Sonoma Raceway raises $75,000 for North Bay fire victims

Sonoma Raceway had a busy track Tuesday night, but it wasn't the usual race cars. 

A fundraising event for firestorm relief brought first responders to the famed road course, and the public got to go for a ride too.     

"We were brainstorming about things we could do and figured what do we have? We have a racetrack," said track President Steve Page. 

The event, a first for the venue, was billed as "Laps of Appreciation."

People paid $25  for a ticket entitling them to three laps around the famed 1.99 mile road course.

"Excited, this is so exciting" exclaimed 9-year-old Judah Nelken of Petaluma, as he climbed into a Sonoma Sheriff's cruiser. "I was like wow I really want to do this!" 

More than 30 first responders participated, including ambulance services, CHP from Marin and Sonoma Counties, and fire departments from across the North Bay. 

"The CHP's will get up some speed, and the fire trucks are a little slower," said 
Joseph Montederey of the Sonoma Raceway garage.

He was directing the patrol cars and fire rigs into lines and giving them starting cues.

"We'll see the CHP's jump on it, so we'll give them a little space in between so they have fun."

After the grueling fires of October, the event was a welcome change of pace. 

"This engine has a lot of weight to it," said Joe Kikrwood at the wheel of a Sonoma Valley Fire Dept. engine. 

"I've got to be careful going around the corners but this is fun!"   
The course has ten turns, and some challenging banks. Nascar drivers fly around it pushing 185 miles per hour. 

The fire engines, with enthusiastic passengers aboard, were lumbering along at about 40 mph, but making up for it with lots of noise.  

"The idea of the lights and sirens at night, I don't think I realized how cool it would be," said Page, "and it's a great opportunity to say thanks to these first responders, and they're having fun too, so everybody wins."

Officers joked with their passengers about how fast they wanted to go. 

Most of the children who lined up said their favorite ride was law enforcement, because they were speediest. 

"This is a great way to raise money and show appreciation," said Corbin Howes of San Anselmo, with his 5 year old son Fletcher.

"I might be as excited as Fletcher, because this is a great combination, the track and the vehicles, and we do like our local police and fire."

The rides were also a chance for first responders to connect with the community. 
"We appreciate everything you guys do, " said one mom, in the backseat with her son, as the CHP cruiser hurtled along.

"Well, it's our pleasure" responded the officer driving, "even in the hard times it's a very fun and rewarding job."

There were as many adults as children jumping at the chance to experience the track from a rare vantage point. 

The event raised close to $75,000, in ticket sales plus sizable donations from the raceway and its corporate and community sponsors. 

The money will be donated to two local fire relief funds serving survivors in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. 

For many families, the rides were the highlight of their kid's holidays.

"They like speed," said mom Jenny Smith of Vacaville, " anything with speed, and lights, they love it!"