Sonoma; Dan Gurney Highlights Chrysler-Jeep Wine Country Classic

SONOMA, Calif. - It's been 30 years since the legendary Dan Gurney took his only checkered flag at Sears Point Raceway piloting an Eagle Indy Car around the twisting 12-turn, 2.52-mile road course. As it turned out, it would also be one of the...

SONOMA, Calif. - It's been 30 years since the legendary Dan Gurney took his only checkered flag at Sears Point Raceway piloting an Eagle Indy Car around the twisting 12-turn, 2.52-mile road course.

As it turned out, it would also be one of the last victories for Gurney during his storied 15-year racing career that featured 48 victories, including seven Formula One events and five NASCAR Winston Cup stock car races. Gurney also became the first driver to win races in the four major categories: Grand Prix, Indy Car, NASCAR and Sports Car.

Gurney, who has since become a nationally recognized car builder through All American Racers, will return to the scene of his last active victory as the featured guest at the Chrysler/Jeep Wine Country Classic Vintage Car Races, May 19-21, at Sears Point Raceway. Gurney will be honored for his driving exploits during the busy weekend, which will feature the best in vintage car racing on one of the most challenging road courses in the world.

"I have many fond memories of Sears Point," Gurney said. "It's where I won my last Indy Car race in 1970, the year I retired from driving. I have been there as driver, owner-entrant and as a fan and I think it's a great circuit in a beautiful setting."

The popularity of historic racing has certainly reached an all-time high, and General Racing Ltd. is at the forefront of the movement as Sears Point will come to life when nearly 250 historic race and sports cars tackle the demanding track at the 14th annual event. Steven Earle, president of General Racing and organizer of the Chrysler/Jeep Wine Country Classic, is adamant that the cars are the stars when it comes to his three-race circuit, which also includes the prestigious Monterey Historic Automobile Races and Chrysler/Jeep Classic Speed Festival in Coronado.

"Back in the early days, old race cars usually sat under dusty covers in garages, and if they were cleaned up, they sat alone in museums," said Earle. "Cars weren't built to just sit around on polished marble or manicured lawns. Cars have wheels for a reason -- to race."

And race they do. At the Chrysler/Jeep Wine Country Classic, cars that are selected for the final grids are as authentic as they come, right down to the original sponsor decals. Highlighted during the weekend will be eight decades of racing heritage, broken down into nine separate groups competing over the two days.

Among the typical favorites is the FIA Manufacturers Championship group, which features the likes of powerful Porsche 917s and 908s, Ferrari 512s and Ford GT40s that all saw their racing pinnacle in the 1970s to early 1980s.

Other crowd pleasers are the endurance GT Championship groups which feature Porsche, Cobra, Shelby Mustang, Corvette, Lotus and Ferrari, spanning from 1955 to 1967, among many others. American muscle has also been flexed in the Wine Country with a rumbling field of powerful Camaros, Javelins, Boss Mustangs and Firebirds.

The Wine Country Classic incorporates every ingredient for the makings of a great race weekend. With the presence of perfect spring weather, a nice country backdrop and a superb field of race cars competing as they were built to do, the nostalgia is sure to run high again this year. The event will also boast many exotic car corrals at scenic Turn 2, which have featured everything from vintage Corvettes to classic Mustangs in years past. Please call Jennifer Glassmaker at 707-938-8448, ext. 121, to form a corral for your car club.

Almost equal in excitement to the racing is the wide open paddock area where spectators are able to enjoy close-up views of the cars and talk with their owners and drivers in a way not possible at many other racing events. There will also be the Johnny Garlic's Food and Wine Pavilion at Turn 2, which is always a delight. Fans will be able to sample some of the Wine Country's finest wines, as well as tasty dishes provided by Johnny Garlic's restaurant.

Off the track, Sebastiani Vineyards will again host the Sonoma Valley Vintage Race Car Festival on Saturday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Held in conjunction with the Wine Country Classic, the festivities will kick-off after the racing action concludes at Sears Point for the day. A parade of 30 vintage race cars will wind their way from the track and through the quaint streets of downtown Sonoma to the winery, where they will sit in a Concours-like setting for viewing.

Guests will have the opportunity to sample a variety of delicious gourmet foods and fine local wines. Tickets are $30 in advance and all proceeds benefit the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau and the Education Foundation. For additional information, please call (707) 261-1088.

Admission to the Chrysler/Jeep Wine Country Classic is $20 per day or $30 for a weekend pass. Additional information can be obtained by calling (800) 870-RACE or visiting www.gospeedway.com and linking to Sears Point Raceway.

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Series Vintage
Drivers Dan Gurney