Posted on October 11 2016
About 60 miles north of San Francisco, in the beautiful, rolling hills of Sonoma County wine country, sits a 720-acre parcel of land which is home to the two and a half mile classic road racing course known as Sonoma Raceway, formerly Infineon Raceway, and Sears Point Raceway before that (named for the nearby Sears Point Ranch, not an affiliation with the department store).
The track was built in 1968, after Marin County attorney Robert Marshall Jr. and land developer Jim Coleman got the idea while on a hunting trip. The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) got the ball rolling with the first event in December 1968. The next year, Marshall and Coleman sold the track to a Los Angeles-based entertainment company, Filmways Corp. From there, Sears Point went through a period of management changes, ownership changes and slow business, even closing for a few years on the early ‘70s.
Finally, by the mid-‘80s some stability returned to the ownership of the facility. Support from ford and new investors brought about a complete repaving, the addition of pit buildings, and new events in the form of NHRA drag racing. When Riverside International Raceway in Southern California closed in 1988, NASCAR, wanting to find another course on the west coast as a replacement, brought their business to Sears Point, providing a huge boost.
In the mid-‘90’s, a million dollar renovation project brought about one of the strangest track features anywhere. A makeshift auxiliary pit road was added inside the hairpin at turn 11. Since the main pit lane only had room enough for 34 stalls, the auxiliary lane added an extra 9. Unfortunately for the drivers, the auxiliary pit road was significantly shorter, so the cars that pitted there were held an additional 15-20 seconds to compensate. And unfortunately for the crews, once the race began the area was landlocked and crew members were unable to leave, earning it the nickname, “Gilligan’s Island.” Gilligan’s Island was finally taken out of use in 2002 when then main pit lane was extended.
Now, the full course stands at 2.52 miles with 12 turns, including the notable turns two and three, which are negative-camber or “off-camber” turns, meaning that the inside of the turn is higher than the outside.
Over the years, Sonoma Raceway has also housed several prominent driving schools, from Bob Bondurant to Skip Barber to Jim Russell, Sonoma is currently the home to Simraceway Performance Driving Center. Major races held at Sonoma Raceway today include the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the Verizon IndyCar Series, AMA Superbike and the SCCA Pro Racing World Challenge to name a few.
Also of note, the track is home to nearly 4,000 sheep, which provide a natural means of maintaining the grass and fire lanes, as well as 15 owl boxes which draw owls to help with rodents.
The Radical Challenge WEST will take place October 29-30 at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, CA.