NASCAR roars into town
MICHAEL GRACE (front), Eric Younger (middle), and Tyler Chapman (back), of United Striping 101, apply the finishing details to the Turn 10 logos at Infineon Raceway in preparation for this weekend's NASCAR events. This is United Striping 101's 22nd year of providing all the racetrack's painting needs.
It's a little like the circus, only much louder.
It's a little like a religious revival, but with oceans of alcohol.
It's a little like a county fair, without the cows, the pigs or the cotton candy (except there actually is cotton candy).
Boil it all down and it's an event unique to America with a proprietary acronym for a name, and the minute you say it, everyone knows what you mean.
Clearly it's the ultimate American racing venue, with a culture and a cast of characters that screams - sometimes literally - about rural roots and country pride and cars tough enough to bounce off each other and keep on running.
At Sonoma's Infineon Raceway NASCAR also means 50 Acres filled with motor homes and waving flags (with still the occasional Confederate southern cross), a team of "Patriot" jets lacing the sky with red, white and blue smoke, skydivers, umbrella girls and enough pre-race activities to fill a week of promotional activities ranging from a walk across the Golden Gate bridge with driver Clint Boyer to a parade of nearly 40 NASCAR big-rig haulers circling past the state capital in Sacramento.
Sonoma being Sonoma, NASCAR also means the local premier of "Cars 2," an animated orgy of car racing conceived and directed by NASCAR fan, Pixar genius and Glen Ellen resident John Lasseter.
And given the uniquely green orientation of the local track, this year NASCAR also means the unveiling of a major solar installation sponsored by Panasonic, part of the facility's Accelerating Sustainable Performance initiative.
Who knew you could marry NASCAR and alternative energy in the same place?
The feature Sprint Cup race itself will field 43 cars pursuing a $5.5-million purse on a 1.99-mile, 10-turn course covering 350 kilometers or about 219 miles.
Vallejo native - and local golden boy - Jeff Gordon holds the qualifying speed record (94.325 mph) and has the most wins (five) but he hasn't won at Infineon since 2006 and his local fan base is hungry for a change of fortune.
Jimmy Johnson, last year's winner, will provide heavy competition but Carl Edwards leads the Sprint Cup points parade and Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't far behind.
The passenger car parade past Infineon on Highways 37 and 121 will be slowed significantly during the weekend. And while Infineon traffic management has improved exponentially over the years, if you're in a hurry to get to Vallejo or San Francisco on Saturday or Sunday, picking an alternate route would be wise.
For a complete schedule of the weekend events, see the race details in Sports.