By Michael Eubanks
When rumblings began to circulate earlier this year that WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, California would host the championship-deciding race of next year’s IndyCar Series season, I already had the suspicion that a return to the famed 2.238-mile road course would result in an end to the series making a yearly stop at Sonoma Raceway, two and a half hours to the North.
Indeed I was right, as when the news began to spread, Sonoma track President and General Manager Steve Page issued a statement regarding the series’s planned move to Laguna Seca:
“Sonoma Raceway has invested heavily to build IndyCar’s brand and following in Northern California over the last 14 years, and we would be happy to continue that effort, but only under a sustainable business model. If the series determines their long-term interests are better served by moving the Sonoma race to another venue, that is a business decision they are obviously entitled to make, and we will turn our attention to other opportunities.”
Despite INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles extending his hand out to the SMI-owned track to discussing the possibility of keeping Sonoma’s race and moving it to an earlier portion of the schedule (likely spring), the track said “thanks, but no thanks” to a contract renewal, stating that the event ran at a financial loss over the last few years. The track will still have two nationally televised events next year as both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will return.
Though many fans, including myself, are excited to see IndyCar racing return to a classic venue such as Laguna Seca, I am still experiencing a bit of sadness knowing that Sunday’s IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma will be the last race for the series at the track for the foreseeable future.
Sonoma may have not always been the most exciting race on the calendar, nor has it always drawn the largest crowd, but that doesn’t mean that the track is not a venue that deserves an IndyCar race. The track itself is a world-class race course located in a picturesque portion of the country, and this year’s race weekend features a variety of events to keep fans entertained such as support races featuring the Historic Trans Am Series, Porsche GT3 Cup and the Formula Car Challenge series. Sunday also features an air show by the Patriots Jet Team. The track management has clearly made quite the effort to attract fans to the event.
Race teams have also expressed fondness for Sonoma because of the track’s proximity to Napa Valley, which provides many opportunities to host wine and dine events. Of course, Laguna Seca is beautiful as well, but it sure is a shame that the sponsors and the fans can’t have two opportunities to visit one of the most beautiful regions of the country.
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Sonoma, as it was the first track to ever approve me for media credentials to cover an event. Just last year, I made the long drive from my home in Salem, Oregon to cover the event for my college newspaper. That weekend was one I will never forget, and it further helped me realize that I want to make a career out of covering the sport.
We may not see Sonoma on the IndyCar schedule for the foreseeable future, but it should not be a track that IndyCar fans simply forget about. My hope is that someday, Northern California will play host to two IndyCar events. Until then, I guess all I can do is simply say “thank you” to Sonoma Raceway for being Northern California’s home for IndyCar racing over the last fourteen years.