Sonoma Raceway notes: Annual banquet boosts children's causes

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There’s one event during the Sonoma NASCAR weekend that gives fans from across the country the opportunity to experience a taste of Wine Country while contributing to a worthy cause, and it may be one of the best-kept secrets that many Sonoma County residents might not know about.

Sonoma Raceway’s branch of Speedway Children’s Charities holds its annual banquet dinner and auction — its biggest fundraiser of the year — during NASCAR weekend.

This year’s event was held at Cline Cellars in Sonoma on Friday night.

Track officials said the dinner raised more than $57,000. Speedway Motorsports Inc. Executive Chairman Bruton Smith matched up to $50,000 of what was raised, raising the total collected to $107,000.

Auctioneer Damon Casatico has been in charge of calling out bids on auction items at the banquet for more than 10 years and said he’s built relationships with people through the event even as the venue changed throughout the years.

“It’s super exciting. When it takes two hours in traffic to get somewhere, people are just dying to get in,” he said as a Lincoln Navigator stretch limousine with about 10 passengers pulled up to the door. “When you get there, there’s this energy and electricity that’s in there, that everybody is there for the same thing — just to have a great time, support racing — and we take it to another level, we support the local charities.”

Casatico said the craziest bid in recent memory was for a Dale Earnhardt Jr. toolbox.

“People kind of lost their minds over that. We thought maybe it would go for $5,000, and I think it ended up going for $50,000,” he said.

He recalls the bidding coming down to three people and the bids increasing at $500 increments.

“When it was done, everybody that didn’t win celebrated with the guy that did win,” Casatico said.

Guests in attendance this year were served light refreshments and appetizers during a reception before being seated for dinner in the barrel house of the winery.

Among the guests in attendance were 16-year-old K&N driver Hailie Deegan, two-time Daytona 500 champion and Fox Sports NASCAR commentator Michael Waltrip, race Grand Marshal and U.S. Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley, a Tiburon resident; and Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano.

Moseley, who was one of the guests of honor along with Deegan, said he was impressed with the setting and added that the NASCAR community surely has to enjoy its annual visit west with events like Friday’s benefit.

“Just to kick it off, this location is ridiculous,” he said. “Cline Cellars is way beyond my expectations. I’ve driven by this place a million times going to Sonoma. I had no idea was existed off the road. What a cool spot. Perfect temperature. What a place to have a party.”

The evening started off with a introductory talk by track president Steve Page, who thanked guests and reminded them that Sonoma County is still recovering from October’s devastating wildfires. He commended Giordano and the sheriff’s office for their work during the fires, showing a bodycam video taken by a deputy during the fires.

“It’s hard for me, because it’s not my work; it’s the 650 employees of the sheriff’s office who made that happen,” Giordano said. “It’s a little uncomfortable to always be the face of that, because I’m just the face. There are a lot of people who risked their lives to save people. I’m just proud to be able to support what they did.”

Giordano had only been sheriff for a little more than two months when the fires broke out. He compared the fire response by his office to several previous incidents he has handled, including one when he was a patrol captain and was told he would be losing part of his watch commander staff.

He wasn’t sure how to cover shifts with the two remaining watch commanders, but before even discussing it with them, the two had worked out a schedule that would always ensure coverage.

“That was the lesson that I learned,” he said. “That these guys take care of business. These men and women of the sheriff’s office know what they’re doing. I didn’t have to do anything. They planned it out for me.”

CARNEROS 200 RESULTS

Will Rodgers won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Carneros 200 on Saturday, leading out front for most of the race and cruising to victory more than four seconds ahead of NASCAR Monster Energy Cup regulars Aric Almirola and William Byron.

Rodgers, a 23-year-old from Solvang, finished second to Kevin Harvick in the 2017 race.

“Two lessons I learned from Kevin Harvick last year were getting off the corner right and restarts ... I’m very happy with the restarts we had,” Rodgers said.

Series rookie and Temecula native Hailie Deegan, 16, the only woman in the race, finished in seventh in the first road-course race of her NASCAR career. Fairfield’s Jim Inglebright didn’t finish the race and wound up 18th.

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