SMOKING HOT RACING

Briscoe Pre Race

Briscoe

It was smoking hot Saturday at Sonoma Raceway for the General Tire 200 ARCA Menards Series West Race. That refers to the grass fire started by Tony Toste when he pulled off on fire in Turn One on Lap 35. It refers to the hot, fast and furious race pace of the various packs of cars all vying for position. And it refers to the smoking burnouts performed by race winner Chase Briscoe, first parked at the Pit Wall on the front straight and then the smoking doughnuts performed on the Turn 11 infield. He led all 51 laps of the 50-lap race.

Chase Briscoe was the only Cup driver to enter Saturday’s ARCA race and was the leading driver for all but about two minutes of the Saturday ARCA track time. The only lap he didn’t lead in his No.14 Huffy-Parker Boats Ford was the last one in qualifying when he was pipped by Jake Drew in No.9 Sunrise Ford-Lucas Oil Ford for the pole position. Briscoe started the race third behind Todd Souza in No.13 Central Coast Cabinets Ford.

The Green Flag was delayed three laps for the Sonoma Stripe – a huge swath of oil laid down by Zane Smith’s MadoroM Wine-Best Western Sonoma Chevrolet from Turn Five all the way to Turn Seven. A wide ribbon of grease sweep aka oil dry covered the oil on the track. And then Souza was given a black flag penalty for jumping the start and had to pit. No sooner than the Green Flag was given, then the first of several cautions came out for Rod Kneeland’s Chevrolet which had to be towed after it parked unsafely with mechanical problems.

The field would bunch up for the restart, and Briscoe would take off once given the Go flag.This scenario was repeated and replayed six more time in the 50-lap race. It wasn’t a record for the Series. There was the scheduled half-time pit stop for the field. The drivers were frisky and tested their limits, against the track and with each other. Several had varying degrees of contact. There was some good close and tight racing, especially up in front.

Dylan Lupton in McAnally Toyota finished second, followed by Paul Pedroncelli Jr in his Chevrolet. Fourth was the top Rookie, Cole Moore in another McAnally Toyota, followed by Souza, who overcame his penalty push to the back.

Pole sitter Drew, one of nine Rookies, finished seventh, behind Rookie Dean Thompson’s Huddleston Ford.

Burgess Pit Stop

Burgess Chevrolet

Bridget Burgess overcame several setbacks to finish eighth, after starting ninth. She ran as high as fifth before being hit by Jesse Love’s McAnally Toyota and falling to 14th. She worked back through several restarts and got back up to tenth and then eighth. She spun out by herself, fell back and caught up. During the halftime stop, after her crew serviced her car, it went over to help out Bobby Hillis,Jr. who basically had little or no crew. After another caution she pitted while the parents checked front tires and under the hood before sending her back out. Burgess caught up again.

Ninth and tenth were Rookie Ryan Philpot’s Chevrolet and Bobby Hillis Jr’s Chevrolet.

Thirteen of the 22 drivers finished the race and all were on the lead lap. The other nine DNF. The top Rookie was Cole Moore in a McAnally Toyota.

Under NASCAR’s Covid protocols, drivers can’t interact with the media, so everything is done remotely. This means a short televised Victory ‘ceremony’ with the traditional Sonoma Wine Goblet and a brief Zoom post-race interview for the winner. Briscoe said a road course is more challenging. He definitely had more fun than he thought he would, and is looking forward to tomorrow (NASCAR Cup race.) He said Sonoma was a technical track, and he wished he could have had more practice.

In the Historic Trans-Am race with 22 starters, Jim Hague was on pole with his golden yellow 1970 Mustang. And it seems that nearly every time the field came by Start-Finish a different driver was ahead. Taking turns leading were Ken Epsman/No.2 red/white/blue 1972 Javelin; Bill Ockerland in No.6 blue 1969 Camaro, and Richard Goldsmith in No.77 green (slime) 1970 Dodge Challenger.

Richard Goldsmith #77

Jim Hague #16

Jeffrey O'Neill #15

Goldsmith squeaked by to finish first, followed by Hague, Jefrey O’Neill in No.15 red 1969 Mustang, Patrick Byrne in No.15 white 1967 Mustang, and Ockerlund. Mike Joy finished 18th in No.89 black 1966 Mustang.

Mike Joy #89

Sunday’s schedule calls for Trans-Am warmup, then half-hour race. The Pre Race Ceremonies start at noon, with Cup Driver Introductions at 1pm, followed by the three-stage race. The stages are 20/40/90 laps, for 226.8 miles.

The NASCAR garage is fairly quiet now, as the ARCA haulers move out. The NASCAR contingent comes in at 7:30pm local time.

ARCA pits

ON THE ROAD AGAIN ….

