Sonoma Raceway accelerates growth plan with corporate, group events
As more than a hub for NASCAR events, Sonoma Raceway is gearing up for a banner 2022 with a new mission aimed at attracting companies and other users wanting to experience the thrills of its motor sports venue.
The wheels of progress are underway for the Raceway, which began its journey in 1968. Now it is embarking upon a new initiative called Sonoma Reimagined, anchored by a new VIP-style hospitality center designed for company events.
The marquee corporate facility provides the best front-and-center view of races. At 19,000 square feet, the hospitality structure will overlook the track’s hairpin Turn 11. Groundbreaking for the Turn 11 Club building came in June 2020, and it is due for completion next April. Sonoma Raceway, one of eight privately held venues owned by Speedway Motorsports LLC in Concord, North Carolina, declined to provide construction costs and other financial details.
Beyond sponsorships, the Sonoma Reimagined program focuses on developing ways for companies, agencies, auto clubs, educational centers and event coordinators of all sorts to use the 2.52-mile, 12-turn course and its adjoining facilities on the 1,600-acre grounds for team-building corporate outings. The Turn 11 hospitality center, which may accommodate groups of up to 1,500 people, is the hallmark addition to that mission.
“Our goal is to create a welcoming and high-end focal point for our facility that represents Sonoma Valley well,” Sonoma Raceway General Manager Jill Gregory said, adding the center will be formally unveiled during the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame induction ceremony on June 9.
Gregory said the Raceway goes into next year with larger expectations for her 80 full time employees than one in which pandemic resulted in its operating at a third of its capacity.
“2022 will be a whole different animal. The most striking difference and the most lucrative will be an expansion from the 33% capacity, given the (social distancing) restrictions,” Gregory told the Business Journal. “It’s not that 2021 was a lost year. It’s just that 2022 will feel like a full calendar year. We expect to triple our events.”
Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Bodenhamer noted that much of the Raceway’s charm lies in how understated it is.
“Most people assume there are three to four events that happen every year, but actually they have hundreds of events,” Bodenhamer said.
For Bodenhamer, the Sonoma Reimagined initiative helps the Raceway expand the venue’s potential for generating revenue, one that goes way beyond lodging and restaurants a few times a year. He listed under-the-radar businesses such as gas stations and grocery stores as also benefitting. The chamber chief estimated the revenue-generating economic impact from the Raceway, which is also a chamber member, at more than $10 million a year.
“There aren’t many singular entities in the Valley that have that kind of impact,” he said.
The spillover benefits to neighboring businesses are obvious.
“I think the Raceway is great for the Valley’s local businesses, especially with corporate conventions and group travel a huge component to our local economy,” Bodenhamer said. “When it went away in 2020, we saw a huge impact from it.”
Bodenhamer noted the Raceway holds the double distinction of bringing people to the area and providing entertainment for residents. The corporate focus in Sonoma Reimagined represents a growth business with promise, he added.
“I think this is something that’s going to be really popular. When word gets out, they’ll have a lot of interested companies,” he said.
“You had me at ‘hello,’” Exchange Bank President and CEO Troy Sanderson said, while on a recent tour of the grounds to check out new ventures and ongoing mainstays. Sanderson essentially grew up “on a dealership,” launching his zero-to-60 enthusiasm for hot cars.
“The team-building piece of this would be very helpful — especially since we’ve been working remotely,” Sanderson added. “This will bring people back together again. Our teams are tired. Rejuvenation and reconnection are our focus right now.”
Sonoma Raceway is widely-known as a NASCAR venue. The Raceway has announced NASCAR’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 return to the Wine Country June 12 on its 36-race schedule. Up to 47,000 seated fans or spectators in 27 luxury suites may see the 90-lap spectacle and get a glimpse of a venue undergoing a facelift.
“We’re ‘hot’ 330 days of the year,” Vice President of Sales Pete Rogers said of normal operating circumstances.
Sonoma Raceway is ramping up efforts to attract companies, car clubs and other organizations wanting their employees or members to experience the Raceway in a variety of ways.