How did NASCAR’s premier series shift from being a bastion for driving talent born and raised in the Southeast to a healthy sampling of California natives?
With the Sprint Cup circuit returning to the Golden State – the home of six drivers who will start Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway – it seems timely to explore the question.
Kevin Harvick, who grew up in the central California city of Bakersfield, believes the answer is rather simple.
“I think when you look at California there are a lot of racetracks in California up and down the coast,” said Harvick. “Whether it is asphalt, dirt tracks, go-kart tracks, there is a well-supported community of racing up and down the state of California, even into Washington and Oregon.
“There is definitely a lot of racing and I think when you look at way back in the day it was mostly a southeastern sport. I think Jeff Gordon was obviously somewhat responsible for being able to allow guys like myself and pave the way for us to have a path to have an opportunity to come and race in NASCAR.”
During this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast, A.J. Allmendinger said he hardly had memories of his hometown of Los Gatos (near San Jose) because he spent so much time traveling between go-kart tracks in the region.
“It’s always been a well-supported racing area,” Harvick said of California. “I was fortunate to grow up in Bakersfield, California, which is a very well-supported racing town no matter what you race. There is a lot of racing it just took a while for everybody to figure that out.”