NASCAR’s premiere drivers anticipate the challenge of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway each June. But Sunday’s race will put them on the original 12-turn course for the first time since 1997.
The track is celebrating its 50th anniversary season this year, and under its original name, Sears Point Raceway, it welcomed its first NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model Division rae June 8, 1969, which was won by Ray Elder.
The Cup level series arrived in 1989, when Ricky Rudd beat polewinner Rusty Wallace in the inaugural race.
In what has become a pre-race tradition, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series haulers will leave Sacramento at noon Thursday for its ninth annual parade from the capital to arrive at Sonoma Raceway about 2 p.m.
Spectator gates open at 10 a.m. Friday, and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup practice will stat at 11:35 a.m.
NASCAR K&N Pro Series West also is coming to the track, and its drivers will start practice at 1:05 p.m. Monster Energy Series will have a second practice at 2:35 p.m. Friday.
The K&N Procore 200 will be run Saturday. Gates open at 9 a.m., and qualifying starts at 11 a.m. Monster Energy drivers also will have qualifying at 12:10 p.m., then the Procore 200 will start at 1:45 p.m. Several full-time Cup Series drivers, including Austin Dillon, Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric, are entered in the K&N race to log more track time on the course.
But Sunday belongs to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup. Gates open at 7 a.m., and a pre-show starts at 10:15 a.m. The 90-lap Toyota/Save Mart 350 starts at noon.
This is one of the largest sporting events in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is a fun and star packed celebration.
Track visitors can play a variety of games, get an airbrush tattoo, play in a ball pit, meet NASCAR personalities and stop by the Kids Zone to build and race cars, get free giveaways and get pictures from a photo booth.
The “Panda” Tundra, charred in the 2018 Butte County Camp Fire, will be on display, as will three vintage U.S. military tanks, brought by Team Ghilotti. The U.S. Air Force Special Ops Air Commando Experience will let fans test their mental and physicial strength in a skills challenge, virtual reality experience and interactive games in an Air Force C-130.
Quarter midget racers will accompany Cup drivers during their introductions, and the 12-foot shopping cart, Big Red, will take a lap around the track.
This year, the Bay Area soul artists Tower of Power will perform the national anthem as Beale Air Force Base representatives unfurl a 100-foot American flag.
“Tower of Power’s legendary East Bay sound has been rocking the music world for more than half a century,” said Sonoma Raceway President and General Manager Steve Page. “As Sonoma Raceway celebrates our own 50th anniversary, there isn’t a better way to fire up our fans for a spectacular afternoon of racing.”
Two F-15C Eagles from the 123rd Fighter Squadron Redhawks of the Oregon Air National Guard will fly over during the anthem.
Comedian and actor Gabriel Iglesias, who often goes by his nickname, “Fluffy,” will drive the Camry Pace Car at the beginning of the race, leading drivers to the starting line.
“I can’t get over the fact that I will be driving on a race track,” Iglesias said.
Once the green flag drops, drivers will tackle the original 12-turn, 2.52-mile course for the first time since 1997, facing the track’s signature downhill Carousel turn that former driver Michael Waltrip described as “one of the most unique turns in NASCAR.”
After a day of driving media visitors around the track at triple-digit speeds, he described how the longer configuration will change the race.
“For the fans, they’re going to see these big stock cars hopping over the blind hill and then landing and getting squirrely down into the Carousel and then racing off of it up the straight. It’s going to be great.”
For drivers, the Carousel plunges from Turn 4 into Turns 5 and 6, then takes a more than 200-degree turn before dropping onto the track’s longest straightaway into the Turn 7 hairpin.
From 1998 to 2018, NASCAR bypassed the Carousel, shortening the race to 1.99-miles with “the Chute” shortcut that connected Turns 4 and 7.
“It’s one thing to talk about the Carousel, but quite another to experience it first hand,” Page said. “We appreciate Michael making the trip out for the hands-on demonstration, and can’t wait to see the drivers hit the track this weekend.”
Tickets range from $30 to $140 for single-day admission, $95 to $180 for weekend admission. Parking is free, and admission for children 12 and younger is free Friday and Saturday and $10 Sunday. Military and group discounts are available. Those interested may call 800-870-RACE or visit SonomaRaceway.com/ NASCAR.
Traffic along California Highways 121 and 37 near the track and 101 leading to the track, will be heavy during the racing events, and those wanting to bypass driving can arrange to take Rally, the official bus rideshare, by calling 1-800-870-7223; Sonoma Sterling Limousines by calling 707-542-5444; rent a Family RV by calling 1-800-870-7223, or by visiting the website https://www.sonomaraceway.com/events/toyota-save-mart-350/transportation/.