Sonoma Raceway, formerly Sears Point Raceway and Infineon Raceway is a 2.52-mile (4.06 km) road course and drag strip located on the landform known as Sears Point in the southern Sonoma Mountains in Sonoma, California, USA. The road course features 12 turns on a hilly course with 160 feet (49 m) of total elevation change. It is host to one of only three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races each year that are run on road courses (the others being Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York and the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlottle,North Carolina). It is also host to the Verizon IndyCar Series, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, and several other auto races and motorcycle races such as the American Federation of Motorcyclistsseries. Sonoma Raceway continues to host amateur, or club racing events which may or may not be open to the general public. The largest such car club is the Sports Car Club of America.
The 2.52-mile (4.06 km) road racing course was constructed on 720 acres (2.9 km2) by Marin County owners Robert Marshall Jr., an attorney from Point Reyes, and land developer Jim Coleman of Kentfield. The two conceived of the idea of a race track while on a hunting trip. Ground was broken in August 1968 and paving of the race surface was completed in November. The first official event at Sears Point was an SCCA Enduro, held on December 1, 1968.
In 1969 the track was sold to Filmways Corp., a Los Angeles-based entertainment company for $4.5 million. In May 1970 the track was closed and became a tax shelter for Filmways after losses of $300,000 were reported. Hugh Harn of Belvedere and Parker Archer of Napa arranged to lease the track from Filmways in 1973. Bob Bondurant, owner and operator of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, and partner Bill Benck took over management and control of the leased raceway from Parker Archer and Hugh Harn in 1974. A few years later a group calling itself Black Mountain Inc., which included Bondurant, William J. Kolb of Del Mar and Howard Meister of Newport Beach, purchased the track from Filmways for a reported $1.5 million.
American Motorcycle Association national motocross races in the hills north of Turn 7 became popular with Bay Area fans, but were phased out by the end of the decade because of rising insurance costs.
In 1981 Filmways regained ownership of the track after a financial dispute with Black Mountain group. Jack Williams, the 1964 NHRA top-fuel drag racing champion, Rick Betts and John Andersen purchased the track from Filmways at an auction for $800,000. The track was renamed Sears Point International Raceway. In 1985 the track was completely repaved, in part with funds donated from the “Pave the Point” fund raising campaign. The first shop spaces (buildings A, B, C, and D in the main paddock area) were built.
In 1986 Harvey “Skip” Berg of Tiburon, CA took control of the track and became a major stockholder in Brenda Raceway Corp., which controlled the track until 1996. Additional buildings constructed on the property brought shop space to more than 700,000 square feet (65,000 m2) during 1987. In addition, a five-year contract was signed with the National Hot Rod Association for the California Nationals. The NASCAR Winston Cup Series debuted at the raceway in 1989.
In 1994 more than $1 million was spent on a beautification project and construction of a 62-foot (19 m)-high, four-sided electronic lap leader board in the center of the road course. In the following years a major $3 million renovation plan included VIP suites and a two-story driver’s lounge/emergency medical facility. In 1995 Trans-Am and SportsCar races returned to Sears Point and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series was added to the major-events schedule. Owner “Skip” Berg sold the track to O. Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. in November 1996.
Major renovations began at Sears Point Raceway in 1998 with the creation of “The Chute”, an 890-foot (270 m) high-speed stretch. The first-ever running of the American Le Mans Series took place at Sears Point in July 1999. In 2000 Sears Point Raceway gained unanimous approval from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors by a 5–0 vote to begin work on a $35 million Modernization Plan that included 64,000 Hillside Terrace seats, repaving of both the road course and drag strip and increased run-off around the entire track.
After the turn of the millennium, Infineon Technologies bought the naming rights, renaming the course Infineon Raceway. In 2006, the Grand Prix of Sonoma was transferred to the Rolex Sports Car Series, who would limit it to Daytona Prototypes only for 2007–2008 before the event was discontinued altogether. Since 2010, however, the course has seen a mild resurgence, with the circuit becoming a sponsor for various events as well as hosting an increasing amount of lesser series, including the WTCC and the return of the SCCA World Challenge. The year 2012 saw the end of Infineon as the corporate sponsor, with the track renaming itself Sonoma Raceway.
© GAVRA Racing 2018.