One dismal image said it all today: A couple of pit grunts holding umbrellas over a race car.
It was a particularly dismal image for the ABC television network, which had planned to broadcast the Indianapolis 500 live for the first time but instead ended up broadcasting the longest extended meteorological program this side of the Weather Channel.
It rained on and off, buckets and drizzles, from early morning until late afternoon, and the network was doomed to show hours and hours of colorful umbrellas, mud puddles and slack-faced race car drivers. Track officials finally postponed the race at 4:33 p.m. EDT.
The race has been rescheduled for Monday at noon, EDT, but the weather forecasts are not promising, offering an 80 percent chance for more rain. Officials for ABC say that they will carry the race live (WJLA-TV-7 starting at 11 a.m.) if the race goes off Monday, but they are not yet sure what they will do if the race is run Tuesday or later.
Chief steward Tom Binford said race officials waited as long as possible in hopes of running the race. The cars twice were rolled out from the garages to the pits, but ultimately ran out of time to dry the track and still get in the full 500 miles.
It is the first time since 1973 that the race has been postponed because of rain and the first postponement of a complete race because of weather since 1915. In 1973, when the start was aborted by a crash just before the rain, the race wasn't run until the third day, and then it was shortened by rain to 332 1/2 miles.
"We wanted to go 500 miles. . . . We can't compromise the integrity of the race," Binford said. "We simply ran out of time today. We need to face that. The plan is to try again tomorrow. I hope the weather forecasters are as inaccurate tomorrow as they were today."
Sunday's forecast had called for no more than a 15 percent chance of rain before midafternoon.
Danny Sullivan, last year's winner, woke early this morning, looked out the window, saw the steady storm and napped while the Speedway filled with thousands of fans, many of them wrapped in plastic garbage bags to ward off the wet.
The rain let up at midday and Sullivan and his fellow drivers arrived at the Speedway prepared for a race, but, Sullivan said, "I was barely into my suit before I had to get back out of it again."
The rain, said four-time winner A.J. Foyt, "won't help us any unless they open the track for practice, and I doubt they'll do that."
The drivers and their crews have been here for a month testing their cars. The anticipation for the race is like that for a championship fight, full of tension and endless waiting around. By race day the drivers are as eager as meat-starved whippets. But most of the drivers said a delay shouldn't make much difference in the end.
Al Unser Sr. said, "It doesn't bother me at all, but I'm sure a lot of people are affected mentally by the delay. I'm happy we didn't get the race started and have to call it at the halfway point. As far as our game plan goes, nothing's changed."
Michael Andretti, who is starting in the front row with Sullivan and the favorite, Rick Mears, said the delay, no matter how long it lasts, shouldn't throw anyone off course.
"It's not hard to get psyched up for a race like this."
After the rain abated late this morning, several trucks and cars wheeled around the track to dry the pavement as quickly as possible. One truck even carted a huge jet engine around the oval to burn off the moisture. It seemed to work, and even ABC commentator Jim McKay was sounding chirpy after so many hours of improvisation.
But just as the track seemed dry, the rain started again. "With this event in particular, it almost doesn't seem acceptable," said Mario Andretti.
"You try to keep your emotions even on a day like today," said Sullivan. "What else can you do?"
The crowd of nearly 400,000 that began arriving here late last night waited out the weather until the track announcer called it quits.
Boredom was such that a half-hour wait for a hot dog at the concession stand was considered a fine way to pass the time. People cheered the pit crews. They cheered the random driver walking past the stands. They cheered just about everything that moved and didn't carry a beer can.
It was this bad: there is a "snap-on" tool store in back of the grandstand and there was a line out the door.
"Might as well buy a wrench while I'm here," said one man in a John Deere cap.
The track's infield is a huge place, containing garages, the Speedway museum and a nine-hole golf course. People found ways to occupy themselves, by and by. Folks experimented by grilling hamburgers over damp coals. A mud-slide race was organized, though quickly aborted. Not a few people drank to excess.
All in all a fine day at the Brickyard.
"I'm disappointed most of all for the fans," said driver Phil Krueger. "I don't get psyched up for a race because it's a mental game, not a physical one."
The drivers almost all were relieved that the track officials did not call for a late start, a strategy that almost surely would have caused a race truncated by rain or darkness. The rules demand a race go 101 laps -- or 252 1/2 miles -- before it is official.
"Anything less than 500 miles isn't fair to the drivers or the fans," said driver George Snider. "We shouldn't start unless we know for sure that we can complete the race."
The last rain delay, the three-day stoppage in 1973, was nothing compared to the disasters that took place here that year. Art Pollard died in a practice session and Swede Savage was fatally injured in a crash during the race. Gordon Johncock finally won the race after 133 laps.
Michael Andretti, who was only 10 years old at the time, remembers that endless weekend well.
"Those were bad times," he said. "They couldn't wait to get it over with because there were so many tragedies involved. You pray to God that those things won't happen."