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Annual Sonoma Race-cation Diary

Posted by Amy in General | NASCAR

photo source: Amy K. Marbach

Started: 10th

Finished: Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Points: 196 (32nd in the standings, 9 points away from 30th and 3 points away from 31th).

Quote of the (post) Race: “All you got to do is give me that little bit of hope and I will run with it.” — Tony Stewart, Post race press conference 6-26-16 This was my FAVORITE quote from his very quip filled post race presser because I think it not only describes Tony Stewart to a T but us fans too- am I right?!?!

If I could some up the entire weekend in one sentence- it would likely be:  What. A. Weekend. You all know how it ends…but here is the nity gritty of our AWESOME race weekend.

So the weekend starts on Thursday night when I leave work a little early and take the dogs for a walk before leaving them with my parents for the weekend.  I then drive up to San Jose to pick up Misty- who’s plane is late. Luckily I already knew it would be late (thank you flightaware ap) and left just as she was texting me that she boarding the plane. We decided that we would just stay at a hotel near  the airport and then carry on Friday morning to the track from there since it would put us a good hour closer to the track at least.  We stayed at a cute little boutique hotel near the airport  that we were only in long enough to throw ourselves in to the bed sleep and get up to drive to Sonoma Raceway in. All I remember about it is that the room was very cute but tiny so likely not a place I would want to stay in for any length of time.


We were up early and weaving through the highways of the bay area making our way towards Sonoma Raceway early on  Friday morning.  We got the the track just after 8,

Photo Source: Amy K. Marbach

picked up our credentials and headed to the main grandstand area. We dropped our stuff off in the media center and decided to walk the midway area like we usually do before it got too crowded. We even took the tunnel to the fanatics tent to see if they had any must haves for the Tony fan (of course you know I picked up a few things- I always do.) Surprisingly there weren’t a ton of pressers so we watched Jimmie Johnson’s presser and then headed to the garage to watch the cars come in and out from practice. This is always when I get my best garage pictures.

After watching practice and grabbing a bite to eat we kept our eyes trained on Victory Lane because that is where the presentation of the Wall of Fame Plaques to Tony Stewart and Ernie Irvan would be held and we wanted to make sure we got a good spot for that. I was hoping to get a good view of the event because I think that it was awesome – as everyone knows I am definitely a Tony Stewart fan and what you might not know is that Ernie Irvan is from my hometown. When it finally drew near to the time we gathered in victory lane in the chairs set up for the event (and yes of course I snagged a front row seat) and watched the track president preset both Tony and Ernie with their plaques and a large bottle of wine with career specific pictures on the label. It was fun hearing both drivers talk (although it seemed that K&N practice or qualifying was going on and sometimes we couldn’t hear everything that was being said since victory lane is right by the turn 11 side of pit road) and their careers and why the award was special to them. I also admit that I loved witnessing Tony and Ernie talk to each other before and after the event- I would have loved to hear what they were saying. Here are some pictures from the event:


(photo source: Amy K. Marbach)

(Photo Source: Amy K. Marbach)

(Photo Source: Amy K. Marbach)

We left the track after the plaque presentation because we still had to check into our much closer to the track hotel in Benicia. We got checked in and walked to dinner a bit later (after nursing our already vigilant sunburns).


(Photo Source: Amy K. Marbach)

Saturday was the day I was most excited for this year because it was the day of the Tony Stewart Foundation Tony Stewart VIP Experience event. We started off our day by leaving our hotel early and getting to the track again- just in time to slide into Jeff Gordon’s media presser.  I was looking forward to it because I wanted to hear more about the biography coming out because yes I am excited about it (I would be even more excited if it was a Tony Stewart one but what can I do). He actually spent a lot of time talking about Tony’s retirement year (in his defense he kept being asked about it) and he talked about his sit down with Brad Keselowski after the whole social media thing where Brad mentioned JG shouldn’t be in the booth because of bias.Finally there was mentioned the book at the very end of his presser- but it was really just a brief mention.

After Jeff Gordon’s presser we decided we needed to start making our way to the designated meeting spot for the Tony Stewart VIP event. If you have never been to a road course or Sonoma specifically it’s huge – so huge that there are three different shuttles that give you rides to the different areas of the track. We needed to be at the Turn 7 shuttle stop which turns out is the red shuttle-which we hopped on down at the main grandstands area.  We then got out at the turn 7 shuttle stop but then decided that we were at the wrong turn 7 shuttle stop (turns out there are two) and walked down the hill to the other one (I later found out the first stop was the stop we should have been at all along). After chatting with the shuttle stop/info booth people we decided that we were again in the wrong area which did not surprise me because I don’t own a sense of direction. Ask anyone who knows me- I can get lost in a one story shopping mall and have many times much to the chagrin of anyone I am with because we have this little mall in the town I am in and I STILL get lost in it. Heck a few months ago I got lost on the way to the dentist office- and it was the same dentist I have gone to for the last 10 years or so because I decided to go a “back” way because of road construction, but I totally digress.

