Sonoma Raceway brings back ‘The Carousel’
By Rick Minter / Andrews McMeel Syndication
As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, Sonoma Raceway will be joining the throwback weekend movement with the return of the track’s original layout.
By adding “The Carousel” back to the track layout, the race now will have 12 turns over a 2.52-mile course, upping the lap distance from the 1.99 miles of recent races. The race laps will be reduced from 110 to 85, keeping the overall race distance of 350 kilometers.
The Carousel, which was used from 1968 through 1997, begins at Turn 4 and passes through three more corners [Turns 5, 6 and 6a] before rejoining the most recent layout at Turn 7.
The Carousel was the site of many significant passes back in the day, including one by the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 1995, when he drove by Mark Martin en route to his first road-course victory.
Clint Bowyer, who won at Sonoma in 2012 and has eight top-five finishes in 13 starts on the 1.99-mile layout, said he expects it will take drivers some time to adapt to the Carousel.
“It is going to be a game changer, no question,” he said in a recent media session. “I don’t know what to think about it. For the last several years, I have looked at that track to be the go-to track. The Car of Tomorrow really woke up certain tracks, and Sonoma and these road courses have been some of our best products of racing.”
Kevin Harvick, who won the Cup race at Sonoma in 2017 and finished second there last year, said in a recent media session that the change in layout is significant.
“I was in the simulator [recently] and got lost a couple times; forgot where to turn,” said Harvick, who ran the old course before he joined the Cup circuit in 2001. “It is a lot different than I remember it from 1995.”
Harvick said he suggested adding back the Carousel in discussions with Marcus Smith, the president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns multiple tracks, including Sonoma.
“An hour later he told me he talked to his guys and they were looking into it,” he said. “Next thing you know, we are running the Carousel. I love the fact they are changing it up. I think Watkins Glen could do the same thing.”
Harvick said the changing of the road course is another sign that Speedway Motorsports is willing to try new things with its track to gin up interest in the sport. SMI recently added the Roval, a road course, to Charlotte Motor Speedway, and has been leading the way in adding traction compounds to racing surfaces.
“It seems like SMI is more aggressive in these types of situations with changing things up and trying new things and doing things more on the edge of not knowing what the outcome is going to be,” Harvick said, adding that NASCAR’s other major track owner, International Speedway Corp. has not appeared to be as willing to take risks with its tracks.
PHOTO CAPTION: Multiple tight turns are a hallmark of road courses like Sonoma. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Imageds for NASCAR