Here's something to think about: if the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in all its glory should blow a fuse, the race would still go on. If the Cup cars at Daytona or Rockingham should be racing while the power is off, no big problem.
Same with road racing. If the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course was to suffer a power outage, the drivers on track wouldn't even know it. In fact, the crews really wouldn't be affected. The motor homes are all self-contained and no outside power is used.
The press, of course, would have a fit, but nobody cares about that. And sure the PA system would be affected, and the electronic timing and scoring would have to be quickly replaced by the old version -- where people with eyes and pens record the lap order the way they used to in racing's Dark Ages. But really, nothing would change much in most of motorsport when the lights go out accidentally.
But at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California, the power went off in the middle of a race. First time in bunch of years that had happened. But it wasn't Winston Cup, and it wasn't IMSA, and its wasn't SCCA. In fact, it wasn't a road race at all. During the second round of eliminations on Sunday for the Autolite Nationals NHRA drag races, the track lost all its power.
In the press box we felt this change immediately. We lost the TV feed from ESPN and didn't know what was going on; we lost the timing and scoring, so we didn't have a record of the next drivers and their accomplishments or failures at Sears Point. We didn't have any public address system so we couldn't hear. Worse still, we didn't have any air conditioning (and for the majority in the room, this was the cause of most of the concern).
But as we began to sweat and smell up the place an odd thing happened: nothing.
The two cars in staging shut of their engines. The NHRA Safety Safari guys sat down and looked relaxed for once. Dave McClelland was quiet. And it began to occur to us in the press center that, hey, without power you can't run a drag race.
The Christmas Tree runs on electricity. You have to have it. Back in the days when Burt Reynolds had hair, yeah, you could have a guy with a flag send the two competitors down the 1,320 with a waving flag, but not in 1996, not when the cars we getting close to going 320 MPH and about to dip under 4.5 seconds in the standing quarter mile.
Worse than starting, of course, is finishing. The entire run from start to finish is recorded. Sixty-foot times, three-hundred thirty foot times, reaction times, top speed and of course the final ET are now very precisely calculated -- and all with electronic devices. Note the word electronic. Its root is electricity. Of which there was none.
So nothing happened. Nothing.
The fans, sitting in sun, on surfaces that racers had calculated to be approaching 140 degrees, were getting a little restless. As we just discussed, in a power outage, you can't get on the PA system and say, "Hey, we're having an outage, that's why there isn't any Winston Vision screen and that's why there aren't any cars around." You can't say that. You can't say anything.
So you sit, and you sweat, and you wait.
When the power goes back on and everything is back to normal, Dave McClelland's booming voice echoing up and down, Winston Vision back on line, and the sound of the cars roaring at staging, you sit for a moment and realize that it isn't just the supermarkets and banks that go out of commission. Drag racing, with its inefficient pushrod engines and mechanical magneto-driven ignition is completely helpless. Just something to think about next time you're in a heat wave watching John Force fan himself with his hat.