Friday, June 22 , 2018, 11:17 am | Fog/Mist 61º


Tim Durnin: Family Fired Up as NASCAR Comes to Sonoma

Race brings a disappointing ending for these fans, but the trip was still worth it

My family piled into the car for a trip to Sonoma this past weekend, although it wasn’t for the relaxation, peace and beauty of the wine country. Quite the opposite. We went to Sonoma to attend our first-ever road course race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

I always think of Northern California in terms of liberals and Birkenstocks, so it seems a bit of an oxymoron to travel to wine country to experience the insanity that is NASCAR. However, my wife and youngest daughter are rabid Jeff Gordon fans, and this was probably his best chance to win in what has been, to this point, a dismal season.

We are not NASCAR geeks. We will go to a race every two years or so, but on most Sundays during racing season our television provides NASCAR as the background noise for our chores and activities. Going to a race is quite a different experience.

The race was held at Infineon Raceway, a great venue were it not for the mere two lanes (one from each direction) that provide access to the event. We set out early for the noon start and arrived at our seats as the drivers were taking their first warm-up lap. To give a little perspective, it took us 2½ hours to travel just 14 miles.

We sat in the cheap seats on the S curves. We were in good company with a lot of Gordon and Dale Earnhardt fans in our midst. However, just in front of us was a Kurt Busch fan — any purist’s nemesis.

Busch is the kind of guy who when driving in the real world puts his washer fluid on while he’s in front of you just to irritate you. He’s the kind of driver who makes wide, slow righthand turns as if he is driving a big rig just so you have to slow down or come to a stop before proceeding. He is the driver going 55 in the fast lane.

Busch fans are the kind of people who pull legs off of insects and laugh. They are loud, obnoxious and bullies. They revel in not being liked and will not tolerate any discussion on the finer points of racing. They burp a lot and drink too much. Our Busch fan was no exception, and as the race progressed his voice got louder and his balance faltered.

There is a deafening roar at NASCAR events. The ground shakes as the cars charge by, leaving a smell of burning brakes, tires and racing fuel. Few realize that it is the No. 1 spectator sport in the country, but anyone who has attended a race understands. It is an event that engages all of the senses with force and unbridled power.

Gordon started in the second position and after just 11 laps took the lead. Thirteen laps later, he was passed by Clint Bowyer. I had the opportunity to meet Bowyer several years back. I was doing some consulting in Kansas, and he was from the area. He is an awfully nice guy. If anyone was going to pass Gordon, Bowyer or Earnhardt would be my first choice.

We have been to oval events in Fontana, but the road course is an entirely different race. Cars bump and drivers jockey for position. Passing opportunities are few. It is far more exciting and entertaining racing. Gordon and Bowyer stayed close, and we saw some great racing. And then it happened — right in front of our seats. Gordon ran out of gas.

We knew it was over. Gordon coasted into pit row, losing precious seconds. When he got back onto the track he was in 15th place. He fought his way back to finish sixth, but to no consolation for my wife and daughter. There is no second place in NASCAR.

On the bright side, my daughters got to go shopping and we managed to create a relatively pleasant family memory. Next year, Gordon will win, so my wife tells me. And we will be there cheering him on while cursing the likes of Busch.

— Tim Durnin is a father and husband. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.

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