Sonoma Raceway to honor memory of late PR chief John Cardinale

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Sonoma Raceway will honor its late public relations director, John Cardinale, during this weekend’s 25th Toyota/SaveMart 350 activities.

Cardinale passed away in March after a two-year fight with stage IV gastric cancer. He had worked at the track since 1998 and was promoted to Vice President of Media and Community Relations in 2003, a post he held until his death. He also held the dual role of Vice President of Marketing from 2007 through 2012, as well.

Cardinale will be inducted into the track’s Wall of Fame and the media center will be renamed as the “John Cardinale Media Center” in his honor this Friday. His wife Andrea and daughters Emma and Lauren will accept the honors on his behalf.

Cardinale was one of the most popular and respected PR directors in NASCAR. Among the many honors the Bay Area native received during his career included NASCAR Track PR Representative of the Year in 2009 and posthumously received the National Motorsports Press Association “Spirit Award” last month. He also was an award-winning sportswriter for 10 years before joining the track’s administrative staff.

“John was not only our dear friend and colleague, he was a major contributor to the growth and success of this organization,” Steve Page, president and general manager of Sonoma Raceway, said in a statement. “Although he is not with us physically, his spirit surrounds us and carries forward in everything we do. These two tributes will ensure John has a permanent presence at the raceway and provide us a daily reminder of how fortunate we were to have him in our lives.”

Among the more popular media events and promotions that were Cardinale’s brainchild was to have drivers like NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Rusty Wallace ride along with officers from the California Highway Patrol and “ticket” drivers who were obeying all traffic laws behind the wheel. Only in this case, drivers pulled over received free tickets to the race from Wallace rather than an actual citation.

Cardinale also held a number of media events that included NASCAR drivers piloting their race cars — at the posted speed limit, in case you wondered — across the world famous Golden Gate Bridge.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.