New Race Directors and Sanctioning Body on Board for Sonoma Speed Festival

Sonoma, CA — The inaugural Sonoma Speed Festival scheduled for May 30-June 2 — opening just 10 weeks from today — has a new sanctioning body and three vintage racing veterans coming on board as the event’s race directors.
This past Tuesday evening, Cris Vandagriff’s Historic Motor Sports Association (HMSA) emailed a brief announcement stating that as of March 19 HMSA “will no longer be the sanctioning body” for the event “and will no longer have any involvement.”
Photo: Sonoma Speed Festival

Replacing HMSA will be three veterans of the vintage racing and collector car scene — Steve Earle, considered the founding father of American vintage auto racing, has been appointed as Senior Consultant to the Race Committee; Tim Pendergast, currently the director of operations at the Amelia Island Concours and race director for the past three Porsche Rennsport Reunions; and Dan Radowicz, who for 20 years until 2009 was the race director for Classic Sports Racing Group, as well as a key part of Steve Earle’s General Racing which organized the Sonoma event’s predecessor (the Wine Country Classic), and also helped launch the Historic Grand Prix (F1 cars) group under Phil Reilly and James King.

Together, this team will scrutinize every competing entry to ensure the vehicles are as accurate to their original time period as possible and that race groups will be sorted for both vehicle competitiveness and class. They will also enforce rigid safety standards on both competitors and the event venue.
It was not confirmed at our deadline, but it’s believed the sanctioning body will be under Pendergast’s shingle, as a decade or more ago he ran his own vintage club, Continental Historic Racing Association (CHRA).
The change comes as something of a surprise since there was enthusiasm for the new event being under the auspices of HMSA when it was announced last August, due to HMSA’s reputation as one of the stricter vintage race clubs (as is CSRG) in terms of period-correct car preparation, driver attitude and behavior, and car provenance.
The Sonoma Speed Festival is backed financially by Jeff O’Neill, one of the largest wine distributors in California and a vintage racer, who won the contract for Sonoma Raceway’s June event over Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) which had organized the event for the past three years after taking over Earle’s General Racing.
The palace intrigue apparently began while HMSA was holding its spring club event at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca last weekend. VM was told by Radowicz, who has known event backer O’Neill for the past 10 years since O’Neill began racing with CSRG, that he was first contacted about the race director opening “in the past three or four days.” VM was unable to contact Pendergast for comment before our deadline.
The event has ambitious plans to put itself on the map right out of the gate. Sonoma Speed Festival General Manager Ryan Turri told VM the four-day fest will have two daily sessions per group. Each car entry (at a stiff $1,850) will include two passes to the luxe Driver Lounge’s full catering/beverages and all evening events, access to the wine & food tasting pavilion, as well as to the glassed-in, air-conditioned viewing area and patio overhanging the hot pits for viewing the Le Mans Endurance Legends pit stops.
Turri also noted that similar to the Goodwood Revival, all 220 race cars will be placed by group under tents in the paddock for a seamless, organized presentation for spectators, with explanatory signage for the cars. Teams with big rigs will still have access to their tools and parts via a separate paddock area for the haulers. Turri said there are currently 330 entries received, with another dozen (including Lotus 26R, Porsche 908, ALMS prototypes) over the transom yesterday (March 20). They will announce all acceptances on or about March 25.
There also will be plenty of sidebar distractions for spectators, with advance 3-day tickets at $90 versus $150 at the gate.
HMSA’s Vandagriff expressed frustration with what he termed a “lack of communication” from organizers to both HMSA and the prospective entrants, and noted the heavy lifting required to staff and operate registration, tech, paddock, track ops, corner workers and safety/medical personnel. Radowicz countered that “things are coming together very well; I’m optimistic and see no problem getting to the green flag.”
Asked what he’ll do with the Sonoma event now off his plate, Vandagriff quipped, “I’m going to Maui.”
–Mike Silverman