While in San Francisco for the Cars 3 Event, we spent a day at the amazing Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, CA. This day was filled learning about the history of racing, a tour of a garage, a ride around the track in a race car, a pit stop challenge and more. What a busy but fantastic and fun day!! Plus, you’ll find the new trailer for Cars 3 which rides into theaters on June 16th!
The History of NASCAR
I grew up knowing what NASCAR was and had a few family members who were huge fans. However, I never knew the history of racing. This presentation at Sonoma Raceway was so informative as we learned the history of stock car racing from two of the best people Jay Ward (Creative Director) & Ray Evernham (Former Crew Chief for Hendrick Motorsports).
First off, Jay and Ray introduced themselves and shared what parts they played in the making of Cars 3. Jay works on everything from theme parks to video game publishing and also works for John Lassiter to make sure Cars is everything it is supposed to me. Ray is a technical consultant with Jay and is a three time NASCAR champion crew chief with Jeff Gordon, Daytona 500 winner.
What Does NASCAR Stand For?
Did you know that NASCAR stood for National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing? I sure didn’t!! Ray tells us that this acronym was given by Bill Franz Sr. when he got a group of guys together and started a legitimate league. Jay and Ray then go on to describe where NASCAR began and where it gets it’s roots.
“NASCAR started in what we cal the “Moonshine Days” when these guys used to run the product. Moonshiners would make their product and they’d need to get it to the towns and cities. The easiest way to transport that stuff was by using guys who were called bootleggers, who would take stock-appearing cars and modify them. They were great at driving them at night through winding roads. These guys began racing against each other on the backroads until they realized that they could outrun the cops and were faster than another racer. They started to take their cars instead of being on the road where nobody could see them and brought them to the field so your buddy could see you beat another guy. There became a strong rivalry between the Dawsonville, GA Moonshiners and the North Carolina Wilkes Borough area Moonshiners!”
During the presentation, Ray and Jay showed us numerous pictures of cars from history. They also told us what part they had in the beginning of NASCAR. For example, the 1938 Ford Coupe was a great bootlegger car.
Jay tells us that “by the early 1950s, car manufacturers started to wonder why the guys were running old cars. They had the idea to race one of the new cars on Sunday and then sell on Monday so people could see how fast their cars were.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, cars got big with motors in them! The cars were getting bigger and faster so NASCAR started to limit the engine size. Then the tracks started changing too. At this point, too, they also started showing races on TV!
Next, we learned about the “Days of Thunder” where corporate sponsorships, more ego, more TV, etc. In the 1990s, you couldn’t win unless you had a mustache!
Cars 3 Trailer
Top NASCAR Legends
There are numerous legends in NASCAR history that helped form the characters in Cars. The ones that Jay and Ray highlight are:
- Junior Johnson — Junior’s father was a Moonshiner and Junior became a bootlegger, who was arrested, went to prison and then came out and went on the straight and narrow to become a stockcar racer and champion driver before he transferred over to being a mechanic, became a champion crew chief and car owner. Finally, he climbed the corporate ladder and brought the first major sponsor to NASCAR. In fact, the first major title sponsor. Junior is still alive and Ray and Jay met him in North Carolina. He inspired the character in Cars Junior Moon!
- Wendell Scott — Wendell overcame some serious diversity in the early days of the sport. He was an amazing driver and a great mechanic. He was one of NASCAR’s highest levels and did all of that in the late 1950s and 1960s. Wendell is African-american and is one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR history. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and was given all of the awards that he earned. He opened the doors for a lot of people who are still in the sport today. Wendell had no pit crew, he would come down Pit Row, get out of his car, jack it up, change his own tires, put his own gas in, get in and drive….. and STILL win the race!! WHOA!!
- Louise Smith — Louise is an incredible person who fought a huge battle too! She won several times as NASCAR’s highest level at a time when women were not allowed in the pits. Louis is Nash in the film and is from the same era as Doc.
