Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren knew exactly where he was when the lights went out.
Warren was in race control on the roof of the track when lights on the backstretch went dark during the first half of Saturday night’s 5-hour Energy 400, the first NASCAR Sprint Cup night race at the 14-year old facility.
His staff immediately discovered a fuse went out in a control panel, and because the lights on the inside of the backstretch and everywhere else on the 1.5-mile tri-oval remained illuminated, racing continued until full lighting outside the track was restored about 45 minutes later.
“It wasn’t like a big power issue,” Warren said after four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon won at Kansas Speedway for a record third time. “ It was more like a fuse that sat between a power supply and a circuit board.
“It was sort of like a computer re-booting, but we don’t know the cause yet.”
While this was the first Sprint Cup night race since lights were installed in 2011, the track has had three ARCA races and Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at night without incident.
“We tested the lights twice this week for hours at a time without problems,” Warren said. “It may have been a freak accident, it may have been an equipment failure, it may have been something else. We just don’t know yet.
“Sometimes these things just happen. That doesn’t make you feel any better about it. Whether the fuse itself was bad or something else … but we’ll find out and do everything possible to eliminate the chances of it ever happening again.”
The outage of the backstretch lights lasted from laps 114 through 152 of the 267-lap race, but the drivers and teams felt safe enough to continue, some saying they’ve raced in darker conditions in their careers.
“The lights on the inside I would say … not having raced … seem to be more important to the drivers,” Warren said, “and the lights on the outside are for the spotters, camera men. … They certainly provide field (of vision) for the drivers and stop shadows. When all you’ve got are lights on one side, and a car passes another, I would guess that was an issue.
“But if it wasn’t safe, we wouldn’t have kept running, period.”
Warren said the light drizzle that delayed the start of the race for 37 minutes did not have anything to do with the fuse issue.
“It was May in Kansas,” said Warren, who is hoping NASCAR moves the race to June and July because of the unpredictable spring weather in the Midwest.
“We didn’t want to start the race and have a situation where we went five laps in, the track got wet, and we’d have to wait an hour-and-a-half.
“We collectively made the right decision because we knew the weather was going to come in, and we were either going to get a little bit of rain, and make the track wet where we were going to have to dry it, or it was going to blow over, which is what happened.
“It was really NASCAR’s decision to delay the start. It wasn’t a fan safety issue. In conjunction with NASCAR, we decided the right thing to do was to delay the start of the race, see what happens with the weather, and as it worked out, we dodged a bullet, and it was perfect.”
Aside from the rain delay and the glitch with the lights, Warren said he couldn’t have been more pleased with the first Sprint Cup night race at the Speedway.
The 80,000-seat grandstands were nearly full, and the racing was competitive, with Gordon beating last fall’s Kansas Speedway winner Kevin Harvick by 0.112 seconds to the checkered flag for his first win of the season and 89th of his storied career.
“Our fans told us, ‘Give us a night race, and if you give us a night race, we’re going to turn out,’ and you saw the proof,” Warren said. “The feedback I got from NASCAR was positive.
“Everybody was disappointed about the failure of the lights, you never want anything like that to happen. It’s not something that’s going to be repeated, but other than that, it was a very, positive night.
“We had a great partner in 5-hour Energy, we had a great grand marshal (Congressional Medal of Honor winner Roger Donlon), Jordy Nelson of the Green Bay Packers driving the pace car, and having a Benedictine monk (Father Meinrad Miller) sing the national anthem, maybe he helped us dodge the weather, I don’t know.
“He did say he was praying for us. I’ll take any help we can get.”
NASCAR will return to Kansas Speedway this fall with a Nationwide Series race on Oct. 4 and Sprint Cup race on Oct. 5, the fourth leg of the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs. Both races are scheduled for the afternoon. The ARCA series race will be run at night Oct. 3.