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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.