SONOMA, California – It was a rocking weekend in Northern California for the Verizon IndyCar Series, but the rocking wasn’t what any of the drivers expected.
The night before an IndyCar Series race is when the drivers get to bed early to ensure a full night of rest in order to compete at optimum physical ability and mental alertness, especially in a grueling 85-lap race on the 12-turn, 2.385-mile Sonoma Raceway.
But in the middle of the night, these same drivers found their hotel rooms and motorhomes rocking violently from the most severe Earthquake to hit this area in 25 years. A 6.1 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter just a few miles away at American Canyon, California left some drivers deeply concerned for their own safety, much less whether there would be a race later that day.
It was 3:30 a.m. PT when the quake struck. For the drivers staying in hotels, they were evacuated. Team Penske driver Will Power and his wife Liz posted pictures on Twitter and Facebook of the massive damage to their room in Napa, California. Fellow driver James Hinchcliffe was evacuated from his hotel and had to sleep in his car.
And then there was race winner Scott Dixon, who slept through the violent earthquake without even waking up.
Known around the IndyCar Series as “The Iceman,” Dixon maintained his cool during the Quake and was the coolest driver on the track in the late stages of Sunday’s Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma, taking the lead when he passed Mike Conway, combined with Graham Rahal running out of fuel and making a pit stop with just three laps to go.
Hinchcliffe looked sleep deprived after the race and Power thought he was looking death squarely in the face when his room was crumbling around him.
Meantime, Dixon had a “What, me worry?” attitude about the natural disaster.
“I think I slept through most of it,” Dixon said. “We were in Sonoma, at the lodge there in Sonoma. I think I caught the last maybe five or ten seconds of it. I heard a few screams and people talking outside. I just went back to bed, got up at seven.
“Hopefully everybody is safe and sound and nobody was really hurt. It looked like especially in Napa, I was in the truck with Hinchcliffe before the race and his hotel was destroyed. He had to move from his hotel room at 3:30 in the morning and spend the rest of the night sleeping in his car. Penske was in the same situation.
“I spoke to Will Power before the race, and he thought he was dying.”
Did Dixon get a good night’s sleep?
“Yeah, I felt fine,” Dixon said. “I was good.”
Second-place finisher Ryan Hunter-Reay is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and third-place finisher Simon Pagenaud is from France. For those two drivers, the Napa Earthquake was a new experience.
“We were both at the track in the motorhomes,” Hunter-Reay recalled. “I went through plenty of hurricanes in South Florida. You know when they’re coming. You can watch the news for days, you can prepare. This was pretty wild. Being in the bus, it is nicer to have suspension while you’re in an earthquake. At the same time I felt like we were going to tip over. It was violent in there. And we’re right on the cliff.
“In my head I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my God, we’re going over the cliff now.’
“It was pretty wild. To experience it in a motorhome, you’re missing out if you haven’t tried that.”
As for the Frenchman, he bolted out of his motorhome before noticing he wasn’t wearing much.
“That was my first earthquake ever, and in a motorhome,” Pagenaud said. “Actually I went outside in my underwear and checked how far the cliff was ’cause I thought we were going to tumble down with the bus.
“But nothing really happened.”
It was a day the IndyCar Series will likely never forget and one that they probably don’t want to ever experience again.
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