Roger Diez: Sonoma and I have changed over the years
September 22, 2017
I had a Homecoming and a reunion of sorts last weekend. I was at Sonoma Raceway for the first time in 15 years for the Verizon IndyCar season finale. My first time at the track was in 1969, when the track was known as Sears Point, and I was a flagger on turn eight. My last visit was in 2002, when I was the announcer/publicist for the American City Racing League. In between I waved flags, announced races, crewed for friends, and even raced there. Over the years both the facility and I have changed considerably.
I attended last weekend's race as a guest of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings race team, courtesy of their publicist, Katie Brannan, who lives in Gardnerville. The team is currently racing a Porsche in the Pirelli World Challenge Series, but they have two championships (2007 and 2009) in the Grand Am Daytona Prototypes. And 20-plus years ago I used to announce races their driver, Jon Fogarty, drove in a Formula V.
Sonoma has changed somewhat since the last time I was there, which was shortly after a major renovation that saw the leveling of many of the hills and construction of grandstands just about everywhere. What was a pretty primitive facility in the late 1960s and early 1970s has become a first-class racing venue. And I saw a lot of it over the weekend. I was fortunate the pass the team gave me got me into a lot of places, including the hot pits. Unfortunately, due to the circus atmosphere surrounding the IndyCar series, there was limited room in the paddock due to all the vendor tents and other activities. So the Pirelli World Challenge teams were pitted in what I term the "witness relocation paddock" behind turn seven, which required a lot of travel between locations. Fortunately, between shuttle buses and the team's golf carts, I got to where I needed to be on time.
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As I mentioned, it was a sort of reunion for me, as I ran into a few of my old compadres from my racing days who are still working the races. I also had a surprise encounter with Mackena Bell, who was there with her company talking to the IndyCar folks about using the safety belts they provide. Unfortunately she was in a hurry, so I didn't get a chance to catch up on what she's doing or the possibility of her getting back into racing again.
The Pirelli World Challenge cars raced twice during the weekend. Fogarty started sixth and finished seventh in the Saturday race, and came home sixth after a ninth-place start on Sunday. This is the team's first year with the Porsche, which apparently has a rather narrow "sweet spot" setup window, but they were pleased with the performance.
Oh, by the way, Penske driver Simon Pagenaud won the IndyCar race. Josef Newgarden was second in the race, but won the 2017 championship, the first American driver to do so since Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012. It was Newgarden's first season driving for Penske.
Besides Sonoma, there was lots of other racing last weekend. Martin Truex Jr. kicked off the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup playoff season with a win at Chicagoland Speedway. The victory will advance him to the next round of the playoffs, and will also add five playoff points to his total. Truex now has 58 playoff points, 27 points over second-place Kyle Larson, 35 over Kevin Harvick, and 41 over Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, who are tied for fourth in the standings.
Disaster struck the Ferrari team in the Singapore Formula One race on Sunday, when both cars were taken out in a first lap incident on a wet track, along with Max Verstappen's Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton avoided the accident and wheeled his Mercedes to the win, extending his championship points lead to 28 over Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes scored a 1-3 finish, with Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull splitting the pair. Mercedes now has an almost insurmountable lead over Ferrari in the constructors' championship fight, more than 100 points after the disaster in Singapore.
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