You know your day’s going to be amazing when it starts out with your bus driving straight onto the race track at Sonoma Raceway.
No, this wasn’t a dream. Nor a video game. It was one of the wildest (and longest!) days of my blogging life. It was surreal. It was competitive. It was pure adrenaline. It was…. early. Very very early.
I’m so not a morning person. Not at all. So when I saw the itinerary for the Disney Blogger #Cars3Event trip, I definitely had some mixed feelings. Sure, the interviews, experiences and fellow blogger interaction sounded out of this world. But there was that one thing… Our bus on Tuesday departed the hotel at 6:30 am.
Yeah. That’s when the bus LEFT the hotel.
Needless to say, much coffee was consumed before hopping on the bus, while riding on the bus, and after arriving at our destination: Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma California!
After fighting through way too much traffic, we finally made it! When we arrived at the Sonoma Raceaway, however, our poor bus driver found himself a tad bit lost. Not exactly sure where to go, he drove past a bleacher area, hung a right and literally headed straight down to the racetrack. Yes, the actual racetrack!
Thankfully, we stopped him before he went any further, and after backing up a bit, he managed to find his way to the right area. Myself and two dozen bloggers snarfed down a great breakfast (and coffee, oh so much coffee) and then got into the day’s events.
We sat through a number of fascinating presentations revealing all sorts of behind-the-scenes goodies about Cars 3, including a History of Racing. As someone who never really cared one way or the other about NASCAR, I have to say these guys know how to sell the sport! I’m definitely intrigued now.
I’ll be sharing all that Cars 3 info with you over the next few months, so keep your eyes peeled right here at Mommy’s Busy, Go Ask Daddy. (Though keep reading this post to learn all about that fascinating History of Racing!)
Later in the morning before lunch, the big event arrived. Very smart move scheduling this event before lunch, because otherwise I may’ve lost mine. Yes, we got to ride around the Sonoma Raceway in a real race car!
Racing Around Sonoma Raceway
Before donning a helmet, I did my best Papa Smurf impression with this, well, I don’t even know what you call it but it’s like a cloth shower cap. It goes on before you put on your helmet to protect your perfectly coifed hair (or for other hygienic issues I’m sure.).
Next up, we buddied up in teams of three. I joined fellow bloggers Dina (My Un-Entitled Life) and Olivia (This N’ That With Olivia), as we prepared for what very well may’ve been the last ride of our lives!
A quick look over at the bleachers only increased my fear factor. No witnesses? Gulp.
This whiteboard from earlier in the day where we enjoyed our breakfast shows the course that we’d be following. I always thought racetracks were a big oval and was imagining we’d be zipping around a big flattened circle at like 200 mph. Nope. Not even close.
The Sonoma Raceway is a rare breed of racetrack. See, it has all sorts of twists and turns and lefts and rights. Not to mention hills that go up and yes even down! So now I had no idea what to expect as the three of us stepped into our race car. Our lives were now totally in the hands of driver Dave.
I don’t need to describe the trip to you since I actually have video, courtesy of a GoPro camera in the car! All I’ll say is that we didn’t even come close to 200 mph. We were probably doing more like 90 mph. However… that’s 90 mph on a curve as we turned left and right.
And what REALLY made things crazy was that we weren’t alone. Nope! We had two other race cars zipping in and out and around the track right alongside us, narrowly avoiding collisions at practically every turn.
Here, take a look:
The only other time that my heart almost burst out of my chest was when another race car pulled directly in front of us. I mean like directly. I think you may have been able to fit one maybe two sheets of paper between our bumper and theirs!
The rest of the day was certainly a lot less heart-racing, but still quite competitive!
The Cars 3 Pit Stop Challenge
Our gaggle of 24 bloggers headed into a garage for the Cars 3 Pit Stop Challenge!
Oh, look who showed up to help us out with the challenge! It’s two of my favorite characters from the Cars franchise: Luigi and Guido!
Did I mention how much I love this guy? And apparently he loves me right back, since he taught me some slick tire-changing moves!
We were quickly shown how to use the super powered gun to take off the nuts and put them back on. One simple switch basically tells the thing to turn forward or reverse. The Cars 3 Pit Stop Challenge consists of teams of two trying to change a tire as quickly as possible. Remove the nuts, take off the tire, put on a new tire, put the nuts back on.
Sounds easy right?
Wrong! Those tires are heavy and they don’t line up so easily with the bolts. It also doesn’t help when the gun breaks on you halfway through your attempt. (Grumble. Grumble.)
I partnered up with my blogger buddy Jennifer (My Boys and Their Toys) and while we faced adversity in our first attempt, we were allowed a second attempt due to equipment malfunction. This time, we put on our true game faces and got down to business.
Take a look at some future pit professionals:
Oh, we cut our time from over 1 minute down to a mere 31 seconds to take the High Score of the Day! Ka-chow!
Additionally, we all got to look inside those big trailers that carry these race cars up and down those highways. The bottom of the trailer is loaded with equipment including the real critical life-saving ones like… a microwave and TV!
The cars are loaded up on the top part of the trailer, where you can fit a number of them in there and strap them in for good measure. And no need to worry about them getting lonely, since you can peek in on them through an open area.
After wrapping things up in the Pit Stop Challenge, I was proud to say I received a certificate proving I really did attend!
Touring a Race Car Garage
Besides crushing the competition in the Pit Stop Challenge and exploring how race cars get around, we had the privilege to take a peek into one of the local garages: Robin Automotive owned by Tony Nicholson. Yeah, on the Sonoma Raceway there are tons of companies offering car-related services to make sure your race car doesn’t just look top-notch, but performs at its peak.
This Cooper Monaco was actually driven by Bruce McLaren back in 1962! Looks like a real sweet ride to me. I can envision this one zipping down the racetrack on an episode of Speed Racer!