Welcome Race Fans

After 714 days, NASCAR has returned to the wine country road course known as Sonoma Raceway.It’s being called the biggest sporting event in the Bay Area, and the largest outdoor event in California since the pandemic started. Jill Gregory, the new Executive Vice President and General Manager of the track has been working with all the appropriate California and Sonoma County bureaucracies to meet the California Covid protocols.

Jill Gregory

Jill Gregory

For Sonoma Raceway, which has a 47,000 capacity, it means a 33% capacity this weekend to meet social distancing requirements. This translates to about 15-16,000 fans. Tickets sold out quickly for the one-day Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup Race on Sunday. Tickets were still available for Saturday’s General Tire 200 ARCA Menards Series West race and Historic TransAm race. Gregory said the electronic/digital aspect made ticketing easier to manage with longer deadlines. Part of the Raceway’s protocols call for touch-less and digital processes. All ticketing, electronic waivers and signatures are digital to one’s phone. All tickets are reserved, with no General Admission. There will be a new clear bag policy for items being brought into the track, and no golf carts allowed this weekend.

Five hundred fans will be campers, who have to park in a designated area – the 50 Acre Campground. They will all face forward in the same direction rather than in circular compounds. Campers are limited to their own pod or family bubble, and the showers aren’t open. In the grandstands there will be Socially distanced seating, designated by tickets. Interspersed will be 200 Cardboard Cutouts that folks were invited to purchase for placement. Afterwards, they can be picked up and it’s estimated by Cheri Plattner, Community Events Manager, that 90% of them will be picked up and the rest responsibly recycled. The effort raised $50,000 for Speedway Children’s Charities. Friday, a non-track day, Sonoma Raceway hosted Laps for Charity which raised even more money for the Speedway Charities.

The ARCA cars arrived Friday night and are using the Cup garages and pit lane. Once their event is over Saturday afternoon, they will pack up and depart, allowing for the entrance of the Cup haulers and circus. The Historic Trans Am are paddocked behind the main grandstand, near the vendor area.

Sonoma is the third road course race on the Cup schedule this year, but is the only road course with a Cup history. Daytona and COTA were first-time events.

The ARCA field has 22 drivers, including Cup regular, Chase Briscoe. This is the ARCA Menards West Series, not to be confused with the ARCA Menards Series racing as we speak at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. That race just finished, with Ty Gibbs as the winner.

Todd Souza

Chase Briscoe

Left to right: Jake Drew; Todd Souza; and Chase Briscoe.

All 22 of the ARCA drivers participated in the hour-long practice/qualifying session. For 58+ minutes of the session, the fastest car was Stewart-Haas driver, Chase Briscoe driving No.14 Huffy Boats Ford. He was going 88.688 mph for a 1.42.191 lap around the 12-turn, 2.52-mile road course, which includes the Carousel this year. But it’s never over until the Checkered Flag flies. Jake Drew from Fullerton CA, driving No.9 Sunrise Ford-Lucas Oil Ford for Bob Bruncati pulled out a 89.073 mph lap on the last go-around, taking 1:41.848 to complete the lap. And Todd Souza from Aromas CA pulled in second, driving No.13 Central Coast Cabinets Ford for Kelly Souza. Briscoe, who hails from Mitchel IN, ended up third.

Bridget Burgess

Bridget Burgess

The majority of the ARCA West drivers are from California, with one each from Arizona, Indiana, Japan, and Utah via Australia. The lone female driver, Bridget Burgess comes from Brisbane, Australia, and now lives in Utah, where she once dreamed of competing as a speed skater in the Olympics. Her mother Sarah and father are her crew. The two of them work on the race car, as does Bridget.

Twenty-three Trans Am drivers are entered, with many regulars in this popular series which has a whole tour this season. Included in the Sonoma field are Fox TV motorsports broadcaster Mike Joy in No.89 1966 Mustang; John Hildebrand driving the No.49 Gray Ghost 1964 Pontiac Tempest; and Ken Epsman in No.2 1972 Javelin. The Trans Am cars had a half hour practice and a half hour qualifying session in preparation for the Saturday afternoon race. Pole sitter for the half-hour race is Jim Hague in No.16 yellow 1970 Mustang

John Hildebrand

Left to right: Jim Hague’s No.16 Mustang; Mike Joy; and John Hildebrand and Gray Ghost.

The ARCA and Trans-Am races are Saturday afternoon. Trans-Am also has a second race Sunday morning before the Cup Pre Race ceremonies. This year most of the showy acts will go on, such as Parade Laps, Parachute drop and Patriots Jet Air Show. What will not happen is the Driver’s Meeting and Driver Introductions across the stage in front of the cheering fans. There will be Intros, but on camera for the big screen. The drivers are more regulated and somewhat isolated this year. They arrive at the track Sunday morning, stay within their own pods until the call to the cars. Their Video Meeting will be recorded and shared by NASCAR.

The weather was sunny and breezy all day with wisps of cloud streaks. It did not feel as warm as the low eighties showed on the thermometer. Tomorrow’s forecast is for more of the same, with fewer clouds.