Sonoma Raceway today announced it will apply for a variety of updates to its Sonoma County use permit, which would include the ability to host non-racing activities at the facility.

The proposal would enable the raceway to use its property for non-vehicular events, including a music festival and smaller social and fundraising events, while still maintaining strict limits on noise, event attendance and other factors impacting the surrounding region.

The application, which will be submitted to Sonoma County's Permit and Resource Management Department in the coming weeks, represents the raceway's first effort to make significant changes to its operating conditions in 17 years.  The raceway last applied for a major permit revision in the spring of 1997, which resulted in the entitlements for a $100 million modernization of the facility's infrastructure and amenities. 

The new application will not propose any significant physical changes to the facility, but would redefine the raceway as a "special event and entertainment" facility.  The current use permit and county general plan limit activity at the raceway to racing and related vehicle uses.

Events at the raceway are governed by specific noise and attendance limits outlined in the existing use permit, which would continue to be the case under the proposed changes, although some categories and limits would be modified.

"Our use permit reflects a snapshot of activity at the raceway nearly two decades ago," said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager.  "The professional sports and entertainment industry has changed dramatically in that time and our business model needs to change with it.  The revisions we've proposed will create a platform for the raceway to succeed as a business in the coming decades and to continue as a major regional economic contributor, while maintaining reasonable limits on any disruptive impacts on the local environment."

The most notable of the proposed changes would allow for a four-day music festival on the raceway grounds, utilizing existing seating and infrastructure, as well as the areas currently used for parking and camping.  Although specific plans for the festival are not fully developed, the raceway envisions an event featuring nationally-recognized artists presented in an environment that showcases Sonoma restaurants, wineries, arts and culture 

Among the other proposed changes is a reallocation of the raceway's

attendance limits, adding capacity to accommodate the music festival and consolidating other attendance categories into broader groupings.  Other requested items include:

  • Addition of lights to the karting facility and extended hours of operation to 10 p.m.
  • Five additional days of camping in lots to the west-side (Lakeville Highway) of the facility
  • Increased noise threshold for certain racing school programs 10 days per year
  • Additional evening use of the main track for certain noise-controlled car programs
  • Three additional days for non-racing promotional activities (e.g. pyrotechnics or jet flyovers)
  • Development of a winery tasting room in the raceway's former administrative offices at the facility entrance.

"Sonoma Raceway is one of the world's premier centers for motor racing and automotive events, and that will always be our core mission," said Page.  "However, we also have the facilities and expertise to host a broader array of activities that can help grow our business and benefit the community at large.  These changes to the raceway's permit will allow us to evaluate and pursue those opportunities as they arise over time."