25 years later, patience has paid off for NASCAR in Sonoma


These days, the annual visit by the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to Sonoma Raceway is eagerly anticipated as one of the bigger events on the Northern California sports scene. But it hasn’t always been smooth for the stock car crowd in wine country. One could argue that the race’s ability to survive has been a testament to patience and persistence.

A Friday story in the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press-Democrat, penned by Bob Padecky, details the trials and tribulations that the former Sears Point Raceway has gone through since NASCAR came calling: Environmental protests, a sum of $1.5 million used to protect red-legged tree frogs on the property (a species that promptly lost its endangered status after the money was spent), and hard-won upgrades that came with hundreds of conditions the track had to follow.

But even through all of that, the event has endured and is now one of two road-course races on the Cup calendar alongside the race at Watkins Glen in New York state. Its winner’s list features plenty of star power, including California native Jeff Gordon (who has five wins at Sonoma) and past legends such as Rusty Wallace and the late Dale Earnhardt, who earned his lone road course victory there in 1995.

And even though the road-course IQ has improved tremendously inside the NASCAR paddock over the years, the event has always had an irresistible sense of incongruity: The oval-driven series with Southern roots barreling around a technical road course surrounded by lush vineyards. It’s an appealing change of pace and there’s always a chance for a surprise, especially with the various road-racing “ringers” that annually emerge to challenge the Cup regulars.

It may not be every NASCAR fan’s cup of tea, and while the setting is still lovely, you kind of wish there was a bit more green grass and a bit less brown (a byproduct of summer conditions there). But racing at Sonoma is always an intriguing event to watch, and it’s become a stalwart on the NASCAR landscape.

“I think it’s one of those tracks that you just can’t imagine it not being on the schedule,” two-time Sonoma winner Tony Stewart said in a recent statement. “And I think pretty much all the drivers and teams think of it that way.”

NHRA Gatornationals: John Force has another spectacular motor explosion

Photo courtesy NHRA
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Legendary NHRA Funny Car driver John Force endured yet another spectacular motor explosion – his third in the NHRA’s first three national event races – during Friday’s qualifying at the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

It’s the kind of consistency the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ could do without.

The 68-year-old Force came to Gainesville hoping to break the jinx that saw him endure explosions in both the season-opening Winternationals and the second race of the season in Phoenix.

Both motor explosions sent Force to the hospital for examination before he returned to the race track.

Friday, even though the motor in his Chevrolet Camaro blew up again (in the second round of qualifying), at least this time, Force didn’t wind up in the hospital.

He did have his right hand bandaged from a cut suffered in the explosion, but did not have to go to the hospital this time.

He even joked about not having to add yet another ambulance bill to the nearest Gainesville hospital.

But the explosion still proved costly.

“That was another body and that hurts the financial (bottomline),” Force said. “I was out $500,000 to $600,000, and now we are probably out $800,000, going on a million. In drag racing, you have to be tough.”

He ended the day qualifying 14th, not a very comfortable position with two more rounds of qualifying set for Saturday.

Force continues to be mystified why the motors keep exploding.

“I really thought we had it, I thought we were there,” Force said. “In the first round we drove it 500 feet and shut it off. It looked great. We ran it again that run and I was only going to drive it 800 feet even if we didn’t make The Show.”

Force will attempt to improve his qualifying spot during Saturday’s final two rounds to make Sunday’s eliminations.

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