Residents say Healdsburg luxury car event brought dangerous speeding
It isn’t the first time a Sonoma County neighborhood has been up in arms after enduring hours of revving engines and screeching tires.
But it’s a little different when the cars leaving the skid marks include a Lamborghini Aventador and a McLaren Senna, the latter of which comes with a price tag of $1 million -- before options.
To residents of a bucolic rectangle northwest of Healdsburg, the recent Car of the Year event amounted to a sideshow for middle-aged rich dudes.
“I’m just glad nobody got killed,” said Tonya Whelan, who lives just off Geysers Road.
“It would have been a big news story if there had been a crash. Everybody is saying these are just rich guys with expensive cars. But someone turned a blind eye.”
That was the sentiment trailing Car of the Year, sponsored by luxury lifestyle purveyor Robb Report, as it sped away last weekend. Residents situated between Geysers and Pine Flat roads claim visitors drove past their houses at speeds exceeding 100 mph with the cars making intermittent circuits for hours at a time, over a period of 11 days.
The locals want to know who sanctioned this activity, why there were no alerts to neighbors about what was going on — and why, in their eyes, the California Highway Patrol did little or nothing to slow the roll through Wine Country.
The show came into town much more quietly than it left.
Robb Report, which stages the annual November event through its exclusive RR1 membership club, still refers to it as Car of the Year — Napa Valley, a nod to where it took place from 2004-2019.
The company moved the event to Paso Robles last year after the Glass fire burned down part of the former host site, Meadowood Resort. This time around, Car of the Year shifted to Healdsburg.
Robb Report is primarily known for its print publication of the same name. The report “is synonymous with affluence, luxury and the best of the best,” according to its 2021 media kit. The average reader is 47 years old and male, the company wrote, with a household income of $717,000 and a net worth of $3.1 million.
Some of those readers signed up for a unique driving experience. Guests paid an undisclosed amount to stay at Montage Resort in Healdsburg, wine and dine, and help Robb Report select the top luxury automobile of the 2021.
The highlight was an opportunity to slide behind the wheel — the steering wheel of the McLaren Senna, a Vicrez Carbon Fiber OEM, costs $3,500, by the way — of Car of the Year candidates and glide past vineyards and oak hills.
Five different groups rotated through between Nov. 11-21, and each of the five enjoyed a driving day with morning and afternoon road sessions. They took a pre-determined route that included a jaunt eastward on Geysers Road, south on Red Winery Road and west on Pine Flat Road, back to Highway 128.
Residents living on the country lanes of the area say they were aghast at what they saw and heard.
“I live on Red Winery Road, and I personally witnessed the super cars, the McLarens, the Ferrari, and the Lamborghini traveling at speeds in excess of 100 mph on the stretch in front of my house,” David Huebel wrote on a Facebook site called What’s Happening Healdsburg.
Huebel insisted he wasn’t tossing out “100 mph” for dramatic effect. He does mechanical work on motorcycles and is a car aficionado.
“I was counting the gear changes,” Huebel said in a phone interview.
“I know a McLaren can go 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds. And I heard it change gears three times in the eighth of a mile between one corner and the next. I know what 800 rpm sounds like. I can confidently say it was somewhere around 120 miles per hour. And it looked like that.”
Huebel lives on a straightaway. He witnessed the cars at full throttle. Whelan’s house, in contrast, is near the corner of Red Winery and Geysers.
“I’m on a curve, so I get to hear the screeching tires and the peeling out after the turn,” she said.
From her home, Whelan witnessed a neighbor, Justin Miller, climb down from his tractor seat to confront one of the Car of the Year drivers at an intersection.
A Robb Report representative said the event has never been intended as a speed demonstration, but simply a chance to test-drive luxury models, and that safety was the company’s No. 1 priority. Each road day began at Montage with CHP Commander Randy England delivering a set of instructions to drivers.
“We let attendees know we’re here to ensure their safety, and the safety of the general public,” said Luke Bahrenburg, Robb Report’s executive vice president and chief revenue officer. “We made it clear that anyone needs to adhere to rules of local safety.”