Baseball great Vida Blue to serve as Grand Marshal at Sonoma NASCAR Sprint Cup race

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When the public address announcer at Sonoma Raceway introduces the Grand Marshal for the June 22 Toyota/Save Mart 350 Sprint Cup race, the crowd is going to respond with a round of applause and a case of the “Bllluuuuuueeeeee’s.”

Longtime southpaw pitching great Vida Blue, whose long and successful tenure with both the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants was met countless times with cheers of “Blue!” will be take part in pre-race ceremonies and cap it all off by giving the “Drivers, Start Your Engines” command.

“I’m delighted to be honored by the raceway during NASCAR weekend, and I’m really looking forward to heading out to the track,” Blue said in a media release issued by the racetrack. “This will be my first time at a NASCAR race, and I know it’s going to be something special.”

Blue, who was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, will also be honored at a fundraiser on Friday June 20 for Speedway Children’s Charities. The event will be held Friday, June 20, at the Children’s Champion’s Grand Marshal’s Banquet at Cline Cellars in Sonoma.

Okay, now here’s something that’s going to make you feel REAL OLD: Blue retired in 1986 – more than a quarter century ago (!!) – after a 17-year career in the big leagues.

Blue’s first full season in the big leagues was with the A’s in 1971 – when he went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA, and earned both the Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Award. He also became the only player ever to be the starting pitcher in the league opener, the All-Star Game and the playoff opener in the same season.

He was also one of the A’s top starters when they won three straight Major League Baseball championships from 1972 through 1974. After being dealt in a “cross-bay trade,” he continued to shine for the Giants, including becoming the first pitcher to ever start the All-Star Game for both the American League (1971) and the National League (1978).

Blue’s career spanned 17 years, pitching for Oakland (1969-77), San Francisco (1978-81), the Kansas City Royals (1982-83) and then returned to San Francisco to close out his career (1985-86).

Blue is a baseball analyst for Giants telecasts on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, and is heavily involved in work with a number of charities and causes.

“Vida is one of the greatest competitors ever to take the mound in either league, but he’s also one of the most engaging personalities in the industry and I know he’s going to be a big hit with our fans at the race, regardless of their team loyalties,” said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager.

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Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.