Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Sonoma Raceway’s NASCAR race a time-honored tradition for fans – Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Sonoma Raceway’s NASCAR race a time-honored tradition for fans – Santa Rosa Press Democrat
24 Sep

It is against the rules to set up a bar in 50 Acres, the vast, grass campsite across Highway 121 from the Sonoma Raceway, site of Sunday’s NASCAR Toyota/Save Mart 350.

“Well, this isn’t a bar,” explained Kelly Taipale, bellying up to a horizontal board under a pop-up tent while a friend prepared and dispensed adult beverages. “It’s a conversation table.”

The Windsor woman and her extroverted friends rented six campsites on which to park RVs and campers for this year’s race, down from 20 campsites in their heyday, when her husband, Dennis, was known far and wide for the size of the “conversation table” he set up every year, and the 60-foot, strobe-light-capped flagpole he planted.

This weekend marks the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series’ 31st straight stop at the Sonoma Raceway. In past years, the event has drawn upward of 100,000 pilgrims, many of whom appear to prefer Coors Light — or, in the case of Taipale, a vodka martini ice pop — to cabernet. This is by far the most popular sporting event in the county, and arguably the most anomalous.

The race consists of 90 laps of this sinuous, hilly, 2.54-mile circuit — one of just two road courses on the NASCAR schedule.

While the event offers a dash of variety to drivers, who subsist mainly on oval-shaped, left-turn-intensive superspeedways, its appeal to racing fans — many of whom have returned to this event for decades — runs much deeper.

After Dennis Taipale died unexpectedly in April, some 250 people attended the celebration of his life at Forestville Youth Park. Many were friends who knew him only from these annual NASCAR gatherings, Kelly said. People drove to Forestville from Rocklin, Turlock and Fresno.

“When we’re all here,” Kelly said, “it feels like family.”

While it was not required, flying at least one American flag over one’s recreational vehicle seemed to be expected. Many racing fans opted for more than one flag.

“Trump 2020” flags also were in evidence, roughly as popular as tricolor flags bearing the legend “Cold Beer.”

Steve Page, the raceway’s general manager and president, lives nearby in Sonoma. Folks who drive past 50 Acres, chock full as it is this weekend with the RVs of NASCAR fans, often draw the wrong conclusion, Page said.

“There’s this conception that a caravan from Alabama shows up here every year,” he said. “But these folks are just as likely to be from Petaluma or Santa Rosa.”

Most of the RVs, he said, are from within a 75-mile radius.

Brian Jenkins and his buddy, Bob, known in their section of 50 Acres as the Sod Guys, met in Petaluma, where their sons played Little League together.

While Jenkins now lives in San Jose, they’ve been regulars at this race for at least two decades, during which their circle of NASCAR friends has steadily expanded.

Around 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jenkins was supervising the unrolling of the sod that would serve as the courtyard and dance floor between his group’s five campers and RVs. In the middle of the new lawn, they planted a pole, to which palm fronds would later be affixed. In past years, as darkness gathered and inhibitions melted, the “trunk” of the faux palm tree has been used for purposes of pole dancing — at least until 11 p.m., when the proprietors of the campsite impose “Quiet Time.”



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