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

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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.”

Tornado near IMS also interrupts Indy Lights road course Cooper Tire test

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 17:  A general view of the Pagoda during practice for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 17, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was meant to be having a full day of Cooper Tire testing for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Zach Veach was the one undertaking the testing in a Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda.

Veach had a busy morning, noting he’d run two full race distances.

And then an afternoon interruption came in the way of a tornado near Speedway, Ind.

Testing was paused this afternoon and those on site at IMS went for cover.

A tornado struck near Kokomo Speedway this afternoon, where a celebration of life for Bryan Clauson was taking place, and leveled a Starbucks.

Here’s a number of tweets and social posts from near IMS for this tornado:

Wow…not sure it that touched down but it was darn close. #tornado #Indianapolis

A photo posted by Michael Young (@trackdude500) on

BREAKING NEWS: Tornado strikes just few miles from Bryan Clauson tribute

clauson tribute kokomo
(Photo courtesy of USACNation Twitter page)
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A celebration of the life of late Sprint car driver Bryan Clauson has been interrupted — but not impacted — by a tornado that has caused considerable damage just a few miles away in Kokomo, Indiana.

The celebration of Clauson’s life brought out a packed house at Kokomo Speedway, one of Clauson’s favorite racetracks. He lived in nearby Noblesville. The celebration began shortly after 1 p.m. ET.

Kokomo Speedway, which apparently did not suffer any damage from the tornado, is located about four miles northwest of the mall.

The tornado struck near the Markland Mall, located on the east side of Kokomo at the intersection of 17th and Reed streets, causing significant damage, including the flattening of a Starbucks coffee shop that abuts the mall.

A large presence of first responders is on-scene at the mall, and there are other reports of significant property damage in other areas, particularly the east side of Kokomo.

The city of Kokomo, the 13th largest city in Indiana with a population of approximately 60,000, is about 50 miles due north of Indianapolis.

Here are some of the first reports on Twitter, including several from many of Clauson’s fellow drivers and other motorsports officials:

 

 

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Veteran NHRA crew chief Jim Oberhofer forms foundation to honor late wife

Jim Oberhofer, right, and his late wife, Tammy.
(Photo courtesy Kalitta Motorsports)
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Even though she died of cancer in 2013, a new effort will assure that the memory and spirit of Tammy Oberhofer lives on.

Tammy was the wife of Jim Oberhofer, vice president of Kalitta Motorsports and crew chief for Doug Kalitta’s Top Fuel team. Having worked in drag racing for over 20 years, Tammy was well-known within the sport and a friend to many.

Tammy and Jim’s relationship was a true love story. Her passing left a huge hole in Jim’s heart. He partly filled that void by writing and publishing a touching and very personal book about his wife last year called “Top Fuel For Life: Life Lessons From a Crew Chief.”

Now, Jim Oberhofer has gone one step further to make sure Tammy’s impact upon the sport isn’t soon forgotten. On Tuesday, Oberhofer – known in the sport by the nickname of “Jim O” — announced the formation of the “Tammy O Foundation” to raise money for charitable causes in and around the world of drag racing.

Donations as well as proceeds from “Top Fuel For Life,” which is available at the Team Kalitta website, at NHRA national events, the Patrón merchandise hauler and on Amazon.com, will provide funds for a number of Tammy Oberhofer’s favorite charities, including BRAKES, Pandas International, Racers for Christ, DRAW and Infinite Hero Foundation.

Tammy O Foundation

“I wanted to do this the right way,” Jim Oberhofer said in a statement. “This allows me to be able to donate to things that I know Tammy would have wanted me to donate to.

“Ashley O (the couple’s daughter) and I have made a list and we are going to continue to support as many people as we can.”

The panda logo for the Tammy O Foundation – pandas were one of Tammy Oberhofer’s favorite things – was designed by renowned motorsports artist Kenny Youngblood.

All four Kalitta Motorsports cars – the Top Fuel dragsters of Doug Kalitta and J.R. Todd, as well as the Funny Cars of Del Worsham and Alexis DeJoria – will carry stickers of the Foundation starting at next week’s U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis.

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Red Bull GRC: Eriksson, Wiman keen to secure Honda’s first final win

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Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
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Red Bull Global Rallycross resumes this weekend at Bader Field in Atlantic City, N.J. (Sunday, 3 p.m., NBC) with the longest course this season (1.102 miles), and one which could play into the hands of Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE drivers Sebastian Eriksson and Joni Wiman.

Eriksson was the top rookie in last year’s season and finished second in points; Wiman captured the 2014 series championship. But it’s been a learning year for both drivers and the Andreas Eriksson-led team this year with a brand new car.

With a longer course that features faster corners, Eriksson rates the new Honda Civic Coupe’s chances of getting its first final round win (they’ve won heats before) a bit higher.

“It should be a fast track. I like that,” Sebastian Eriksson told NBC Sports. “The engine has good power and we’ve had good starts and launches all season. Since it is a fast track, that will suit our car better. It’s a bit longer. Smaller cars do better at hairpins. But at a fast track, our car is best.”

Wiman added,  “Just looking at the track map, I can tell we are really going have a blast in the Civic this weekend. It looks long and fast and I think that bodes well for us. Sebastian [Eriksson] and I are eager to be on the top step of the podium and represent Honda, Red Bull and the entire Olsbergs MSE team.”

Eriksson expanded on how much the team has grown with Honda this year throughout this development campaign.

“The season is shorter this season than before; it started later and finishes earlier,” he said. “So for us with a brand new car, we tried to develop between races. We try to find as much as possible.

“You need to remember, the car was brand new! We started with the build very late – it was a January build for three cars. There was not a ton of testing. But we have gotten better and better. The last race was really good. We found some improvements before this time off. We hope to be competitive, and fighting for the wins.”

Eriksson also hailed BFGoodrich, which has taken over as Red Bull Global Rallycross’ tire manufacturer this year.

“The BFGs are much better. Grip-wise, it is about the same. But the Yokohamas only had one lap before falling off. Now here, it’s faster on all the laps. That makes the racing more fair. Everyone competes at the same level at the time.”

In his second year in Supercars, Eriksson’s learned a lot. He admitted he made a lot of mistakes last year and while driving better this year, hasn’t had the luck he had in his first go-around.

“I think I’ve grown a lot. I made a lot of mistakes last year. I should have been able to score more points even than I did,” he said.

“We’ve had a lot of struggles this year with the car… too many DNFs in the finals, with three of them. And you lose a lot of points. All the points are in the final. In this series, you need a solid finish every race and we haven’t had that.

“Daytona was the best result-wise as you said (two third places), but in New River, we really had the pace and we had the semifinal win. Should have started from first row in the final because they canceled it because of the rain. I was positive we had the pace.

“In Washington, both Joni and second in semis. But I had the puncture. It has been a lot of bad luck. We have more speed than we have shown.”

Eriksson said growing with Honda has given him a much greater insight into their love and passion for racing. He had a chance to explore Honda Performance Development headquarters in California earlier this month.

“The thing that Honda that is so cool is it might be the only brand in the world that builds their brand and cars around racing,” he said.

“It feels almost like racing is in the first place and building cars is the second. They have a lot of tradition on both two and four wheels. IndyCar, Formula 1 and Motocross, and road racing. And now here in Red Bull GRC.

“It’s clear racing is big in the Honda family.”