Infineon Raceway, formerly known as Sears Point Raceway, is located near Sonoma,California. It is host to one of five NASCAR races on road courses. It is also host to SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) racing and the Toyota/Save Mart 350. The Toyota/Save Mart 350 is a 350 kilometer (220 mile) race that is held annually at Infineon Raceway. Some noticeable names who have won the race include Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr. There are many motorcycle races held there throughout the year. It also has a ¼ mile drag strip, which is most often used by Full Throttle Drag Racing. The track hosts IZOD Indycar. The whole track is a winding, twisting 2.52 mile road course. For over 40 years, Infineon Raceway has been one of the top tracks in the world. It also has a lot of great views of Southern Sonoma County and Pablo Bay. On a clear day, one can see out all the way to San Francisco and to Oakland. The things that make Infineon Raceway so special are: it is the main track in California (it used to be Riverside International, but RI was torn down to be a shopping mall.), it is in prime rubber-necking country (wineries, great views, etc.), it is close by Sonoma, and a short drive for anybody in the Bay Area.
The track was conceived when an attorney and a developer from Marin County were on the property for a hunting trip. The ground was broken and graded in 1968. The first race happened there in December 1st, 1968. The property was originally a 720 acre dairy farm. Now, there are some cows, but it is a 1600 acre track. Many people still refer to Infineon Raceway as Sears Point Raceway, even though the computer chip company, Infineon, bought the track in 2002. It was originally named Sears Point Raceway after the nearby Sears Point Ranch.
In 1969, the track was sold to an entertainment company based in Los Angeles, Filmways Corp., for $4.5 million. From the time it was bought, to early 1970, a variety of racing events happened there, including: USAC IndyCar races, NASCAR stock car racing, SCCA races, and drag races (not governed by NHRA, but they still happened anyway).
In 1970, Dan Gurney won a 150 mile USAC Indycar race that included some notable names, such as: Al Unser, Mario Andretti and Mark Donahue. Not log after the race, the track was closed, as a result of Filmways’ losing $300,000 in May of that year.
Even though the track had been closed for three years, Hugh Harm and Parker Archer (investors) agreed to lease the track for $1 million. Bob Bondurant announced that he was going to move his high-performance driving school from Ontario Speedway to Sears Point Raceway. Six months later, Bondurant and his partner Bill Benck took over control and management of the raceway from Archer and Harm. AMA races were popular, but stopped, as a result of rising insurance policies.
In 1975, a lawyer with no drag racing experience hired Jack Williams, the 1964 Top Fuel Drag Racing Champion, to be his operations chief. A group that was called Black Mountain Inc., included Bondurant and others, bought the track from Filmways for around $1.5 million. Not long after, Kenny Roberts did wheelies during the final two laps, waving to a crowd of 20,000 in a AMA-Sonoma Motorcycle Classic. Five years later, the Long Beach Grand Prix Association joined Black Mountain Inc., in hopes of improving marketing and PR.
In 1981, the Long Beach Grand Prix Assoc., lead by Chris Pook, decided to rename Sears Point Raceway the Golden State International Raceway. Black Mountain objected, by saying “that Filmways still had ownership of the track; and, therefore, could make the ultimate decision.” In the end, the track remained Sears Point Raceway, but Bondurant retired from the committee. Soon after Bondurant retired, an argument happened, and the track was purchased for $800,000 at an auction.
In 1983, Ford Motor Company became a major sponsor. As a result, many Ford clubs in Sonoma County were able to rent the track at significantly lower costs.
Two years later, the track was completely repaved, with help from massive funds from “Pave the Point” fund-raising organization. Some new shop spaces were also built at the track. Many of the original shop buildings were either torn down or remodeled.
In 1986, Harvey Berg took control of the track. Berg then named Darwin Doll the new track president. For a few years, Doll was track president. (He retired around 1990.)
The next year, 1987, the track signed a deal with NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) for a five year contract. The Dragway was to be used for the California Nationals. Other shop buildings were needed, so they were built. Shop space instantly grew to over 700,000 square feet.
