Here’s something for your Bucket List – you and your buds should spend 40 minutes to journey on up to the Infineon Raceway in bucolic Sonoma County for the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Toyota/Save Mart 350. I’ll tell you, never before have I seen such a collection of military jets, helicopters, U.S. Air Force generals, U.S. Army howitzers, skydivers, 18-wheelers, RV’s, motorcycles, fun, attractive, we’re-happy-to-be-here groups of women, affable dirtbags drinking beer, and loud, loud, loud race cars all in one place in the bay area.
It’s like you cross over the Petaluma and enter into a different world.
Who goes to this annual event? People like actor Tom Cruise, 49er Roger Craig, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, and a host of local celebrities too numerous to mention. And yet, this event doesn’t seem to get all that much attention from the press in the 415. That’s funny.
Anyway, why not let’s take a look-see.
The custom exhaust headers on this cow should tell you that this part of Sonoma County isn’t the regular kind of Wine Country that you know and love:
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If you want to go to the bay area wine country on Race Day, plan on leaving your house by 7:30 AM. There’ll be traffic up there, but it will be well-managed. (I’ve never experienced them, but I understand that the traffic jams are no picnic. Oh well, you just need to plan a bit and you’ll be fine.)
The mise-en-scenefrom Sunday Raceday 2010. There’s a huge facility down there big enough to have resident deer living inside(!) the racetrack:
The logistics of this traveling road show are amazing:
Now, speaking of fun and attractive, a NASCAR Regional Manager named Krystal managed to finagle me a garage-and-pits pass, which lets you see a beehive of activity up close, not that I knew what was going on. But these teens seemed to know the score - they certainly were happy to be at the garage when noisy #88 fired up for the first time on race day anyway:
Red Bull was in the house. (One hit from this contraption is probably three or four cans’ worth.)
O.K. that’s the garage. Now, let’s go out to the track where this friendly middle-aged fellow was offering people rides in his front-wheel-drive Camry hybrid:
Oh no, turns out he’s former NASCAR owner-driver and mechanical engineer Brett Bodine! I haven’t been this scared inside of a hybrid Toyota up in Sonoma since that last time visiting constituents with Senator what’s-her-name:
This is my impression of yesterday’s ride-along. OMG, we were just haulingaround the track, pulling those lateral g’s, on the aprons, over the aprons, etc:
I was astonished at how fast we went in this four-banger sedan:
Whoop, now it’s time to visit a “hauler,” a rolling garage on 18 wheels. Here’s the one from Kevin Harvick, Inc.:
This 18-wheeler is laid out like an airplane. Here are some spare parts going back into a closet:
Anything you need to fix a car is in one of these drawers right here:
And speaking of spare parts, here’s an entire spare #29 hiding up in the attic of the trailer:
Who else has dropped by for a visit but 2010 Grand Marshall Roger Craig!
Inspecting the front of the trailer with series leader Kevin Harvick hisself:
Time for a quick photo and then they were off for more pre-race preparations:
What else goes on before the race? Everything. Our local Coasties delivered the trophy by twirlypopper…
The Patriots air team made a few passes in their Eastern Bloc jet trainers…
Lovely HLN newslady Robin Meade belted out our National Anthem and signed a lot of caps…
World-famous Juan Pablo Montoya accepted an award…
The Infineon Raceway Girls circulated…
The Army dropped by with plenty of Humvees and 105mm howitzers…
The drivers and their wives strutted on the catwalk…
A giant Save Mart shopping cart made the rounds…
And the street sweepers took a few laps.
Whew. Now it’s time for some racing. So let’s use four ATV’s to slowly herd the fans off the track and leave us begin:
Yes, I had earplugs but, yes, my ears are still ringing. I’ll tell you, you don’t want to get anywhere near these monsters without airline-style, headphone ear muffs:
These cars were hauling butt, even though they were on a road course. (They’re capable of getting up to about a third of the speed of sound on those oval tracks.)
Sometimes their wheels leave the ground and fly for a bit:
Is this a backfire? I think so:
Here’s a bigger one:
A smokey burnout on pit lane:
And here’s the prize. You get a wine goblet, too:
So, there you have it. Of course it’s a bit of a culture clash – it’s NASCAR stock-car racing in the bay area’s otherwise-boring Sonoma County.
It’s City meets Country. It’s Fiona meets Wynonna (so to speak).
But no matter, it’s a spectacle. Make plans to take a visit next year in June 2011. Y’all come back now.
See you there!