CIRCUITS: SEARS POINT INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
Name: Sears Point International Raceway
Attorney Robert Marshall Jr. and property developer Jim Coleman were out hunting in the late 1960s when they came up with the idea of building a racing circuit on the hillside overlooking the mudflats at the northern end of San Pablo Bay and at the entrance to the Sonoma Valley. It was horse ranch country but being located close to San Francisco they reckoned it could become a profitable business. The circuit was built on a 720-acre plot of land and work began in the summer of 1968 and was completed by December when the first race was held. The following year the pair sold the track to a Los Angeles entertainment company called Filmways and the circuit soon hosted its first USAC Indycar race - won by Dan Gurney in an Eagle. There were also a variety of SCCA events and drag races on the main straight. The track was not a financial success and it was closed in May 1970 and remained closed until 1973 when Hugh Harn and Parker Archer leased the track.
Bob Bondurant moved his racing school from Ontario Speedway and the SCCA announced plans to hold private races at the facility. The following year Bondurant and his partner Bill Benck took over the running of the track and motocross events attracted big crowds in the years which followed. In 1977 Bondurant put together a consortium to buy the track from Filmways but money was short and in 1980 Filmways regained control of the track when the new owners defaulted on payments.
A new consortium bought the facility at auction and began the slow process of building it up. A major sponsorship from Ford in 1983 helped and the track was repaved in 1985 after a fundraising campaign in the region. In 1985 one of the partners, Skip Berg, took control of the company and in 1987 the track signed a five-year deal to host the California Nationals NHRA drag racing event. This was a big success and in 1989 a deal was agreed for there to be a round of the NASCAR Winston Cup series. Ricky Rudd won the first race.
In 1991 Skip Barber took over the racing school operations from Bob Bondurant and spectator attendance for the NASCAR event reached 70,000. This enabled there to be further investment in 1994 and 1995 with the construction of VIP suites and improved medical facilities. Additional races were added to the calendar. The Skip Barber School was replaced by a Jim Russell operation in 1996 and that year there were over 100,000 spectators for the Winston Cup race. Skip Berg decided to sell the track to Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and in 1998 there was major renovation work with the track shortened from 2.52-miles to 1.94 with the addition of a new section of track called The Chute. An automotive industrial park was also developed.
As a facility Sears Point is versatile and, being located close to the vineyards and quaint hotels of the Sonoma and Napa Valleys has become increasingly popular with out-of-state visitors who enjoy the friendly welcome, the good food and great wine that the region has to offer.