Prime Excel

Features

Blogs, Shoots, Interviews and more.

Midweek Release: Tearing it up at Sonoma Raceway

Ask pretty much anybody with a Monday to Friday job and they’ll tell you, Wednesdays are the worst. It’s the furthest you can be from the weekend, and everybody knows the best stuff happens on the weekend. But if you go to Sonoma Raceway, people are singing a different tune.

 Hanging out in the pits prior to the start of drifting.

Hanging out in the pits prior to the start of drifting.

On what is nearly every single Wednesday night throughout the spring and summer, Sonoma Raceway hosts two events alongside each other; Wednesday Night Drags and Wednesday Night Drift. Some people bring their cars on a trailer, but it certainly appears as if the majority of the events are “Run what ya brung”. It’s pretty clear that people drive the fun car to work and head over to the track right after, since I wasn’t the only person there in uniform from my day job.

 Some of the oldschool muscle lining up on the dragstrip.

Some of the oldschool muscle lining up on the dragstrip.

Drag racing kicks off at 4pm and runs until 10. Cars and bikes alike filled the infield, drivers prepped and ready to make their pass. Everybody is welcome, too. In a few minutes of watching I saw all kinds of hardware ranging from seemingly stock Crown Victorias to oldschool, purpose-built drag cars, modern compact cars like Cobalts and Civics and more.

 Wrinkle wall tires are cool as hell.

Wrinkle wall tires are cool as hell.

However, drag racing isn’t what I was there to see. So I apologize, fans of drag, but I was there for one reason: Drifting.

 Some crazy angle and tire smoke made this E46 a car worth watching.

Some crazy angle and tire smoke made this E46 a car worth watching.

The drifting takes place in Sonoma Raceway’s expansive paddock. When I arrived at around 6pm, track officials were still in the process of setting up the course; a simple three turn (or four, I suppose depending on who you ask) layout with plenty of room for high-speed runs or mistakes. Large, concrete barriers were being moved around with forklifts while track staff in Toyota Tundras laid down cones.

 Lined up and waiting for the track staff to put the finishing touches on the course.

Lined up and waiting for the track staff to put the finishing touches on the course.

Drivers were getting their cars prepped, swapping out their street wheels with sacrificial wheels wrapped in cheap rubber. The pits for drifting, much like the line at the dragstrip, had a diverse mix of cars. There were classic Japanese icons like Silvias, Z-cars, Cressidas and Corollas as well as Mustangs, an old Camaro, a Monte Carlo and my personal favorite, a Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG.

 The more eagle-eyed viewers may have already spotted the Uber sticker on the windshield of this Benz. That's accurate -- you can actually get an Uber ride in this thing.

The more eagle-eyed viewers may have already spotted the Uber sticker on the windshield of this Benz. That's accurate -- you can actually get an Uber ride in this thing.

The atmosphere is incredibly laid-back and easygoing. Wednesday Night is strictly for fun. No judges, no points, no pressure. Just get your car out there, swing the ass out and kill some tires.

 One of the track officials was even walking around with this plastic bin giving out candy to drivers and spectators for free.

One of the track officials was even walking around with this plastic bin giving out candy to drivers and spectators for free.

Around 7pm, track officials had finished getting the course set up and started letting people go out. It quickly became obvious that there were drivers of all skill levels out there, as well. Some of the cars seemed to slide with elegance and grace, while others had difficulty getting the back end to step out. One driver in particular almost understeered into a barrier, twice, but managed to stop a few feet short both times. A handful of people spun out and kept the throttle pinned to give the crowd a smokeshow while they got the car straightened back out.

 Spinning out, although not necessarily desirable, gave some drivers the perfect opportunity smoke the tires a little harder.

Spinning out, although not necessarily desirable, gave some drivers the perfect opportunity smoke the tires a little harder.

Spectators lined the walls and were climbing up into the grandstands to get a view. The grandstands gave you an awesome overhead view of the action, but standing behind the barriers on the ground meant you got the full experience of a car roaring past and quickly being enveloped in a cloud of tire smoke and rubber. By the end of the event I was glad I had put a clear filter on my lens, since it was absolutely peppered with rubber from the now-deceased tires.

 An overview of the paddock, taken from the grandstands. As you can see, spectators were allowed to get pretty close to the track, but only credentialed photographers and track officials could get right up on the barrier.

An overview of the paddock, taken from the grandstands. As you can see, spectators were allowed to get pretty close to the track, but only credentialed photographers and track officials could get right up on the barrier.

As the night went on, the runs started being done in tandem. Only a handful of drivers were able to go out during these, but they put on one hell of a show.

 These two drivers in particular absolutely killed it. The S14 is aided in it's tire thrashing glory by a 2JZ, and the E36 has an S52.

These two drivers in particular absolutely killed it. The S14 is aided in it's tire thrashing glory by a 2JZ, and the E36 has an S52.

After the tandems, solo drifting resumed as the sun dipped below the Sonoma county landscape. The air was orange and hazy with tire smoke, but the drivers just turned on their headlights and kept driving. Sadly, the paddock doesn’t have it’s own lighting and my camera was quickly unable to keep up in the fading light.

 The beautiful Sonoma County sky at sunset as a supercharged Monte Carlo starts it's run.

The beautiful Sonoma County sky at sunset as a supercharged Monte Carlo starts it's run.

Still, even as I packed up and headed for the car, engines were roaring and tires were screaming. I’ll be back soon, for certain.

 A number of people went for ride-alongs with cellphones in hand, undoubtedly recording the action for their Snapchat stories.

A number of people went for ride-alongs with cellphones in hand, undoubtedly recording the action for their Snapchat stories.