Race Weekend Central

Waid’s World: When It Came to 1st Sonoma Event, Wine Was Just as Important as Competition

When word got out that NASCAR was going to stage a 1989 NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway, then known as Sears Point Raceway, in Sonoma, Calif., suffice it to say it was met with much excitement.

It meant a return to California, a state that appeared to be gone from the Winston Cup schedule after the demise of Riverside International Raceway, a road course about an hour away from Los Angeles. The track succumbed to residential and commercial development and held its last race in 1988.

It also meant there would be another road course on the schedule. Sonoma joined Watkins Glen International — which came on board in 1986 — as the only NASCAR tracks on which drivers had to do more than turn left.

But there was another element that was, perhaps, most appealing about racing at Sonoma. It was in a part of California that was decidedly more appealing than Riverside. It stood across the bay from San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge and just few miles north on Highway 101 in the heart of Wine Country.

You can just imagine the appeal to a group of competitors, fans and media who were based in the South and, largely, only heard about The City by the Bay and the surrounding area.

But make no mistake, the biggest attraction by far was Wine Country. The key word here is wine.

Oh, sure, you could buy wine at the Piggly Wiggly and the South did have vineyards, but California provided some of the country’s best — and the elite were in the Wine Country around Sonoma.

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When it comes to alcohol, the NASCAR fraternity was grain-based, which included beer and moonshine. There was wine at home and in restaurants, but the amount consumed paled when compared to, say, Jack Daniels and friends.

In my college days, most wine came with a screw off top and names like Boone’s Farm and MD 20-20. A fraternity brother once told me he was going to buy a bottle of “peanut noyer.” I think he meant pinot noir.

Despite its relative lack of wine knowledge, for the most part, the NASCAR fraternity wasn’t about to ignore the wine tastings, varieties and adventures offered traveling to the seemingly innumerable vineyards in Wine Country.

Nor was it going to ignore the opportunity to send as much wine as possible back home.

The problem was, when and how to get to all of that wine in Wine Country? The weekend’s Cup schedule was tight, and for the competitors there was a lot of work to be done. If circumstances warranted, they could be stuck at the track until dark.

But that didn’t stop them from making plans. While walking through the garage area, I learned from many crewmen that they were going to make a Wine Country run, buy as many cases as they could and then load them up in their haulers for the long trip home.

When I told my buddy Tom Higgins of the Charlotte Observer what was up, he thought it would logical we did the same.

“After all, boy, we ain’t going to be able to take much on the plane,” he said.

The smart thing for us to do would be to buy what we wanted and then have it transported home by one of the many Charlotte-based teams.

But the plan ran into problems. Nearly every team I spoke with said we could not be accommodated. Seems they planned to buy A LOT of wine and the hauler had only so much room.

As much as I found that hard to believe, I had no choice but to consult with an independent, low-budget driver — and friend — from Virginia.

“Look, help Tom and I out,” I said. “We want you to take at least one case of wine back home for us. I know you aren’t from Charlotte, but you can give it to us at the next race.

“And for helping us, you can have a bottle or two for yourself.”

He agreed.

On Saturday before the race, we caught a schedule break. Cup activities ended at 2 p.m., which essentially meant Tom and I were free for the rest of the day. So was nearly everyone else.

At 2, there were so many cars charging for the exits that it looked like the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. Dust swirled everywhere.

At the exits, not a single car turned right toward San Raphael. All turned left toward the many vineyards.

I told Tom there was a Mondavi vineyard just a stone’s throw from the speedway, but he was having none of it. We turned left with the traffic and didn’t get back to our hotel until nightfall.

We made a pretty good haul. We stopped at several vineyards, did the obligatory tastings and gathered up enough bottles of wine to fill a case.

The next day, I gave that case to our driver-transport. “Be sure to enjoy a couple bottles for yourself,” I said.

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I hadn’t planned things very well. I thought we would be able to reclaim our wine in just one week, at the next race.

I forgot the next race was at Pocono. And the week after that it was in Michigan. Airplane travel was required for both so we weren’t any better off than we were at Sonoma.

“Hey, just hold on to the wine until we get to Daytona three weeks from now,” I said to our Virginia-based buddy. “We’re driving there.”

He said he would leave it in his hauler.

I have no doubt he did. But when we got to Daytona International Speedway, that didn’t mean he left ALL of it.

When I got to his hauler to retrieve the wine, there were only three bottles left.

“Well, what happened?” I asked our friend.

“Hey, when you drive from Sonoma to Pocono to Michigan and back home again, you tend to get a mite thirsty,” he said with a smile.

By the way, he had one of the widest, brightest smiles in NASCAR. He’s retired now, but he still does.

In the days following Sonoma, we heard many teams tell tales of unloading so much wine the shops looked like warehouses.

I came away with nothing. I gave Tom our three bottles.

Looking back, I realize we were too dumb to know most vineyards will ship your purchases for you.

Rest assured Tom and I came home with more than three bottles of wine after the 1990 Sonoma race.

About the author

Steve Waid has been in  journalism since 1972, when he began his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. He has spent over 40 years in motorsports journalism, first with the Roanoke Times-World News and later as publisher and vice president for NASCAR Scene and NASCAR Illustrated.

Steve has won numerous state sports writing awards and several more from the National Motorsports Press Association for his motorsports coverage, feature and column writing.  For several years, Steve was a regular on “NASCAR This Morning” on FOX Sports Net and he is the co-author, with Tom Higgins, of the biography “Junior Johnson: Brave In Life.”

In January 2014, Steve was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame. And in 2019 he was presented the Squier-Hall Award by the NASCAR Hall of Fame for lifetime excellence in motorsports journalism. In addition to writing for Frontstretch, Steve is also the co-host of The Scene Vault Podcast.

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Steve R

wine is for the old farts of Cali, Its all about the 420 now, try some when you come out

Kevin in SoCal

I can only imagine the looks on the faces of the vineyard employees when hundreds of unwashed good ol’ boys showed up on their doors. LOL

Thank you for the story!

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