Are One Of Motorsport's Most Underrated Features

Gif: Elizabeth Blackstock/Jalopnik
Gif: Elizabeth Blackstock/Jalopnik

The rain had delayed the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 for a little under an hour when a cheer erupted from the crowd seeking shelter near the Pagoda Plaza: We were racing. No, not the cars; they were still tucked comfortably in their Gasoline Alley garages as rain continued to pour. No — the fans were racing.

I don’t quite know how it happened, but I think that makes this all the better — this sense that it is inevitable for motorsport fans to make the most of a rainy situation and provide some entertainment of their own. By the time I peered over the railing outside Honda’s pagoda terrace suite, they had already gathered. Someone had removed their green jacket to use as a green flag. Two men — one in a checkered-flag suit and another in a suit patterned with the Speedway’s iconic yard of bricks — served as both organizers and the start/finish line. Further down the fan walkway was a sign informing fans about the areas of the track they could access. That marked a hairpin; racers had to round the sign and run back to the starting point. A winner was declared, and the whole thing would start all over again with another group of eager participants.

It started out slow, then it started to grow. Spectators gathered in such large numbers that the makeshift track’s boundaries grew tight. Several folks took it upon themselves to serve as marshals, waving unsuspecting folks off the track. Soon, instead of three or four foot racers, they were sending as many as 10 children out at once to see who was quickest. The adults who had gathered to watch cheered on the competitors like they were the brave IndyCar drivers about to take on 500 miles of oval action. Camera crews soon turned up to document the action, with the gathered spectators advising them on the best vantage point from which to capture the event.


The Indianapolis 500 is a uniquely welcoming event in and of itself; many of the folks at the track aren’t diehard IndyCar fans, so there’s no competition in trying to prove who likes the sport more, no weird gatekeeping. Everyone is just stoked that you’re also there, taking part in this annual slice of history along with them. For many folks, myself included, the rain delay wasn’t something to lament so much as it was something we’d never experienced at the track before — which therefore made it special. The foot race organizers and competitors saw an opportunity to make that moment even better.

As I cheered on the foot racers, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the last time I’d staked out a rained-out race track. In 2015, practice and qualifying for Formula 1's United States Grand Prix was rained out as the last dregs of a hurricane system swept over the Circuit of the Americas. Fans were advised to skip coming to the track that day, but my group of friends decided we didn’t want to miss such a ridiculous experience. We slipped through mud and braved a battering by icy rain to end up in the main grandstand overlooking the pit lane — the only covered grandstand in the track, and the place in which race organizers wanted us to take shelter.

Very few people showed up that day, but those of us that did got the kind of F1 experience few others do. We could heckle the drivers and teams in the pit lane, since there was no on-track action to drown out our voices. Drivers showed off dance moves or played football. Crew members assembled boats and tried to race them down the pit lane. The folks in the grandstand got to bond over their weirdest motorsport experiences. Then, when qualifying was finally officially canceled after hours of half-hour delays, track organizers rewarded those dedicated spectators by opening the pit lane for us. Countless fans who would have never imagined meeting their favorite driver got to take selfies with Lewis Hamilton, or get autographs from Sebastian Vettel.

I didn’t see a single smidge of on-track running on that October day in 2015, and yet that rained-out qualifying session remains one of my fondest motorsport memories. The fans bonded over the general misery of being soaked to the bone, then transformed the misery into memories that no other USGP-at-COTA attendee could make.

A few years from now, it’ll be the same story for the 2024 Indianapolis 500. Remember the time the Indy 500 was rained out for four hours, and we passed the time cheering on a bunch of kids trying to outdo each other in a foot race? I sure will — and that’s a memory I’ll cherish forever.

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