In 1988, the first NHRA-sanctioned drag race happened at Sears Point Dragway. The winners were: Mark Oswald, Harry Scribner and Joe Amato. Over 32,000 spectators showed up to watch Joe Amato edge out Dick LaHaie by one hundredths of a second. Also, Berg fired Doll, and brought in an IBM executive, Glen Long, to be the new track president.
NASCAR made its début in the Sonoma Valley in 1989, with Ricky Rudd taking home the trophy. Rudd had a very good win at Infineon Raceway, but at the Atlanta Journal 500, his car stalled, and he went slamming into a pit of a competitor; killing a tire changer.
In 1991, the Skip Barber Racing School replaced the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving at the track. In its 3rd year at Sears Point Raceway, the NASCAR race drew out more than 70,000 spectators.
Three years later, the track needed a way to keep track of who was leading. To do that, they needed to build a scoreboard. A 62-foot-four-sided electronic scoreboard was built in the middle. Also, a medical facility and 18-nozzle gas station were built.
In 1995, the NASCAR Craftsman Pro Truck Series was added to the tracks’ already extensive list of races. Also, some luxurious VIP tower suites, and a two story driver lounge/medical facility. Another notable thing that happened was IMSA and Trans-Am races returned to the track.
The next year, O. Bruton Smith & Speedway Motorsports, Inc. bought the rights to the track, with an option to buy the whole track within three years. (They bought the track 2.5 years later.)
The Jim Russell Racing School asked O. Bruton Smith if they could have their world-famous driving school at the track. On a personal note, I would LOVE to take the Jim Russell go-karting class at IR! There’s always hope for sponsorship… The Skip Barber Racing School went to Laguna Seca Raceway. (Now called Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.) The reason that it has Laguna Seca in it’s name is because it is built on an old Lagoon (Laguna in Spanish); every spring and fall, the Laguna Seca is drained because of flooding fears.
In 1998, a new straightaway called “The Chute” was added to the tracks already long course. The Chute spans 890 feet, and will be used only for NASCAR races. The Chute is a long straightaway that comes out of turn #8. The amount of laps for the Save Mart/Kragen 350 increased by 50%, from 74 to 112. That meant that the drivers might fall asleep during the race!
The next year, in 1999, a new series was added to the major event schedule; the American Le Mans Series. The ALMS series marked the return of sports cars racing at Sears Point Raceway. Also, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series went on hiatus, so the track could get started on the Modernization Plan a lot sooner. That was a good thing, as the track needed a big overhaul.
In 2000, the track got approval to start on its Modernization Plan. When the plan finished, it had cost $70 Million. What was included in the plan was: hillside terraced seats, garages for competitors, and wider roads for less internal traffic.
In 2001, the plan went into action. Fans were then able to experience amazing races at a state-of-the-art facility. Also, some improvements were made to the track, including: a miniature chute at turn 4a, and more run-offs at many of the turns. Those small improvements lengthened the NASCAR course from 1.949 miles to 1.99 miles.
Sears Point Raceway announced that it was being renamed Infineon Raceway in 2002, as part of a ten year strategic plan with Infineon Technologies. The Infineon Raceway Karting Center includes a 16 turn, sweeping part of the track. Also, the dragstrip was finally separated from the track. Out of the 1320 feet of dragstrip, 660 are a concrete launch pad.
In 2003, Robby Gordon won in his class, and broke all of the previous lap times. (His record has only been beaten twice!) Also, four more garages were added to the already large number (40). The medical facility was also remodeled.
Four wins for Jeff Gordon at the 2004 Dodge/Save Mart 350. Wow! Also, a new event was put on the schedule; it was called the California Outdoor Sports Championships. It included: slalom courses, road racing, and mountain cross. There were also many other events that took place there. That must have been fun to watch!
The year 2005 was a big year for Infineon Raceway, the IndyCar Series returned to the Sonoma Valley, after a 35 year hiatus. Tony Kanaan claimed the trophy, in the Dodge/Save Mart 350, Tony Stewart got the checkers. During the NASCAR Weekend, the Infineon Raceway Wall of Fame was unveiled. Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, and Warren Johnson were all inducted during the NHRA Weekend. Speedway Children’s Charities distributed $546,606, which brought the total from the past three years to $1.3 million!
