Yesterday, the ECA received a package from our friends at Sonoma Raceway. It was a well-produced and very informative 50 Year history of this local treasure. I thought I knew a thing or two about the old Sears Point Raceway, now the Sonoma Raceway, but after reading this wonderful gift, I realized that I didn’t know much.
Art Siri, Inc. was the original contractor, and that just happens to be who the ECA is honoring in February with the posthumous Hermsmeyer Hall of Fame Award! It was kind of a neat “fit”. This Installation Dinner is shaping up to be a special evening on Feb 8, 2020 at the John Ash Convention Center. New location, and a new opportunity to learn about a great man, and maybe one that some of you know very little about. Contact Mary for sponsorship opportunities and get some guests together to have an enjoyable evening! Now-on to the Soapbox!
So how did Sonoma Raceway come to be?
In the 1960’s, sports car racing was viewed by motorsports journalists as the “next big thing” in live spectator entertainment. Yet there were no tracks located near the biggest population center in Northern California-the San Francisco Bay Area.
Local Marin County attorney Robert Marshall was an avid sports car enthusiast, and he “had a dream”. He wanted to build a track where he and his buddies from the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) could get together and drive their sports cars on a real driver’s track. He was not interested in stock cars or drag racing, it as all about sports cars.
Marshall teamed up with his neighbor, his attorney, and a sports car journalist who got a promoter involved, and scouted for a location in Marin County for his “buddy track”. After a few months, they settled on a dairy ranch settled by Franklin Sears in 1851. They went looking for a contractor.
A young contractor named Art Siri Jr. was asked to join a group at a Sonoma restaurant to discuss a potential project. It was 1967. Without any plans, and after a 5-hour lunch, the group decided to move forward to build the track at what was known as Sear Point. The group convinced Marshall he should build a track to incorporate drag racing and to accommodate NASCAR racing as well as Marshall’s love-sports car racing.
Investors were rounded up in San Francisco, plans were drawn up by Murray and McCormick, and excavation started in May of 1968. Quickly, Siri discovered the pond, which was next to the dairy barn and where Turn 11 is now, had 18’ of cow manure in it. After almost swallowing one of his 50 earthmovers he had rounded up, they got it drained and mucked out and completed 500,000 cubic yards of excavation in time for the first race on Dec 1, 1968.
A side note for those familiar with rock and roll. Sears Point offered their facility for free to the Rolling Stones after San Francisco refused to issue a permit for a concert in Golden Gate Park. With audio equipment being set up, the small Sears Point group got cold feet and asked for money and the Stones left to set up their concert at Altamont Pass. That is the concert where Hells Angels took it upon themselves to “police” the concert and the rest, is history—
Big Daddy Don Garlits, Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, A.J. Foyt, Roger Penske, and other Hall of Fame racers were attracted to the “driver’s course” and raced at Sears Point.
Meanwhile, the original investment and management team had given financial authority to Craig Murray who lined up the San Francisco investors to build the original track. Murray kept looking for investment money and found Filmways, of Green Acre/Addams Family/Beverly Hillbillies fame and sold the entire facility to Filmways in 1970 for $4.5 million without the original founders even knowing about it until they woke up one day and found themselves OUT.
Filmways shut down the track and tried to sell it out after a few short months. Finally, after a few years, a new “owner” leased the facility and introduced a dirt oval, motorcycle track and other improvements (including a much-needed sewer plant) in the early 70’s.
Bob Bondurant became a much needed and highly publicized tenant in 1973 and the Raceway went through a few years of trying to get their sewer plant built while still being owned by Filmways.
Chaos in ownership reigned for a few years until the property was sold at auction in 1981 for $800,000 to new owner Williams/Betts/Marshall and the track was renamed Sears Point International Raceway. Filmways was OUT.
Cash flow was a problem, and the track needed a sponsor. They landed Ford, then Skip Berg, Frank Scott and Don McKim to pump some money into the facility in 1984-1987.
McKim felt building a garage and shop complex was a must to attract steady income, and they approached Huffaker Engineering to be the main tenant and sole providers of parts and gasoline sold at the facility. In 1988, the deal was made for a Winston Cup Race to move from Riverside to Sears Point and there was stable ownership, management, and rental income coming in.
Steve Page was hired in 1991 and proceeded to oversee $4 million in improvements-new leader board, multi-use building construction, VIP suites located next to the drag strip, and a gas station. In 1997, Skip Berg sold the track operating rights to Bruton Smith-Chairman of Speedway Motorsports. From 1997 to 2005 an ambitious $90 million plus rebuild of the entire facility was done. Ghilotti Construction was a major part of the earthmoving and paving project, and Yours Truly rebuilt the aging and out of compliance sewer treatment plant.
Today the Sonoma Raceway is one of the premiere racing stops on the NASCAR circuit and hosts a big time NHRA drag racing event each year. Other events have been hosted there and many of us enjoy going out to many of their events. The management group has given a tremendous amount of money to charity, and we are proud to have Sonoma Raceway celebrate 50 years!
I hope this little article contributes to your enjoyment of the Racetrack, and you can click on their website right here to buy tickets for upcoming events. Way to go Steve Page and Sonoma Raceway!
That’s All Folks
To the ECA Member Firms
We need the ECA Member Firms to vote on two outstanding issues by the end of December, 2019. Please fill out and sign the attached ballot. You can return your ballot by mail, personal delivery, email or fax. It needs to be returned by December 31, 2019.
On November 14, 2019, our ECA Annual General Membership meeting was held in Rohnert Park, CA. As per our existing ECA Bylaws, the Membership was scheduled to take action and vote on two issues:
- To vote on the ECA Board of Directors for 2020 and Bylaws- Click here for ballot.
- To read the proposed changes to the ECA ByLaws.- Click here for bylaws
Due to a lack of a required quorum on November 14, 2019, we were unable to have the Membership vote on these two issues. The vote is therefore being conducted by written ballot.
Mailing address: ECA, PO Box 8249, Santa Rosa, CA 95407
Fax Number: 707-546-5507
If you have questions about the ballot, please contact Mary Kennedy or John Bly at 707-546-5500