Sunday, September 16, 2018

Indy Car leaves Sonona Raceway feeling like Raiders

SONOMA -- Like Oakland losing the Raiders to Los Angeles, Sonoma Raceway on Sunday bid adieu to the powerful and sleek sounds and sights of the Indy Car Racing Series, which after a 14-year run at Sears Point is moving next year to Monterey and Laguna Seca Raceway.
There was little sentimentality evident, other than "Cheers to 14 Years!" mini bottles of champagne handed out by the outstanding Sonoma Raceway media relations crew afterward in the press box.  Otherwise, there were no “Please Stay,” “Rooted In Sonoma,” or “Take The Grapes But Leave Indy To Us” protest signs or banners. No crying in overpriced craft draft beers or Bloody Mary’s. No tearful farewell kisses in Victory Lane for points champion Scott Dixon, Indy’s first five-time series winner in 56 years.
History, however, may be in the best interest of Sonoma Raceway. Sometimes best intentions turn into nightmare decisions.
The last time Sears Point lost such a big event was in December 1969 when Filmway Inc., then owners of the raceway, broke an agreement to host a free concert – dubbed the West Coast Woodstock – featuring the Rolling Stones.
Are you kidding me? The Stones, not to mention Santana, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, playing at Sears Point! Then not?
The planned concert was moved to Altamont Speedway for safety concerns and let’s just say it didn’t turn out well. It was more Helter Skelter than Woodstock West. Some Hells Angels served as security and a gun-wielding fan was stabbed to death in front of the stage where Mick Jagger was performing “Under My Thumb.” It was one of the darkest days in rock music history, yet, for Sears Point, is may have been the big one that got away and that was good.
Indy Car Racing moving from the Wine Country to the Monterey Peninsula doesn’t seem to have such dire life-or-death consequences, but Laguna Seca may be inheriting a headache. This move may make business sense for the City and County of Monterey who, in the name of tourism dollars, are banking on it and willing to take on any potential debt which Sonoma Raceway endured.
The season-ending Indy Car Series race goes bumper-to-bumper with the beginning of NFL and college football seasons and the end of the Major League Baseball season in the San Francisco Bay Area. Plus, it lands during the peak harvest season for grapes in the region, hence there are just as many people passing Highway 121 at Sears Point to wine taste than turning into Sonoma Raceway to watch a bunch of power rangers go zoom zoom.
That said, Sonoma Raceway, with some concessions, would love to have Indy Car back. Laguna Seca only has a three-year contract with Indy Car, plenty of time for reality to set in.
Remember the Raiders did in fact return from LA to Oakland. OK, now they are moving to Las Vegas but I digress.
Sonoma Raceway remains hopeful and that was obvious in its choice to be the Grand Marshall of the grand finale n Sunday. It was M.C. Hammer who in 1991 released the hit song …. wait for it … Too Legit to Quit!
Get it? Sonoma Raceway? Too Legit to Quit?
 Hammer may be a hip hop legend, but his car knowledge is legit. He once sponsored a Top Fuel dragster team named Hammertime and has a fondness for Porsche.
“I’m building cars from the ground up,” Hammer said at a pre-race press conference on Sunday. “Not with these hands but with my check book.”
Hammer, who is wealthy enough to wear a wrist watch the size of a wall clock, is also a huge Raiders fan and is part of a group led by Ronnie Lott that sought to keep the team in Oakland … the second time. He knows it’s possible for a wrong move to be made right.

Indy Car drivers see an opening, too.

"I'm definitely going to miss this place. Everyone loves to come here. This is our Indy 500 outside the Indy 500," said Sunday's race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. "I hope there is enough room on the schedule for both."

That may not be feasible. It may come to one or the other.

At some point, Sonoma Raceway will welcome Indy Car back to Sears Point. If and when it does Sonoma Raceway can proclaim, in the words of M.C. Hammer, U Can’t Touch This.