Oooh, scandal! Here’s what a race car looks like naked!
I’m in love with The Commander here. Yep, ol’ #98 is a McLaren.
How good a mechanic is Tony? Well if the Dark Knight trusts him with his car, he’s gotta be pretty darn impressive if you ask me!
The History of Racing – From NASCAR to Cars 3
It wasn’t all fun and games at Sonoma Raceway, though. Yes, we even received a fantastic education! This NASCAR-newbie learned a tremendous amount about the history of racing and how that legacy was beautifully weaved into the storyline of Cars 3.
Easily my favorite “lesson” of the day was sitting down with Jay Ward and Ray Evernham to learn all about the History of Racing. Jay is the Creative Director of Cars 3, and Ray is a former Crew Chief for Hendrick Motorsports. He worked on the crew for some NASCAR guy you may’ve heard of… Jeff Gordon!
The energy and interaction between Jay and Ray was intoxicating. They both clearly love racing and have a tremendous amount of respect for the sport. It’s that respect that led Pixar to do some serious research into the history of racing and incorporate as much detail as possible into the Cars franchise.
The biggest mystery, of course, is what does NASCAR stand for? That one’s easy to solve: National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.
But how exactly did NASCAR get started? That, my dear reader, is a fantastic story! According to Jay Ward, it actually all began in what’s known as the Moonshine Days back when these guys used to run “product.”
“Moonshiners would make their product and they’d need to get it to the towns and cities,” explained Evernham. “And 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 in them at nights through winding roads.”
When the moonshine runners started racing against each other just for fun (to see who was clearly the best), they quickly gained a fan following. They started racing out in the fields, where crowds would form to cheer them on. That’s when Bill France Sr. came along and realized he could turn this into a legitimate sport. People would actually pay to see these cars race against each other.
Even better, by the early 1950s, a lot of car manufacturers took notice. As Ward revealed, “Manufacturers started saying, ‘Why are these guys running old cars? What if we ran one of our new cars out there and people saw how fast our cars were?’ Race on Sunday, sell on Monday.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Every decade seemed to have a new car style from bigger engines to wings on the back, all with the ultimate goal of increasing speed. Over time NASCAR would tighten up its rules to ensure no cars got way out of hand. But as you can imagine, there were plenty of legendary racers and mechanics since NASCAR’s inception, and quite a few of them have been immortalized in Cars 3.
“When we worked on Cars 3 we wondered: Who would Doc run with back in the day?” asked Ward. “Who did Doc race with all those championship years? We wanted to create these legend characters. So we actually looked at the history of the sport and we based our legends on the real legends.”
Junior Moon – This ol’ timer is based on legendary NASCAR driver and mechanic Junior Johnson. Johnson’s father was a moonshiner and Junior became a bootlegger. He was a great driver, got arrested and went to prison. When he came out, he went on the straight and narrow and became a stock car racer and champion driver. Ultimately he transferred over to become a mechanic and a champion crew chief. He kept climbing the corporate ladder and ultimately brought the first major sponsor onboard to NASCAR.
River Scott – As an African-American, Wendell Scott had to overcome a tremendous amount of adversity as a racer in the early days of the sport. He quickly ended up becoming one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR history. He always wrote “Mechanic: Me” on the side of his car, since he did it all! “This is a guy without a pit crew,” said Evernham. “Wendell Scott would come down Pit Row, get out of his own car, jack it up, change his own tires, put his own gas in, get back in and then drive. And still win the race!”
Louise Nash – Louise Smith was an incredible driver who also battled a ton of adversity. She won several times at NASCAR’s highest level back at a time when women weren’t even allowed in the pits. She drove a new Nash factory car back in the day, so the Pixar crew turned Louise into a Nash, to run laps with Doc.
Smokey – Smokey Yunkick was a really colorful character, according to Evernham. As one of the best mechanics in racing of all time, Smokey was known for stretching the rules quite a bit. “His theory was that if it didn’t say you couldn’t do it in the rules, then you could do it,” he says. “Smokey was a good mentor, and I received the largest fine in NASCAR history at that time for some of the tricks Smokey had told me about. [Laughs] A great guy and a lot of wisdom.”
“We were looking back and wondering who was Doc’s crew chief,” added Ward. “Smokey would be the perfect guy. He started as a crew chief for the Hudson Hornets. I was talking to the director and asked what vehicle should we make Smokey? Normally the crew chief is a pickup truck. But guess what, Hudson actually made pickup trucks back in the day, so we made him a Hudson, just like Doc Hudson. And that became our Smokey character.”
Over time, the cars have changed a bit. Drivers have gotten more brash and these days spend more time in simulations than they do on the track. But at its core, NASCAR really hasn’t changed all that much.
“The tools have changed,” said Evernham, “but the spirit of the sport remains the same. Going all the way back to the legends. The racetrack is still the battle field, but the races aren’t always won by the strongest. Sometimes they’re won by the competitor that’s smartest and uses his or her tools the best.”
Evernham and Ward are passionate about racing and quite pleased with the partnership between NASCAR and Pixar. “I’m really proud of the way that Pixar chose to be so respectful of our legacy,” said Evernham, “and really tell those stories accurately. I’ll tell you in working with them they’re very respectful of where our heroes came from.”
With that, our crash course in The History of Racing was complete. I’ll never watch another Cars movie the same way again!
Exhausted, exhilarated and chock full of infinite more racing car knowledge than I had when I left the hotel at 6:30 am that morning, I finally boarded the bus around 5 pm. It had certainly been one long and amazing whirlwind of a day at Sonoma Raceway. One thing was for certain, though, I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel of my own car and really spice up my daily commute home from work.
What do you love about racing?