When they asked me what I remember of the 25 years NASCAR has visited Sonoma, among all the memories one stands out. One always has stood out. Always will.
I was sitting in Dale Earnhardt's hauler, way back in the dining area, cushy sofas, table, all the luxuries, insulated from track noise, when I decided to tug on Superman's cape.
It was 1995, two days before the NASCAR race at then-Sears Point Raceway, and I was granted an interview with Earnhardt. "Granted" is the right word for it because Earnhardt then was at the height of his fame, his powers, his aura. I got an interview with The Intimidator, so I was half-expecting Earnhardt to be sitting there with a baseball bat, casually whacking his palm with it, just to remind me who he was.
Twenty minutes into it, and there was no baseball bat, I paused to take a breath. Earnhardt had been polite, affable, open, warm — yes, warm. He was generous in describing his feelings: "If I get angry at someone, I'm going to get my hands on him .<TH>.<TH>. I am a moody person, an independent person by nature ... you learn money damn sure don't buy you happiness."
It was then I decided to tug on Superman's cape.
"I am surprised I am saying this," I said, "but, you know, I don't think you are an (expletive) like your reputation makes you out to be."
I sat back on my chair, uncomfortable. In my business, it's not a good idea to call someone an expletive deleted, especially someone who is supposed to be as mean as a viper. Earnhardt remained silent for five seconds. It was the longest five seconds of my life. I kept thinking my instincts failed me this time. What an idiot.
Earnhardt leaned forward, I leaned back, and then the man broke out into a huge grin. He gave a self-deprecating shrug, like what-are-you-gonna-do, as if he just let me in on a little secret. We talked for another 10 minutes. I shook his hand on the way out. Professional athletes are good at hiding themselves, but this time I was sure I saw the real Dale Earnhardt and not a promotional construct.
I also was sure on another Friday before another NASCAR race that I got to see the real Tony Stewart. Ol' Smoke was taking a few media types on a tour of the serpentine track. Six people were in the van. You brake here ... you downshift there ... you carry speed into this corner ... then Ol' Smoke decided to lift the left side of the van off the course. He took a left turn hard, the occupants collapsed to the right and the left side of the van rose up, the tires off the ground and, I thought, I'm gonna die in a vehicle that usually carries mattresses.
"Heh, heh, heh," I could hear Stewart say to no one in particular.
Memories are selective objects. You pick what impresses and endures. At Sears Point/Infineon/Sonoma/TBA Raceway, some might remember particular races. Myself? I remember particular drivers and their personalities because that's how I'm wired. Personalities drive a sport and NASCAR specializes in personalities. The sport grew because of them.
It was the imaginative Boris Said who told me once, "We (racers) are 43 pit bulls with hand grenades in our mouths."
Largest North Coast Wildfires
2017-Tubbs fire- approximately 36,432 acres in Sonoma and Napa Counties. 92% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Nuns Fire- approximately 54 thousand acres- 34,398 in Sonoma County and 20,025 in Napa county. 80% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Atlas Fire- approximately 51,624 acres in Napa and Sonoma Counties. 85% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Redwood Fire- approximately 36,523 acres in Mendocino County. 85% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Pocket Fire-approximately 14,225 acres in Sonoma County. 63% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Sulphur Fire-approximately 2,207 acres in Lake County. 96% contained as of Oct. 19.
(TOTAL North Bay fires as of Oct. 18.- 195,434 acres)
2015- Valley Fire burnt 76,067 acres in Lake County. A total of 1,955 structures were destroyed.
2012- North Pass Fire- approximately 41,983 acres in Mendocino County.
2004- Rumsey fire- 39,138 acres in Napa and Yolo counties.
1996- Fork fire, the largest fire on record, burned through approximately 83,057 acres in Lake County. Much of the devastation was focused in the Mendocino National Forest.
1981- Atlas Peak Fire- approximately 23 thousand acres in Napa County.
1981- Cow Mountain Fire- approximately 25,534 acres in Lake and Mendocino counties.
1964- Hanly Fire- approximately 52,700 acres in Sonoma and Napa Counties. 84 homes, 24 summer cabins and countless farm buildings destroyed including the historic Tubbs Mansion.
1964- Nunns Canyon- approximately 7,000 acres in Sonoma County.
-Source: CAL Fire