From 1989 to 1997, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California used its full, 12-turn road course, which featured a sweeping sequence of turns called “The Carousel.”
The Carousel, part of the full Sonoma layout originally unveiled when the track opened in 1968, plunges from turn four down through turns five and six and navigates a more than 200-degree radius turn before dropping onto Sonoma’s longest straightaway from the turn-seven hairpin.
NASCAR first utilized the full 12-turn road course during its first Pacific Coast Late Model Division race at what was then called Sears Point Raceway in 1969 and on through numerous Cup Series, West Series, Southwest Series and Truck Series events until 1997. Since 1998, NASCAR had competed on a shorter, 1.99-mile configuration that bypassed The Carousel by connecting turns four and seven and calling it “The Chute.”
The full track is back for 2019 and only three active NASCAR drivers have experienced The Carousel at Sonoma Raceway.
Kyle Busch drove a Legends car there in 1998 and Jimmie Johnson drove it once in a driving school.
But Kevin Harvick may have the most “experience.”
Harvick started 31st and finished 35th, completing only 18 of the 50 laps in the 1995 Budweiser 200 NASCAR Southwest Tour Series race. He was driving the No. 55 Foster’s Freeze Chevrolet, which had engine problems early in the race.
The event was conducted on May 6, 1995 and it’s interesting to note where everyone was 24 years ago. Harvick’s team co-owner Gene Haas was continuing to build Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America but hadn’t formed a NASCAR team, yet.
Harvick’s other team co-owner Tony Stewart just started his successful quest to the win the United States Auto Club triple-crown, which meant winning the title in the sanctioning body’s Silver Crown, Sprint and Midget divisions.
Crew chief Rodney Childers was highly successful in karting, driving for a factory team with which he would win two national championships and three state championships.
Who knew that all four would come together years later to form a championship team?
Harvick will pilot the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) at this weekend’s SaveMart 350k at Sonoma, and he’ll do so with Mobil 1 technology on board as a sponsor and technical partner.
Mobil 1 isn’t just the world’s leading synthetic motor oil brand, it also provides the entire SHR organization with leading lubricant technology, ensuring that all SHR Mustangs have a competitive edge over the competition on the track. In its 17th consecutive season as the “Official Motor Oil of NASCAR,” Mobil 1 is used by more than 50 percent of teams throughout NASCAR’s top three series.
It’s been a long time since May 6, 1995. “This is how we do it,” by Montell Jordan was the No. 1 song, gas was $1.14 a gallon and Seinfeld was No. 1 on television.
But no one knew on May 6, 1995, that Haas, Stewart, Harvick and Childers would form one of the great teams in the long history of the NASCAR Cup Series.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Why do you prefer Mobil 1 synthetic?
“I’m a synthetic guy because, in 1993, when we were sitting in the engine shop, we dumped Mobil 1 synthetic in and that’s all we did and gained seven horsepower. From that day on, we would actually save our money and then go to the local auto parts store because, at that time, it was like $5.50 a quart and the conventional and other oils were like $3.50. At the big races, we would put the Mobil 1 in the car, and for the regular races we would put the regular oil in there. You know I’m going to say synthetic.”
Does your strategy change at Sonoma with the additional of The Carousel?
“I was in the simulator last week and got lost a couple of times – forgot where to turn. It is a lot different than I remember it from 1995. I told some of the guys in our organization that the last time I was there and ran this particular course, the course we have been running wasn’t even there. There was a mountain in the middle of the racetrack. A lot has changed. Running that portion of the racetrack, the lap time is longer and there are some different corners to deal with and, from (turn) 3B all the way through four, through The Carousel and the exit of it and what is a different turn seven than the one we have been racing, which was actually turn five. It depends how you count the corners. I love the fact, and honestly this was a conversation that Marcus Smith and I had at lunch one day and I asked why we don’t just run The Carousel and how cool it would be to throw it back. An hour later, he told me he talked to his guys and they were looking into it. Next thing you know we are running The Carousel. I love the fact they are changing it up. I think Watkins Glen could do the same thing. It seems like SMI is more aggressive in these types of situations with changing things up and trying new things and doing things more on the edge of not knowing what the outcome is going to be. As we have seen with the Roval (at Charlotte) and with the changes at Sonoma, to my knowledge I have never seen ISC do anything to their racetracks like SMI has done to several of their racetracks to try and improve the racing. I don’t think they are as worried about the life of their asphalt as they are the quality of the race. We have just seen them make a lot more aggressive changes in the things they have done on the SMI side.”