For 340 days in a year, Sonoma Raceway is buzzing with the roars of engines from professional races to mere test-drives.
So just imagine how much work is squeezed in during the 20-plus days when it resembles a peaceful ranch to keep up with its core strategy of being a sustainable facility.
“People don’t usually associate race tracks with an enlightened attitude towards environmental issues,” Steve Page, president and general manager of Sonoma Raceway, said.
For them, however, this is a “great opportunity to demonstrate that someone in our business takes this issue very seriously.”
“So, this makes us very unique,” he stressed during a private media tour to the venue.
Located in California’s historic city of Sonoma about 55 kilometers from San Francisco, the race circuit – aside from also being known for its popular vineyards – has attracted a lot of attention for its push toward sustainability.
Indeed, the folks at Sonoma Raceway are working very hard. It has been in a long-term partnership with Panasonic Corporation of North America for this endeavour; in 2011, 1,700 solar panels were installed at the track, which Page described as the “cornerstone” of a larger program to show how much they care about the environment.
Today, over 40 percent of the power used at Sonoma Raceway is harnessed through Panasonic’s solar panels. Page said the goal is to have it at 100 percent – even exceeding that so they can return some of the energy to the grid, which he hopes will be finalized in 2016.
Such a deal will greatly affect their electricity costs; at present, Sonoma Raceway racks up to a $220,000 bill yearly, an amount that would have easily been close to $300,000 if not for Japan-based Panasonic’s solar installations.
Page and Co., as well as Panasonic, are not alone, though; sheep are providing natural land care, helping to maintain the facility’s grasses and fire lanes, while owl boxes are provided to encourage these birds to nest and help with natural rodent mitigation. Even water used for various purposes is processed on-site.
“We don’t get 100-percent in the recycling stream, but we’re close; every bottle, cardboard, can and tire is recycled rather than going to the landfill,” Page said.
Also, through its Track Ambassador program, the raceway engages approximately 300 volunteers to help around the facility during event weekends and at various promotional and charitable activities throughout the year.
‘VERY, VERY POSITIVE’
Panasonic – Sonoma Raceway’s “first and most important sponsor” in its sustainability program – has set up solar installations at its grandstand structure, performance garage and a marquee along California State Route 67 that leads to the circuit – “large and very visible manifestations to showcase our concern for the environment and Panasonic’s technology”, according to Page.
He is confident that the racing sector will follow Sonoma Raceway’s tracks in terms of sustain-ability. It won’t be done overnight, thanks to a number of factors, but it is indeed very feasible.
While for the most part racing is still based on internal combustion engines and burning carbon-based fuels, grand prix events featuring electric cars are already growing around the world.
“As technology in alternative fuel and electric-powered vehicles become more common, we’re going to start more [gradual]adoption,” Page said.
The important thing here is that there is a venue like Sonoma Raceway that is leading the way in promoting sustainability – without compromising on visual and aesthetic quality.
Page told Khaleej Times that feedback – from race teams to fans to onlookers – has been “very, very positive.”
“Our experience with Panasonic at all at our facilities has been very positive; the size and quality of images are really breathtaking,” he pointed out.
Upgrades to Sonoma Raceway’s facilities are all set to be implemented. It is in the process of finalizing the designs and permissions for two new consumer-facing displays for the event season, plus improvements to towers and scoreboards – one of which will be a four-sided LED board that will be 27 feet higher and will display up to 23 race positions.
The most massive display to be put up will be at Sonoma Raceway’s sister circuit, Bristol Motor Speedway in Tenessee – a four-sided board dubbed as the “Colossus.”
“It was a source of a lot of attention and very noteworthy in a lot of people’s minds that someone in our industry would put the kind of emphasis and priority that we have in making this a sustainable facility,” Page said.
Asked by Khaleej Times where does Sonoma Raceway rank in terms of sustainability, he didn’t bat an eyelash in saying, “the best.”
“It depends on what metrics you use, but I don’t think no one has put emphasis like we have, sustainability as a core part of our philosophy,” he added.