Watching qualifying at The Groove. (Photo Source: Amy K. Marbach)

So the uber helpful shuttle stop people flagged us down a golf cart that took us up to where they thought we should be. Word to the wise- when getting into one of those carts that have the back bench facing out towards the back like a 70s station wagon make sure you HOLD ON because I nearly flew out when they went to take off.  Anyway they dropped us off at the Turn 7 Terrace which still that wasn’t the right place either (turns out however that was the Jeff Gordon Home Town HERO hospitality area). I finally called the contact number we had for the event and a golf cart was dispatched to our location- which technically was really CLOSE to where we were just not quite in the right spot. So after our second golf cart ride of the morning we finally arrived at The Groove- which is a really really nice mobile hospitality suite (with air conditioning- which was AWESOME because it was dang hot out). Upon entering we were quickly wristbanded, given the beverage of our choice (Diet Coke please), and I was soon chatting with Joni Thompson the executive director of Tony’s foundation. It was awesome to be able to finally meet and chat with her in person as previously our conversations had be relegated to email and phone conversations.  We all mingled (and by “all mingled” that included with Tony’s mom Pam as well- and Tony’s dad Nelson arrived a bit later closer to when Tony arrived) and then some of us went out to the outside area to watch qualifying- we had an amazing view of Turn 7 both from the outdoor area shaded area of the GROOVE and the upper observation deck (which I didn’t dare go up on because you know…the whole fear of heights thing).

The upper deck of The Groove. (Photo Source: Amy K. Marbach)

Everyone cheered when Tony passed us during qualifying and we were all excited of course when he made the second round of qualifying.

After the second round of qualifying we were all fed a wonderful lunch and could eat either outside or in (we choose in because hello…air conditioning). Of course here Misty would want me to tell you while it was hot to me the central coast of California dweller where we start to get cranky when it’s hotter than 75- the whether was not hot to her since she has been living in Vegas for more than 10 years now and has acclimated  to the dry hot arid air of the desert down there. Lunch was chicken or ribs and several different salads. There were also trays of desserts but honestly I forgot to grab one and didn’t even think about them when we got back inside.  After we ate we were treated to a couple of short videos – one of Tony talking about the foundation and another from the foundation website called “Just Another Guy” talking about Tony the philanthropist – that they wanted us to all see before Tony got there.

Tony got to us a bit later and stood in front of us for a Q&A where he talked about anything and everything people wanted to discuss including wine (doesn’t drink it- or should I say hasn’t since he was young and got drunk on Boone’s Farm) to driving a street car to fostering a tiger. Actually that was one of my favorite stories because while I knew he

Tony Stewart talks to VIP Experience Guests inside The Groove (Photo Source: Amy K. Marbach)

fostered a tiger years ago until it turned his living room furniture into a “toothpick factory” he told us all about how there were two nights that the tiger who slept in a dog kennel made for a dog about the size of a lab that was stationed next to his bed but there were two nights that the tiger was over tired and having a bad night and wouldn’t go to sleep…so he actually crawled into the kennel with the tiger (and had his then girlfriend lock him in it with the tiger) to help the tiger calm down and go to sleep because it would often sleep on his chest.  Unfortunately after the tiger fell asleep Tony ended up getting a leg cramp in the kennel and couldn’t get OUT of the kennel because he had gone in head first until he could eventually rouse his girlfriend and get her to unlock the kennel so he could get out.  That was my favorite story that came out during the Q&A because it showed his total love of animals. After the Q&A was over Tony sat down at one of the hightop tables inside The Groove and the guests could all file through and get something signed by Tony and chat with him as well as have their picture taken by a professional photographer and Joni would also take photos with people’s cameras or cellphones at the same time. When it was my turn up there to with Tony I told him that I had seen him get his Wall of Fame plaque presented to him the day before and he told him that it was a big honor because Ernie had been retired for 15 years or something like that and he hadn’t even really retired yet. He seemed truly humbled to be part of the Sonoma Hall of Fame which I thought was really cool. After all the guests had filtered through the line for their autographs/pictures we then were all set up outside to be in a group picture with Tony with turn 7 as our background.

Which reminded me of something Tony said during the Q&A- he asked the group if they would be back for the race and told us that if we were in Turn 7 for the race it would be a great view because exciting things happen in that turn. In case you didn’t know it was that turn that Denny took the lead from Tony on the last lap of the race.

