Historical NHRA Highlights in Sonoma
Drag racing has been a crucial piece of Sonoma Raceway's history since its inaugural season in 1969. While the cars, speeds and names may change, the high-speed excitement of Sonoma Raceway's quarter-mile drag strip has remained central to the wine country facility's success and enduring legacy.
Professional drag racing made its Sonoma Valley debut 50 years ago, as then-Sears Point Raceway hosted its first drag racing event, the San Francisco Open, on a freshly-paved quarter-mile drag strip, March 8-9, 1969. The entry list for the inaugural event included the likes of "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, Jim Davis and "Big John" Mazmanian. The raceway hosted its first NHRA National event, the California Nationals, on July 31, 1988. Inaugural event winners included Joe Amato (Top Fuel), Mark Oswald (Funny Car) and Harry Scribner (Pro Stock).
This weekend, the raceway hosts 11,000-horsepower drag racing machines featuring today's best drag racers, including John Force, JR Todd, Robert Hight, Ron Capps, Antron Brown and Doug Kalitta.
Below are some drag racing highlights from the past 50 years in Sonoma:
March 8-9, 1969: The San Francisco National Open marks the first NHRA-sanctioned drag race in Sonoma.
July 31, 1988: Joe Amato (Top Fuel), Mark Oswald (Funny Car) and Harry Scribner (Pro Stock) win the first NHRA Nationals event at then-Sears Point Raceway.
July 29, 1990: John Force posts his first of eight Funny Car wins in Sonoma (the most of any NHRA racer). He goes on to win in 1990-92, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2016.
Aug. 2, 1992: Don Prudhomme becomes the first driver to win in two different professional classes in Sonoma - Funny Car (1989) and Top Fuel (1992).
1996: The track is purchased by O. Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
Aug. 7, 1999: Warren Johnson runs the first 200-mph plus for Pro Stock in Sears Point history, covering the course at 200.77 mph.
Aug. 5, 2001: Phase two of the raceway's modernization officially kicks off at the conclusion of the NHRA FRAM Autolite Nationals when drag racers John Force and Gary Scelzi ripped up portions of the drag strip while piloting Caterpillar bulldozers.
March 27, 2002: NHRA stars Gary Scelzi and Kenny Bernstein take the ceremonial first pass down the completely refurbished quarter-mile drag strip, which features a 660-foot concrete launch pad and has been separated from the road course.
2002: The Pro Stock Motorcycle category is added to the NHRA Nationals event in Sonoma.
2004: Angelle Sampey becomes the first female NHRA Nationals winner in Sonoma capturing her first Pro Stock Bike win at Infineon Raceway.
July 31, 2005: Legendary racer Warren Johnson becomes the first drag racer to be inducted into the raceway's Wall of Fame.
July 31, 2005: Doug Kalitta posts his fifth Sonoma Top Fuel win.
July 29, 2006: Oakdale native Eric Medlen claims victory at his home track for John Force Racing.
July 26, 2009: Antron Brown sweeps western swing with Sonoma win in Top Fuel.
July 18, 2010: Ron Capps snaps a 13-year winless drought (1997) in Sonoma with his win in Funny Car. He went on to win in the category again in 2011.
July 27, 2014: Courtney Force becomes the winningest female driver in Funny Car history after defeating her father, John Force, in the final round in Sonoma. Courtney topped the record previously held by her sister, Ashley.
Aug. 2, 2015: All four No. 1 qualifiers went on to win their respective categories for the first time in NHRA history.
Aug. 2, 2015: Top Fueler Antron Brown joined Funny Car driver Ron Capps as a four-time Sonoma winner. Five-time Sonoma winners include Dough Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock).
July 31, 2016: John Force adds to his record for most NHRA career victories in Sonoma, with eight in the Funny Car class (1990-92, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2016).
July 29, 2017: Robert Hight sets the NHRA national Funny Car speed record at 339.87 mph.
July 30, 2017: J.R. Todd secured his first career Funny Car victory making him the first African-American to win in the NHRA Funny Car category and also the second driver in NHRA history to win at Sonoma Raceway in both nitro categories (Top Fuel, 2006 and 2016); the first was Don Prudhomme (Funny Car, 1989 and Top Fuel, 1992).
This marks the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series' only stop in Northern California, and the only chance to witness 11,000-horsepower dragsters rocket down the drag strip. For more information or to purchase tickets for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, visit sonomaraceway.com/nhra or call 800-870-7223.