SONOMA, Calif. (Wednesday, Sept. 13) - After nearly three and a half years of study and debate, Sears Point Raceway today began work on a comprehensive $35 million modernization project that will transform the raceway into one of the premier motor racing and entertainment venues in the world.
The official groundbreaking ceremonies took place in a parking area above the raceway paddock before a gathering of racing and community leaders. The festivities were capped off when a line of nine giant earthmovers, three of them piloted by Winston Cup star Jerry Nadeau, NHRA Top Fuel points leader Tony Schumacher and AMA Superbike rider Steve Rapp, rumbled into action, crushing a row of portable restrooms as they went.
"Perhaps nothing symbolizes the old Sears Point Raceway better than a worn out, rickety portable restroom," said Steve Page, track president and general manager. "The new era at Sears Point will be characterized by functional facilities, a comfortable family environment and a magnificent venue to enjoy the best in motor racing action."
Page outlined the comprehensive two-phase plan that will require the next two years for completion. The project is tentatively scheduled to be completed by 2002 racing season.
Phase One of the plan officially kicked off following the press conference. The first phase will focus on infrastructure, traffic access and circulation and environmental mitigation. Plans include:
<pre> * Construction of 34,000 hillside terrace seats alongside Turns 2-4; * New wastewater treatment system; * Construction of Shuttle and Shade Shelters; * Construction of partial garages (32) for competitors; * Wetlands creation; * Pedestrian tunnel under Highway 121 * Dramatically expanded entrance and access roads to reduce traffic congestion around the raceway; * Construction of a service road/entrance for fans at Gate 7 alongside Highway 121; * Construction of additional tenant shops on the south side of the property (146,000 square feet); * Increased run-off on the road course at turns 1, 2, 3, 3a, 4, 6 and 7; * Sound wall at Turn 9 that will reduce noise emanating from the facility; * Signal light at Gate 1 to help control traffic flow; * Beautiful trees and landscaping to screen the track from Highway 121 and provide shade and picnic areas for visitors.
Phase Two of the Modernization Plan will feature:
* Construction of 30,000 hillside terrace seats alongside Turns 8-9, bringing the total to 64,000 hillside terrace seats; * Construction of additional 12 garages for competitors, bringing the total to 44 permanent garages; * Construction of a go-kart track on the south side of the property; * Construction of a 10,000 seat permanent grandstand at Turn 7; * Construction of a 15,000 seat permanent grandstand along the west side of start/finish line, bringing the total to 25,000 permanent grandstand seats. Eighteen suites will be built along the top of the grandstands; * Construction of three pedestrian bridges at Turns 1 and 6 and just beyond the Main Gate; * Creation of a 500-foot concrete launching pad for drag racing and separation of the road course from the drag strip. Construction of drag strip return road; * Increased run-off on the road course at Turns 8, 8a, 9 and 10; * Enlargement of pit road to accommodate a 43-car starting grid; * Repaving of the road course and drag strip; * Expansion of paddock by more than 70 percent; * Pedestrian tunnels under start/finish line and Turn 10; * Construction of 61,300 square feet for tenant shops in the paddock; * Remodeling Trackside Tower, Media Center and Driver's Lounge;
</pre> "I'm pretty excited at the plans for the new track from a drag racing standpoint," said Schumacher, who pilots the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster on the NHRA circuit. "With a 500-foot concrete pad and a repaving of the drag strip and the fact that Sears Point is right at sea level should make for one of the fastest tracks in the country."
"I'm looking forward to coming out to the new Sears Point Raceway," said Nadeau, who drives the No. 25 MichaelHoligan.com Chevrolet on the NASCAR circuit. " With all of the improvements they are planning to make this will certainly be a great stop on the Winston Cup circuit and certainly one of the top road courses around."
Rapp was especially excited at the increased run-off space for motorcycle riders around virtually the entire track.
"The improvements will certainly make Sears Point a pretty safe place for our series," said Rapp, a native of the East Bay who rides for Vance and Hines Ducati in the AMA series. "I've always liked this track because it's my home track and the work will make it that much better." This project marks the first major modernization for Sears Point Raceway since the facility was built in 1968. "This project could not have reached this point without the backing of this community and I'd like to thank all of the people of the Sonoma Valley and the county at large who have hung with us and been so vocal in their support," Page said. "I would like to thank Bruton Smith and the management of Speedway Motorsports for giving us the support and flexibility to move this project forward."