SONOMA, Calif. – When the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) brings its 55th annual National Championship Runoffs to Sonoma Raceway Oct. 16-21, a long-time driver, Dan Sherrod, will be behind the wheel of the races’ pace car.
“I got started in SCCA racing in 1956,” he said. That’s when his father took Sherrod and his brother to a Sports Car race in Fort Sumner, N.M. “Been hooked ever since.”
Sherrod’s own father drove E-type Jaguars, from West Texas oil fields to doctor visits rather than on the race track.
But Sherrod began racing in 1966, driving a Lotus 51 Formula Ford. “After that, I did other jobs in the SCCA, including nine years on the Club’s Board of Directors,” he said.
Then in 1994, he started driving pace cars, “and have been doing it ever since,” he said.
He’s been a pace car driver for the Texas Region races and beyond.
“I got picked to be on the Runoffs Pace Car Team eight years ago, thanks to one of our stewards who thought I did a good job locally. I’ve helped with the Pace Car at Road America, Mid-Ohio, Daytona and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
But this will be his first time to take the technical turns and elevations of Sonoma Raceway.
Driving pace cars is not like racing, Sherrod said.
“We go out at the start of the race in front of the field,” he said. Pace car drivers try to maintain order until the race is started.
“Pace laps are usually about 45 to 50 mph, depending on the class of the cars,” he said.
“We also go out as the safety car in the event of a full-course caution to slow the cars down so the emergency crews can do their job,” he said. “We keep an eye out for debris on the track and try to let the cars behind us know what to avoid.”
Sherrod will be one of eight on the Pace Car Team at Sonoma Raceway. Each car has a driver and communicator. One will be the primary car for the starts and a safety car, but there’s a backup car stationed at Turn 7 as another safety car. It will be used in the event of a split start, then it will go to Turn 7.
For the runoffs, Sherrod and other members of the team will be driving 1,000 horsepower TransAms.
The SCCA will give fans a chance to see highly-competitive road racing this month, the first time the National Championship Runoffs have made an appearance at Sonoma Raceway.
Several hundred drivers and their cars are participating in three days of qualifying and three days of racing. Sonoma Raceway is only the third California track to be host of the national championship.
The contests at Sonoma will decide who is best across 27 different car classes in a series that many consider the pinnacle of American amateur motorsports. Its champions are chosen through the “winner-take-all” Runoffs format.
SCCA, founded in 1944, has 67,500 members who participate in road racing, autocross and rallies at both the Club and professional levels. Among those who used their SCCA experience to launch racing careers of their own are Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti, Bobby and Graham Rahal, Danica Patrick, Paul Newman, Carroll Shelby, Dan Burney, Al Unser Jr. and Rick Mears.
The Sports Car Club of America is headquartered in Topeka, Kan., and sanctions more than 2,000 events in 116 regional and subsidiary divisions.
Tickets to the event vary in price with the schedule. Single-day tickets are $15 for Tuesday through Thursday, Oct. 16-18 and $25 each for race days Friday through Sunday, Oct. 19-21. All event passes for both qualifying and race days is $60.
Weekend camping is available for $183 for the weekend, but those buying camping tickets also must purchase weekend tickets for each person camping.
Tickets, camping arrangements and other information is available by calling 800-870-7223, open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
Those who own Miatas may bring their cars to the SCCA National Championship Runoffs Saturday, Oct. 20, and park them in Turn 7 at no extra charge.
Tickets are available online at https://www.sonomaraceway.com/events/scca-national-championship-runoffs/.