Why wasn’t the carousel used earlier?

SONOMA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 21: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, leads Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Mobil 1 Ford, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 21, 2019 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Like father, unlike son.

In 1998, Speedway Motorsports Inc. founder Bruton Smith opted to shorten Sonoma Raceway to 1.99 miles so that fans could see the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars pass by at shorter intervals.

But his son, SMI CEO Marcus Smith, was all in when consensus favored restoring the track to its 2.52-mile length with the return of the carousel between Turns 4 and 7.

The change could have happened earlier, but for one main factor.

“To tell the truth, part of the reason we hadn’t up till now was laziness,” said track president Steve Page. “The amount of equipment that shows up for a Cup race these days—compared to when I first got here in the ‘90s—it’s incredible. I just sit and watch all this stuff roll in from my office up on the hill.

“The carousel was a really convenient place to stash it all. We used to put all the trucks we used for driver intros and all this other equipment there. We’d talk about the carousel and say, ‘It really would be great to bring it back, but what are we going to do with all that stuff?’”

But the sentiment favoring the return of the carousel finally prevailed in the track’s 50th anniversary year.

“I think everybody today enjoys a throwback,” Marcus Smith said. “And particularly with the 50th year, it makes a lot of sense to embrace the past. I love celebrating history in motorsports and NASCAR. When you think about Sonoma Raceway, one of the most storied spots on the track, the section of the carousel, is unique to Sonoma Raceway.

“We haven’t run it for a long time in NASCAR, and after talking to a few drivers over the last week or so, the simulator only takes you so far, and I think that’s going to make it super exciting… Kevin Harvick and I were having breakfast one morning, and he said, ‘Hey, have you thought about running the carousel?’

“I think it was just after the Roval race (at Charlotte Motor Speedway), posing the idea that, ‘You already did something crazy—how about something else?’”

Smith then called Page, and the first response was, “I don’t know where we’re going to put the stuff,” but serious conversations followed, and the change was implemented.

Greg Engle