Sonoma Raceway is Burning for a Triathlon

I watched nearly every second of he Challenge Daytona PTO Championship that was broadcast on December, both the men’s and women’s races…however, to steal the line from Jim Rome’s old ESPN talk show “Jim Rome is Burning”, there’s been something that was said that I’ve been burning on.

Challenge Family and the PTO assembled a great broadcast crew, and despite Rowdy Gaines coming from a strictly swimming background, he was a good color guy and was asking all right questions that a typical non-triathlete viewer might have. However it’s not Rowdy I’m burning on. I’m burning on something commentator (and former pro triathlete) Belinda Granger said about the future of Challenge in the United States and North America. 

I didn’t write it down in the moment so I can’t quote Belinda verbatim, but as she was talking about Challenge’s future she dropped “Challenge Sonoma”. It caught my attention immediately because I had written three separate articles on Challenge and their North American expansion in the last year…and my predictions were pretty close to spot on. I didn’t have a source inside Challenge Family or any inside information at the time. It all started with a rumor I heard in a tri shop and from there I read the tea leaves, followed what little breadcrumbs I could find and then built my case for their expansion…and just built on it with each proceeding article.

So why am I making a big deal about Sonoma? Well, I had done my investigative research very thoroughly and Sonoma Raceway did not fit the MO that Challenge established in building their North American footprint. The main features I looked for when scouting all the North American NASCAR and FORMULA 1 race tracks were a) a big enough body of water to at least do a two lap swim located within the confines of the racetrack and b) an extensive amount of roadways within the confines so that Challenge could virtually contain the run course within the speedway (at least the majority of it) to minimize the race footprint. Sonoma did not have a big enough lake within the track, so I ruled it out.

I did keep Sonoma on my shortlist though for two reasons: a) IRONMAN just discontinued Santa Rosa, which was like 10 miles up the road, and moved East to Sacramento, so planting your flag their could make sense from an expansion strategy standpoint, but also b) because the maps do show there is a body of water that leads right up to the outer edge of the raceway. However looking at the map and seeing blue water doesn’t tell the whole story, which is why I’ve always investigated the satellite aerial photography in my research. Though it shows blue on the map and that it covers enough area to do an out and back swim the satellite images reveal that body of water is a small estuary for the creek that runs parallel to the raceway. You can literally see the small channels it cuts through the sea grass, it is obviously not consistently deep enough to hold a swim.

So what did Belinda Granger mean when she says that? Was it just a gaffe? If it was then why was that specific track on her mind, she’s a triathlete, not a NASCAR junkie (as far as I know). I spent the rest of the month of December searching every corner of the internet and submitting FOIA requests (Freedom of Information Act) with local government and other municipalities. No matter how many rocks I kicked over I couldn’t find any breadcrumbs to build a case that Challenge Sonoma was no more than a slip of the tongue.

After Challenge Miami I did an hour long interview with Challenge North America CEO Bill Christy…so I asked him about what Belinda said. Bill said, “I’d love to drop a race at Sonoma one day, but it’s not in our plans for the immediate future.” Bill does anticipate being up to 15 races within the next five years so maybe it does happen down the road.

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