SONOMA — It’s not every day I can predict a reaction about something I write. This time I can. Steve Page is really going to hate this column. It’s about him. I had no choice. Just like it was a year ago, when Page had no choice.
For Page, a couple handshakes, a bear hug and maybe a free pumpkin spice latte would have been enough recognition for what he did for people a year ago. Page opened up his Sonoma Raceway — oops, sorry, Steve, I know you don’t own it, you just run it — for all those who needed a place to stay while the October wildfires tore through wine country like a blowtorch.
The word spread as fast as the fires. Go to Sonoma Raceway. You can stay there on the field they own east of the racetrack. They will take care of you. They will feed you breakfast, lunch and dinner. They will let you sleep in the drivers’ lounge. They somehow will even find a RV for you if you don’t want to sleep on the ground. Bring your pets. Bring your Kleenex. Bring whatever you want. Even if it’s two parrots, 11 dogs and 14 chickens that the family and relatives of Jennifer Gray Thompson brought.
It was around a thousand people the first day, the Tuesday after the horror broke on that Sunday night. A lot of people found shelter here, including Page, his wife Judy and Grover, the gooby-gooby basset-beagle. They were evacuated from their Sonoma home that Sunday.
Fast-forward now to June of this year. Diana Rose, the racetrack’s vice president of marketing and communications, got wind of this NASCAR award. It would be given to someone who exhibited exemplary philanthropy within the industry. She and her most capable assistant, Jennifer Imbimbo, submitted Page’s name.
“Of course I didn’t tell Steve,” Rose said. “He wouldn’t have allowed it.”
If every NASCAR fan who came to the raceway in June didn’t know Steve Page from a bag of beans, the president and general manager would rest quite comfortably in his anonymity. Sure, Taylor Swift runs the place. Whatever.
A couple months passed. Rose was notified Page was a finalist along with NASCAR drivers Joey Logano and Ryan Newman. Now came the tough part. Rose had to tell Page he was a finalist.
“You’re not going to be happy about this,” Rose began.
That was followed quickly by a response that revealed as much.
“Steve growled at me,” Rose said. “A glare, too.”
Page shifted nervously in his chair. It was as if Rose just told him the IRS was asking for his tax returns.
“What I did was nice, but it didn’t rise to the level of heroism that we saw from so many people in this county,” Page said. “It makes me a little uncomfortable.”
Rose then made it palatable. Page would get $30,000 if he didn’t win and $60,000 if he did.
“I’m all over it, when I heard that!” Page said. “GO ME!!!!”
The money, you see, would go to Speedway Children’s Charities, the nonprofit arm of the racetrack that has distributed more than $6 million to Sonoma County youth groups since 2001.