With storm clouds still hovering over Indiana, race officials today postponed the 70th running of the Indianapolis 500 until Saturday at 11 a.m. EDT. The ABC network renewed its plans to broadcast the race live for the first time.
Track officials waited until early evening before making their decision. "The forecast was the main consideration," said Indianapolis Motor Speedway spokesman Donald Foltz. "We've got a 50 percent chance of rain Tuesday, 40 percent chance of rain Wednesday, and who knows what for Thursday. This is by far the longest postponement in the history of the Indy 500. We're not real happy about it, but there wasn't much we could do."
The race was postponed for two days in 1915 and 1973. When track officials tried to start the race after a one-day delay in 1973, there was an accident on the first lap in which driver Salt Walther was badly burned. When the race finally was run, Swede Savage crashed and suffered injuries that resulted in his death a month later.
Some of the drivers who qualified for the Indy 500 were supposed to race this weekend in Milwaukee, but that race now has been postponed until June 8.
Although road races often are run in foul weather, this track is an oval and the speeds are consistently around 200 mph. To run in even a light mist would make the Indy 500 more perilous than it already is.
"The whole thing is pretty frustrating," said driver Pancho Carter. "We're all ready, the cars are ready, you just wish the man upstairs were ready."
In fact, the biggest competition at the speedway today was the quarter-pitching contest outside Carter's garage.
As Carter's car -- and the other 32 cars -- sat parked and covered in Gasoline Alley, a group of fans of the "greatest spectacle in racing" were reduced to watching Carter and his crew gamble for small change.
"I don't mind pitching quarters," said Carter, "but this is getting pretty boring."
ABC, which found itself broadcasting five hours 43 minutes of just about nothing Sunday, would have shown the race live today had it not been for the continued bad weather.
"After a lot of boredom and worry, we're just glad that the track people have decided to run the race on a day when we can show it live," said ABC spokesman Irv Brodsky. "It would have been a bummer to run a race in front of no crowds with the whole place still a mess."
ABC officials said they have not figured out what this colossal rainout has cost them, but the damages could be severe. With a caravan of trucks, 31 cameras and a crew of 250, the network loses big money with every rainy day. But the greater loss would have been a cancellation of the live broadcast. Sponsors might not pay the same commercial rates for a tape.
Host Jim McKay appeared a few times today on the air, but only as a weatherman. Unlike Sunday, when the storm gave way a few times to teasing clearings, today was a fairly constant dose of bad news.
Before one of McKay's quick spots, the producer in the ABC command truck, Chuck Howard, gave his crew these instructions: "Get ready for another exercise in futility."
Even if the weather had cleared, running a race that customarily attracts about 400,000 fans would have been nearly impossible. The infield is largely a muddy mess.
"Parking would have been terrible," said Foltz. "We use the golf course in the infield for a lot of the parking, and that's been reduced to mud. Not only that, we have to get together huge amounts of people and supplies to get this race off the ground again. It's a big job."
Even though there has been no competition on the track, nearly 400,000 people showed up Sunday. Most stayed all day. Their legacy is not pretty. There are thousands of beer cans all over the track grounds, and the parking lots are muddy and full of ruts.
Few people bothered to show up today, and those who did seemed aimless, not quite believing their Mecca was mere muck. Outside the speedway, there were countless people standing in the rain, holding signs reading "Need Some Tickets?" Business was less than brisk.
Many visitors from out of town have already left. Judy Pickett, front office manager for the Executive Inn hotel, said, "Look out the window. Would you stay if you didn't have to?"