June 25, 2024

One of Motorsport’s Most Underrated Features: Rain Delays

The precipitation had postponed the 108th edition of the Indianapolis 500 for nearly an hour when a burst of excitement emanated from the spectators seeking refuge near the Pagoda Plaza: We were competing. Not with the race cars, though; they remained snugly tucked away in their Gasoline Alley garages as the rain persisted. No — it was the fans who were engaging in a race.

The sequence of events that led to this impromptu spectacle remains a mystery to me, but perhaps that adds to the charm — the idea that it is inherent for motorsport enthusiasts to seize the moment and create their own amusement in the face of inclement weather. By the time I glanced over the railing outside Honda’s pagoda terrace suite, the participants had already assembled. A spectator had repurposed their green jacket as a makeshift flag. Two individuals — one clad in a checkered-flag outfit and the other in attire adorned with the Speedway’s iconic yard of bricks — assumed the roles of organizers and marked the start/finish line. Down the fan walkway, a sign delineated the track sections accessible to fans. This demarcated a hairpin turn; the racers had to round the sign and sprint back to the starting point. A victor was declared, and the cycle would recommence with a new set of eager contenders.

The activity commenced at a leisurely pace, only to gain momentum. The audience congregated in such numbers that the confines of the impromptu track became constrained. Several individuals took it upon themselves to act as marshals, guiding unsuspecting individuals away from the track. Before long, instead of just a few participants, as many as 10 children were sent out simultaneously to determine the swiftest among them. The onlookers, who had gathered to observe, cheered on the contestants as if they were the courageous IndyCar drivers preparing to tackle 500 miles of oval racing. Camera crews soon arrived to capture the proceedings, with the assembled spectators offering guidance on the optimal vantage points to document the event.

The Indianapolis 500 is renowned for its inclusive atmosphere; many of those present at the venue are not staunch IndyCar aficionados, eliminating any sense of competition to demonstrate one’s affinity for the sport, without any peculiar gatekeeping. Everyone is simply elated that you are joining them in partaking in this yearly tradition alongside them. For numerous individuals, myself included, the rain delay was not cause for lamentation but rather a unique occurrence at the track — one that rendered it momentous. The organizers and participants of the foot race recognized an opportunity to enhance that moment even further.

As I vociferously cheered on the foot racers, I couldn’t help but recollect the last instance I had braved a rain-soaked race track. In 2015, practice and qualifying for the United States Grand Prix Formula 1 event were canceled due to inclement weather as the remnants of a hurricane system swept over the Circuit of the Americas. Spectators were advised against attending the track that day, yet my circle of friends opted not to miss out on such a peculiar experience. We trudged through mud and endured a barrage of icy rain to reach the primary grandstand overlooking the pit lane — the sole covered grandstand at the circuit, where race organizers had urged us to seek shelter.

Few individuals showed up that day, but those of us who did encountered the kind of F1 encounter few others could claim. With no on-track activities to drown out our voices, we could heckle the drivers and teams in the pit lane. Drivers exhibited dance moves or engaged in football matches. Crew members assembled makeshift boats and attempted to race them down the pit lane. The grandstand attendees bonded over their most unconventional motorsport encounters. Subsequently, when the qualifying session was officially called off after several hours of intermittent delays, track officials rewarded those dedicated spectators by granting them access to the pit lane. Numerous fans who never fathomed meeting their favorite driver had the opportunity to snap selfies with Lewis Hamilton or secure autographs from Sebastian Vettel.

I did not witness a solitary lap being completed on the track that October day in 2015, yet that rain-affected qualifying session remains one of my most cherished motorsport memories. The fans united over the shared discomfort of being thoroughly soaked, ultimately transforming that discomfort into memories that no other USGP-at-COTA attendee could replicate.

In a few years, the same sentiment will apply to the 2024 Indianapolis 500. Recall the instance when the Indy 500 was postponed for four hours due to rain, and we filled the time by rooting for a group of youngsters vying to outdo each other in a foot race? I most certainly will — and that is a recollection I will cherish indefinitely.


1. What prompted the impromptu foot race at the Indianapolis 500?

The rain delay led to spectators creating their own entertainment by organizing a foot race among themselves.

2. How did the fans at the Indianapolis 500 make the most of the rain delay?

They turned the unexpected downtime into a memorable experience by engaging in activities like the foot race and cheering on the participants.

3. What made the rain delay at the Indianapolis 500 special for the author and other attendees?

It offered a unique opportunity to bond with fellow fans and create lasting memories amidst the unforeseen circumstances.

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