In 2006, Jeff Gordon continued to dominate the NASCAR field, with his fifth win at Infineon Raceway. Marco Andretti won in the open-cockpit racing class. He was also the youngest driver to ever compete at Infineon Raceway, let alone win. He was 19 years old! Infineon Raceway sold the racing school to a London bus company called Emotive Group. Infineon Raceway was named “Business of the Year, 2006” by the Sonoma County Chamber of Commerce.
Juan Pablo Montoya made history at Infineon Raceway when he competed in the 2007 Toyota/Save Mart 350. He was the third foreign-born driver ever to compete. He placed 32nd in the qualifying race. Montoya reset the record for the biggest improvement from qualifying to the race. The event also debuted the Car of Tomorrow race on a road course. Jeff Gordon and his teammate, Jimmie Johnson didn’t pass pre-race inspection, and were forced to start at the back. John Force, Tony Schumacher, Greg Anderson, and Matt Smith also claimed victories. Andretti Green Racing had a bad day: Dario Franchetti sustained damage to his car on lap #69, when he accidentally hit his teammate Marco Andretti. That would not be good for anybody, let alone a professional racing team. The track also hosted the fourth and final Cougar Mountain Classic road cycling and mountain biking event. Matt Mladin, Ricky Rudd, Gary Sclezi, Bob Piccinini, and Joe Huffaker were all inducted into the wall of fame. The Wall of Fame is a large wall at IR, where copper plaques with driver’s faces and their achievements are displayed.
In 2008, Kyle Busch won his first NASCAR Sprint Car Cup on a road course. His victory marked the first Toyota victory in the Sonoma Valley. Also, Ken Klapp and Doug Kallita were inductees for the wall of fame. (Ken Klapp and Doug Kallita are famous race car drivers [retired now, but still famous], who made a 1-2 finish at Daytona Speedway in ’08.)
Kasey Kahne copied Kyle Busch on the same road course. The win was also the first for the team owner, Richard Petty. Dario Franchitti won FIVE different IndyCar classes, he went home with first place overall at the end of the season.
Last year, Jimmie Johnson won his first NASCAR Sprint Car Cup at Infineon Raceway at the Toyota/Save Mart 350. Rick Hendrick was inducted into the Infineon Raceway Wall of Fame because of his 5 Sprint Car victories at Infineon Raceway. A Team Penske driver, Will Power completed a weekend that most can only dream about. The previous year, he had broken his back on the 75th lap of the Indy Races. He also received the Mario Andretti Road Championship trophy from Mario Andretti himself. Ron Capps won in the Funny Car NHRA Nationals at the 23rd drag racing event of the year. Josh Hayes of Yamaha won the West Coast Moto-Jam, and taking a back-to-back win at the AMA Superbike Nationals.
Infineon is not all about fun, and they have made improving the lives of others a priority. The Speedway Children’s Charities is an organization that is dedicated to making better lives for kids who are in financial distress, medical distress or educational distress. The Sonoma Chapter has distributed over $3.7 million to over 140 qualified youth groups, since 2001. Much of the money is gathered on major race weekends.
Go Green, and GO HIPPIE! The Infineon Raceway “Go Green” program sends over 50 tons of recyclable material to the recycling plant every year. It also prompts visitors to IR, to recycle whatever possible. More than 73 million tons of recyclable materials have been collected since Infineon Raceway started the program in 2004! During major race weekends, Infineon Raceway recycled more than 67 tons of recyclable material. Over 140 million tons of recyclable materials have been recycled in the past four years! To continue their “Go Green” efforts at the track, Infineon Raceway has added over 3,000 sheep to their “stables” to naturally maintain the grasses around the facility.
Since I live near Infineon Raceway, I see a good bit of advertising going on for the raceway. Yes, the economy has been tough, but Infineon Raceway is still in action! For many years, people have traveled hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, just to see a weekend race. Every year, there is always something new and interesting at Infineon Raceway.
I would like to put out a special thank you to Jen and Infineon Raceway. You can look forward to coverage from Infineon Raceway over the summer. I have attached the Infineon Raceway website for you to enjoy. Hopefully, I will see some of you there!