NHRA drag races draw hundreds to Sonoma Raceway
SONOMA, Calif. - The North Bay has a crowd assembled this weekend, despite COVID-19 orders.
As many as 1,000 people are participating in amateur drag races at Sonoma Raceway.
Like other sports, the racetrack shut down in March, but began revving up with small events last month.
The NHRA Division 7 Drag Races are the biggest yet.
"This track was really built originally by people who were enthusiasts," said Sonoma Raceway President Steve Page, looking out at a sea of trailers, hot rods, drivers and crew.
Almost 500 drivers are entered, and each can bring up to four crew members.
It may end up as the venue's largest event this year, and one of the biggest in the Bay Area during COVID-19.
"Well it's what we do, and as long as we're comfortable that we can do it under safe conditions, and follow proper protocols, then why not?," said Page.
The event is a financial boost for track tenants, auto-related independent businesses, that have had little income lately.
There are no food concessions and no spectators but race-starved drivers shrugged that off.
"In this particular sport, there aren't all that many spectators to begin with," said Marko Perivolaris, of Petaluma.
Perivolaris got hooked on hot rods as a teenager a decade ago, when he discovered Wednesday night drags at the track.
The fact that everyone must wear a mask to participate now?
"There has been almost no racing on the west coast for four months," said Perivolaris. "So everybody says if this gives us the opportunity to race, we'll do anything to race."
Garages are closed, and all pit activity is kept outdoors.
Messages on the jumbo screen and other signage remind everyone to social distance, wash hands, and wear masks.
Monitors roam the crowd and a staffer with a loudspeaker drives the property, blaring a message:
"Masks are mandatory at all times even in your pit areas, thank you!"
The biggest challenge appeared to be keeping people from mingling too close, as participants are as much a family as they are rivals.
"The social aspect of this event, particularly for people who have been cooped up and haven't been able to see their friends, that's as important as the racing," said Page.
The top competitors will scorch a quarter mile stretch in a little over six seconds.
"It's a pretty good ride, it will get your attention," said Steve Williams, a devotee who races about 25 times a year in a road rocket that tops 200 mph.
Williams was the division World Champion in 2018 and traveled to Sonoma from his home in San Bernardino County.
Accompanied by his wife and daughter, he says the family time is what he values most.
"There are lots of multi-generations of racers out here, fathers, sons, daughters, even grandfathers, so the type of racing we do at NHRA is really a family sport," said Williams.
No matter who takes home a trophy, everyone seemed to feel they had won a few days of respite from the pandemic.
"Just to get back out and do what we love to do, it's been a real welcome change," said Williams.
The event continues through Sunday.