The carousel turn at Sonoma Raceway is, like a carousel at the carnival, a nice feature that makes everyone smile. Also like the kind at a carnival, the carousel is highly trafficked—by racing series, track-day schools and more. But NASCAR stopped using it in 1998, and took more than 20 years to bring it back.
That wasn’t because NASCAR found a more entertaining or difficult way around the track, or because it wanted to be different. It was, partly, because NASCAR learned the carousel was a great place to store its stuff during a race weekend.
A recent NASCAR wire story shared by Autoweek said the original idea in axing the carousel in the 1990s and going with a simpler, shorter route instead at the California track, shown in the map below, was to let those watching in person see the cars come by their section of the grandstands more often.
Road courses are notorious for making people in the stands choose which part of the track they want to see as opposed to ovals, which can usually be seen in full, meaning shortening the track from the 2.52-mile carousel course to a 1.99-mile track let NASCAR run more laps at the track at faster intervals. Putting the carousel back in this year led NASCAR to shorten the race from 110 laps to 90 in order to keep it around the same distance, and cars passed at longer intervals.
But people wanted the carousel turn back regardless of the technicalities, and the CEO of the company over Sonoma Raceway, Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s Marcus Smith, was on board as well.
The problem was, NASCAR had begun to rely on the carousel for the storage of all of its race-weekend junk, which led NASCAR and the race track to put off its return. From the story:
“To tell the truth, part of the reason we hadn’t up till now was laziness,” said track president Steve Page. “The amount of equipment that shows up for a Cup race these days — compared to when I first got here in the ‘90s — it’s incredible. I just sit and watch all this stuff roll in from my office up on the hill.
“The carousel was a really convenient place to stash it all. We used to put all the trucks we used for driver intros and all this other equipment there. We’d talk about the carousel and say, ‘It really would be great to bring it back, but what are we going to do with all that stuff?’”
It’s basically like shoving every item strewn across your house into the nearest hall closet and hoping no one asks where they can hang their coat for the next two decades—if the hall closet were, you know, a major feature of a sporting field. Maybe NASCAR’s more relatable than we thought.
But NASCAR must have finally found a black hole to shove its extra equipment into this year, allowing the carousel to return for Sunday’s Cup Series race.
Bringing the carousel back didn’t magically make this year NASCAR’s best at Sonoma, considering the only cautions were for stage breaks and that the top-two finishers, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, had more than 30 seconds on third place. But it was still fun to watch Sonoma return to its more technical nature around the entire race track, and NASCAR had to figure out an actual solution to its clutter in order to make that happen.
That’s more than most of us can say about the hall closet, honestly.