- Smokey Yunick — Smokey is Ray’s hero! Ray got to know this amazing man before he passed away and said that he was a common sense genius. He was one of the best mechanics in racing but also has some good colorful character. He was known for stretching the rules. His theory was if you didn’t say you couldn’t do it in the rules, then you could. Smokey was a good mentor and Ray received the largest fine in NASCAR history at that time for some of the tricks Smokey told him about. Too funny, huh?
- Mario Andretti — Mario was a wild kid out of Pennsylvania that was sliding his car around causing the other guys some craziness! They said he wouldn’t make it, but he not only became a world champion, he was one of 2 men in the history of motor sports to win the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500.
It is so neat to see these legends in Cars 3 which opens in theaters on June 16th!!
After we learned about what inspired all of the characters, we were told a little about the history of Daytona! The track was half sand and half road. The bootleggers had an advantage because they knew they could fly down the paved roads and then make that bootleg turn into the sand — it was dangerous though!
Recent Changes in NASCAR
In 2006, the first Cars movie was released. Even looking at the changes between Cars 1, Cars 2 and Cars 3, you can see the changes in the cars and things of that nature. It goes along with all of the changes in NASCAR too! Another key point is that 5 years ago, the average age for NASCAR was probably close to 40. That age is coming down rapidly because of simulators. You’ve got guys that are 19 or 20 years old that grew up on video games and are coming out of the simulators and running the same speeds as our top drivers.
A Tour of Sonoma Raceway
Sonoma Raceway has so much to offer! We were given so many amazing opportunities to see all that Sonoma had to offer. One of the highlights of the trip to Sonoma was the ability to take a few laps around the racetrack in a race car with an experienced driver. I teamed up with 2 friends, Dina & Andrew, for this ride!! Our Driver Dave was a great driver and entertainer. He told us that we were going to ride around the track “Lightning McQueen Style!”
Check out some footage from our lap around the track! What a fun opportunity ;). Dave was an amazing driver and we had a blast!
Phew, what a whirlwind that ride was, but oh so fun!! It was truly an experience and so much fun!
Pit Stop Challenge & Tour of Car Trailer
After we caught our breath and had some lunch, we headed over to the Pit Stop Challenge. We were greeted with some pit crew members and given a brief overview of what we could do!
It was so fun to see the pit stop challenge in action and learn how to change a tire quickly. We also had the opportunity to sit in a car simulator and drive around the track!! Fun!
Before we left the Pit Stop Challenge, we were able to go inside a car trailer and see it!
It was so neat to chat with and see how clean the trailer was. The organization is phenomenal and so fun!
We were invited into a garage at Sonoma Raceway to chat with one of the mechanics, Tony, and learn about a normal day/week/weekend.
Tony has a tough job with long hours! He explained to us what goes in to taking care of these stock cars. Tony has been doing this for many years and hasn’t had a weekend off in 6 weeks! They run a race pretty much every weekend. He’s the guy who makes sure the cars run at every race. All of the hard work happens there in the shop, hopefully. You can tell that he absolutely LOVES what he does and knows his stuff.
Tony started at Sonoma Raceway in 1986 and has had this shop for quite some time. He used to be a professional racer and mechanic and it got to be like 16 weeks and lots of hours on the road. In 1994, he got into the stock car part of it. He grew up interested in these types of cars. In his shop, he has quite the variety of cars. He showed us a 1968 Chevron and is from the early period when they had just switched to rear engines and is a 4 cylinder. They were getting ready to race that car this weekend at Sonoma Raceway!
There’s all sorts of racing — like Saloon car (Sedan car) and Sports car racing. He works on a few of sports cars too! There is a lot of development in the cars from years ago and now. Some of the cars had 4 wheels and 2 passengers which is all that was required at some point. Then, there is a car with 4 wheels and an engine for each wheel. We got to take a walk around his garage and check out some of the neat cars that he’s worked on for many years.
What a Day!!
Wow, what a fun filled and fantastic day we had at Sonoma Raceway!! After the day spent at the track, I am even more excited to see Cars 3 when it is released on June 16th. Aren’t you excited?!