The Tony Stewart VIP Experience group then got to mingle some more and eventually started leaving with a time to meet up on Sunday for the Garage Tours.


If you have never gone to Sonoma before- one thing you need to know is that race day traffic both coming and going to the track is a real bear- especially if you are heading into the track via Highway 37 from Vallejo/Benicia. It’s not uncommon for us to be stuck in traffic going the wrong direction (because when you leave the track you are just shuffled out of the track at the nearest exit from your parking area going whichever way- which for us always seems to be the opposite direction from what we need) for many HOURS.  It’s gotten to the point that we just make a big loop around the bay and end up coming back towards Benicia from the south after stopping in Marin for food because we are usually pretty darn hangry at that point in the evening as well. Anywhoo- we get into the track and down to the garage area and by this time pit road is PACKED with cars so I take a few pics from the media center and a few in the garage (which is pretty darn empty at this point except for the cars finishing up tech) and then we wait for the race to start.

(Photo Source: Amy K. Marbach)

We take in the race from the media center – which gives us an pretty awesome view of turn 11 and in our case- Paul Menard and Ryan Blaney’s pit stalls (there are also TVs so we can see what’s going on the rest of the track plus a TV that’s playing the national broadcast but with the sound turned way down). Announcements get made of the PA for us of things like penalties during pitstops (who they are for and what kind of penalty- like uncontrolled tire, speeding etc), why there are cautions, how long the cautions are were, when someone is released from the infield care center, those kind of things. Tony stayed up in the top six for most of the race until he got shuffled back during a pit stop sequence.  At that point I was honestly sitting there hoping he would end up with a top 10 finish.  I remember looking at the leaderboard and seeing Tony in 17th position with a little more than 30 laps to go and thinking come on- we can do a top 10. Something else you might not know about watching the race in the media center- cheering for any specific driver is strictly frowned upon (as is wearing any driver gear in case you were wondering- you will not see any driver gear in the media center). It’s not to say that no one makes any noise- there are always oohs when someone dumps someone and that kind of thing but it’s nothing like sitting in the stands. I am telling you this so you will understand why I left the media center when Tony took the lead. I couldn’t have stayed in there without getting us kicked the heck out and not invited back the next year.  No doubt if I would have stayed in the media center by the end of the race I would have been standing on the counter with my face glued to the window overlooking the turn/pits. And some of the things that came out of my mouth during the epic battle between Tony, Denny and Martin Truex… well let’s just say that after Tony won or maybe it was during the epic battle because I didn’t check my phone much during the battle because my brain was too busy trying to figure out who was leading? My mom texted me this: “Have you been escorted out of the media center yet?  Have you caused unbridled pandemonium?” My mom knows me all too well from watching races with me. Some of the things I said that Misty thought were humorous (at one point she said she should be videoing me because it would surely go viral): “If you pass Tony Stewart Martin Truex Jr – you are dead to me.” and later after Denny did pass Tony “That’s it Denny you are dead to me.” Of course there was some cussing sprinkled in around the various 20 something laps that the epic battle happened. Then when Tony won? The cussing turned to happy happy tears for this girl. Because as you all know #smokeALWAYSrises.  As I have mentioned many many MANY times- I forget how to work my camera when Tony wins. It’s happened since the first time I saw him win (which happened to be his first win at Autoclub) in person and the only picture I got was a blurry one of a wheel through a fence. So I don’t have any burnout pictures and by the time I made it to victory lane the place was a damn zoo and I couldn’t have gotten pictures of anything except for the backs of people so I didn’t even bother to try. So any of the victory lane pics are attributed to the talented photographers who don’t get wrapped up in the race as noted below the pictures but the rest of the pictures in this post are totally mine!

Seriously though? How easy would it have been for Tony after getting passed in 7 by Denny to just go on the defensive and protect 2nd for a really good points day. Instead he NEVER EVER GAVE UP and it worked for him in the last turn. It’s finishes like that that make me LOVE road course racing- especially when it’s your driver making them.

Here is a link to my 2016 Sonoma photo album on flickr. This is just a small sampling of the pictures I took and I will try to upload more pictures as I can get through editing them.

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One Response

  • Marilyn says:

    Oh, AMY, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, FOR YOUR WONDERFUL POST!!!!! I have been waiting all week to see what you had to say. I KNEW IT WOULD BE GREAT! Tears in my eyes the whole read. I heard the start of the race on the radio but missed the rest because I was visiting my aunt & uncle. Didn’t even know Tony had won til next day. Been on Cloud 9 all week and anxiously awaiting your blog. Also enjoying everything & anything I could find on the internet. THANKS AGAIN FOR YOUR FANTASTIC POST. Great way to top off my week. Marilyn

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