In 2012, Sonoma Raceway faced a crossroads.
A 10-year sponsorship with Infineon Technologies ended, and the raceway needed to decide what it would be called.
Since opening in 1968, it has had a number of different names: Sears Point Park, Sears Point Raceway, Sears Point International Raceway, Golden State International Raceway and Sears Point International Raceway, again. The “international” fell off at some point, and then, in 2002, it became Infineon Raceway.
When the corporate naming deal ended, the raceway brain trust thought about whether to go back to the track’s origins.
“‘Sears Point’ means nothing outside of the area,” said Steve Page, raceway president and general manager. “But ‘Sonoma’ is an international brand that connotes a lifestyle.”
It’s that brand, that Wine Country food, wine, clean, green, good-living reputation, the raceway wanted to be part of.
As it celebrates 50 years of racing this season, Sonoma Raceway is looking back to honor its storied motorsports history but also looking forward to what its next 10, 20 or 30 years holds in a climate-changing world that may not be so auto-centric.
Positioned for the future
On the wall in Page’s glass-windowed office atop a hill on the south side of the raceway at Highways 37 and 121 hangs a 1968 aerial photo of the original Sears Point racetrack.
It shows a course unlike today’s configuration, with four pedestrian bridges arcing over the pavement and sparse facilities for fans, race teams and administration.
What will today’s track look like to Page’s successor in another few decades?
Page said the facilities — after more than $100 million in infrastructure investment in the past decade — and the veteran staff are in a great position to move into the future.
The upper management has been on the job on average nearly two decades. The raceway is booked 340 days a year, and about 300 employees come to work each day at the track and its auxiliary businesses.
The raceway isn’t mourning last year’s loss of the IndyCar Grand Prix race, which, while a popular event, was a quarter-million-dollar financial loser for North Carolina-based track owner Speedway Motorsports Inc.
Page said the track now can rent out that weekend to a profitable event.
“I liked IndyCar,” he said. “But it’s one more weekend our staff can spend at home with their families. And I’m happy not to lose a quarter-million dollars.”
The most lucrative events aren’t always those with the most fans or the highest profile, although NASCAR is the biggest moneymaker.
“We now have greater demand for the track than ever,” Page said.
Though most people likely only think of the raceway as host to the annual NASCAR and drag races, the facility hosts 100 small-business tenants, including vintage car restoration shops, fabricators, racing teams, driving coaches and printers.
Simraceway Performance Driving Center offers teen driving classes, karting programs and defensive driving courses.
A café feeds the employees and the public. There are medical facilities, and virtually all of the buildings are available to rent for private or corporate events.
The raceway hosts amateur drag racing events, drafting opportunities and go-karting on a separate track above the main race course.
A new event debuts this weekend, one raceway officials hope will become a classic.
Sonoma Raceway at 50
This two-part series examines the storied past of the raceway at Sears Point and its unwritten future.
Sunday: Bold vision evolves over a half century
Monday: What’s in store for Sonoma County’s largest event venue?