Several months ago, I received a text from my good friend Kevin Waterman who works as a stunt man and driving instructor down in Louisiana. He was sharing his excitement of one of the newest additions to the 2015 IndyCar schedule. The new event would be the Inaugural Grand Prix at his home track just outside New Orleans and aptly named NOLA Motorsports Park.
Fast Forward to April of 2015. I was finally going to an IndyCar race and I was taking my family with me on the adventure. My wife, Jennifer, and my new born daughter, Arwen, were with me as we drove from our sleepy little town in Maine, trekking from the cold, snow ridden winter where we still had over a foot of snow, to what we hoped would be a sunny or at least spring time warm Louisiana experience.
The temperature at NOLA was forecast to be in the mid 80’s and I knew the humidity would be palpable. It’s a love/hate relationship for me as I get used to the warm weather as my blood is still as thick as molasses.
Well, our family journey did experience a change in weather but leaving winter led to spring rain…and rain…and then more rain.
The weather forecast for the weekend did not look ideal. Heavy rain and afternoon thunderstorms, Friday through Sunday. Practice on Friday was mostly sunny, which gave the other cars a chance to acclimate to the track. Just in time for the Indy Cars to get on track to practice, black clouds roll in. The rain held off long enough for them to get only a few laps in on a dry track. Then, like someone pulled a rip cord on a giant water sack, the heavens unleashed their payload in force. Followed up by high winds and lightning. The lightning was the worst part. Forcing the NOLA staff to bring all spectators, course workers, and photographers in from the course. Too much exposure and too much risk for anybody to be out on a flat course as a human lightning rod.
It’s ok, right? Just the first day, and only practice. This won’t be the precursor for the rest of the weekend. Surely not.
Day two. Qualifying.
The day began mostly sunny. See? Much better.
The Prototype Lites and USF2000’s were going on track, followed by the Pro Mazda MX5 Cup cars, and my favorite, GT3 Cup cars. Indy cars were due later in the afternoon. Everything was going well, the crescendo of the engines as they reach redline put a smile on my face. The scent of race fuel and rubber intermingled with the food vendors, which produced a unique aroma only found at race events, also proved to to put me further in my happy place.
Did I just feel a rain drop?
Before I could look at the local radar map, I was sidetracked by a text from my friend Kevin, stating that he will be running the pace car for a few of the races and invited me to a ride along for one of the MX5 Cup heats! Awesome experience, to say the least!
IndyCar qualifying were to be starting up shortly. They were bringing the cars to pit lane. In the distance, all I could see was a wall of clouds. I finally remembered to look at the radar map, and they had better get a move on. Rain is okay, but if there’s lightning, they won’t be able to qualify.
The Indy cars were finally on the track for qualifying and you could see the rain start to come down. This may be good though; it was supposed to rain Sunday for the race and this would give the drivers a chance to experience the track in the wet. A couple more laps and the rain had unleashed again. The rooster tails from the cars were massive and awesome to see on the back straight.
Wait, was that lightning? Great.
Not two seconds later, the announcer was calling for the grandstands to clear and for all spectators to find refuge. Buses were being pulled in for the overflow of people to get out of the elements. Son of a B…..at this rate, tomorrow didn’t look very promising either.
Sunday. Race Day.
It was overcast and rain was forecast for the day. Thunderstorms scattered in the afternoon with heavy rains to follow. Not promising for the Inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana. NOLA and Andretti Marketing had spent a lot of time and money to prep this race track and bring this event to Louisiana. I hoped like hell this weather holds out, because it truly is a beautiful track layout and location.
The rain started light and steady before the races commenced. Up first was the Pro Mazda cars. The crews were out on the track, clearing standing water and were followed by the track dryers. The rain let up for the start of the race at least. It didn’t last long though. As the first round of racing came to an end, the rain picked up in intensity.
Up next were the Prototype Lites. Similar trend as in the first race up until a few laps in cars started flying off course and crashing due to the water on course. They finished most of the race under caution, unfortunately.
Surprisingly, even though the rain continued, people were still steadily coming in. The weather didn’t seem to be much of a deterrent for the race fans.
The USF2000 and the GT3 Cup cars were due next. While in the staging area for the next on-track cars, the call came in that the races for both these classes have been cancelled due to the weather. By now the rain was moderate and driving down. The question on everyone’s mind was weather or not Indy would race that afternoon.
After conferring with Kevin, checking the radar, and with the time line for the weather coming in, the unofficial word was the Indy race most likely would be cancelled. Heavy rains and thunderstorms were due right around the time the Indy cars were supposed to be on track. With a couple inches of rain still to come down in the next few hours and a 4-5 hour commute back up to where my family was staying, I made a call and left the race early. I figured it would work out that if I stayed, the race would be cancelled and if I left, the race would happen. Murphy’s law.
As I drove north on I-49 in what had to have been a flash flood, I received a text message that the race was on. It figures… but overall, I was actually happy that this happened. It would truly suck to have the inaugural race be cancelled. Especially when it was being aired live on NBC Sports. I’m sure that would not bode well for future races.
A bit later, I received another text from Kevin with a short video showing the grandstands packed full as the Indy cars raced along. Awesome!
Here is an IndyCar race recap video of the event:
After talking with him that evening, the weather apparently gave a small window just long enough to run the main event. At times, I was told it was like a very expensive demolition derby due to wet conditions. The cars switching from rain treads to slicks on a wet track was a big gamble. Sometimes the gamble pays off, sometimes not. Either way, I will be back. NOLA was awesome and I can see the potential for many future events there. Kevin was a most gracious host and I can’t thank him enough. IndyCar, you teased me. I’ll be back for more and this time, I’ll stay to the very end.
For official standings, check out the following link IndyCar.com
For more information on Nola Motorsports Park, follow this link nolamotor.com
More photos can be found below: