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Should Every NASCAR Race Track Have Lights?

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Not every NASCAR race track has lights, but, does that always have to remain the case? The lack of lights at a race track can be a problem in many instances particularly when looking at things like rain delays. Every major professional sport has lights at every venue, so should NASCAR begin to make it a requirement for all of their race tracks to have lights?

What are the Benefits of Tracks Having Lights?

If a race track has lights, the most obvious benefit is being able to run races at night. As opposed to being limited by the confines of daylight, the track can run a race at virtually any time throughout the day. That does not mean that every race on a track that has lights needs to be run at night, but, it’s nice to have that option.

This is specifically true in the summertime. As opposed to running a race in the heat of the day where fans and drivers are barely able to find any shade at all, you can just run the race in the cool of night.

It also provides a nice safety valve in the case of a rain delay. NASCAR does not have to calculate backward about when they have to start drying the track before sundown, they can instead add an extra few hours in the night to finish the race if need be.

This came in handy at Gateway when persistent lightning delays allowed the end of the race to be run under the lights. It also happened last season at Nashville, when persistent rain delayed the race twice, and forced it to finish under the lights.

It also helps late in the season or early in the season at tracks when the sun sets earlier in the day. Remember Jeff Gordon’s final win at Martinsville? That race was never rain-delayed, yet it ran all the way until sundown. By 2017, Martinsville Speedway had lights installed.

It also helps out the TV networks as well. With TV networks pushing for later start times in recent years, it is important to have a large window to finish a race on its scheduled date. A track with lights can more easily do that than a track without lights.

Which Tracks Currently Do Not Have Lights, and Why?

The NASCAR Cup Series races at 26 different venues throughout the season and 10 of those venues currently have no lights. These include Circuit of the Americas, Talladega, Dover, Sonoma, Chicago Street Course, New Hampshire, Pocono, Michigan, Indianapolis, and Watkins Glen.

Michigan is the same size as the now-defunct Auto Club Speedway, which had lights. New Hampshire and Dover are between the sizes of tracks like Gateway, Richmond, and Darlington, which all have lights. Talladega, Pocono, and Indianapolis are all around the same size as Daytona, which has lights.

These five tracks have frankly no practical reason to not have lights. There may be more complicated reasons that we will get to, but as far as the ability goes, these tracks can do it. Other race tracks of the same size have lights as well.

Road courses are obviously a bit more complicated to light. However, night races have been run at road courses before in other series. Formula One runs night races in Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and now Las Vegas.

Formula One proved that it can be done. The technology is there for all of these tracks to get lights, so, why do they not?

What Keeps Tracks from Having Lights?

There are two major reasons why race tracks that easily could have lights do not have lights. The first is the cost of installing lights, and the second is local government opposition.

As far as cost goes, installing lights at a race track is not the same thing as installing lights at a baseball or football stadium. NASCAR tracks generally hold a much larger footprint, even the smallest tracks on the schedule. As a result. there is the need for more equipment, labor, and so on to install lights at a NASCAR venue, driving up the price.

Local governments and rules also can limit which tracks can have lights. Every race track has to work with the local government to some extent, and some do not like the idea of lights. Essentially Sports claims that this is the case with Dover and New Hampshire, as New Hampshire has local government rules disallowing the use of lights and Dover has an Air Force base nearby.

In the case of road courses, the issue becomes feasibility. Is it practical to install lights on a twisty road course with a major elevation change? That is hard to do, and the footprint the track sits on is likely far bigger and more complicated than a typical oval track.

Which Tracks Should Add Lights?

There may be reasons why tracks do not have lights, but, it’s just practical to have them in case you need them. On top of that, tracks like Michigan, Pocono, Indianapolis, and Talladega have no lights for no real good reason seemingly. They have no good reason to not have lights, so why do they not?

If any tracks should be on the priority list to install lights, Michigan and Talladega should be at the top of the list because they are NASCAR-owned, and lights can be installed at those tracks. It can practically be done because it has been done at tracks of similar size.

Why should NASCAR not work with lighting companies to look at lighting road courses like Sonoma and Watkins Glen? It may be difficult, but that does not mean it can’t be done. Even if it takes a few years to get everything put together the way it needs to, it could be a wise investment.

Unfortunately, it is just more complicated than just putting lights on any race track. In a perfect world, every NASCAR race track could have lights. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world.

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Joshua Lipowski

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