Sonoma; Ernie Irvan returns as Grand Marshal

Ernie Irvan Returns Home as Grand Marshal of Save Mart/Kragen 350 SONOMA, Calif. - Ernie Irvan calls North Carolina home, but he'll always hold a special place in his heart for Northern California. After all, the former NASCAR Winston Cup...

Ernie Irvan Returns Home as Grand Marshal of Save Mart/Kragen 350

SONOMA, Calif. - Ernie Irvan calls North Carolina home, but he'll always hold a special place in his heart for Northern California.

After all, the former NASCAR Winston Cup racing star was born in Salinas and won a Late Model Sportsman championship at Stockton 99 Speedway in 1977.

It seemed only appropriate that once he reached NASCAR, Irvan would become one of the biggest attractions when the series visited his home track, Sears Point Raceway. And Irvan didn't disappoint his fans: He was the first NASCAR driver to become a two-time winner at Sears Point Raceway, piloting the Kodak Film Chevrolet to Victory Lane in 1992 and the Texaco Havoline Ford in 1994.

Irvan will be honored this year at the Save Mart/Kragen 350, not for just his exploits on the twisting 10-turn, 1.949-mile road course, but for his contributions to NASCAR Winston Cup racing. Irvan will return to his home track as the Grand Marshal of the Save Mart/Kragen 350.

"Coming to Sears Point as Grand Marshal is very special for me and my family. It's like a homecoming," Irvan said. "Even though I have my home in North Carolina now, this is the part of California that I grew up in. It's where I first started racing. I feel connected to this part of the country and it will always be a special place for me."

Said Sears Point President and General Manager Steve Page: "Ernie Irvan's name is indelibly linked with the history of Sears Point Raceway. From his phenomenal last-to-first performance in the 1992 NASCAR race to his dominating victory two years later, Ernie has given our fans some tremendous thrills. This is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to recognize Ernie for the excitement he has brought to Northern California race fans."

His efforts at Sears Point were a microcosm of his 13-year career as Irvan recorded 15 victories and 124 top-10 finishes. Unfortunately, his career ended much too soon last year at Michigan Speedway: Irvan chose to retire from the sport following a crash during practice for a NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division event. After hitting the Turn 4 wall, he suffered a bruised lung and a mild head injury. Neither condition was especially severe, but the injuries were enough to remove him from the seat for good.

It was the second serious crash for Irvan in less than five years on the same track. On Aug. 20, 1994, Irvan was nearly killed in a similar crash. Following that incident, he was unconscious for two days, sustaining critical brain and chest injuries and was given only a 10 percent chance of survival. But Irvan returned Oct. 1, 1995, at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway, where he finished sixth. He removed the Michigan demons in 1997, returning to Victory Lane at the same track that nearly took his life.

In addition to his two victories at Sears Point, Irvan also placed second (1993), fourth (1991), seventh (1990) and eighth (1997). He is sixth in career earnings at Sears Point ($351,430), fifth in laps led (86) and holds the record for the fastest race (1992).

"I have some of my best memories from racing at Sears Point," Irvan said. "It's pretty tough to win one race on that road course, but for me to win two races is pretty special. I'll always remember those two wins."

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ernie Irvan