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NASCAR Returns to Sonoma Raceway Following Pandemic Hiatus

NOVATO (KPIX) -- NASCAR makes its return to Sonoma Raceway this weekend. It's a welcome sight as people return to the region and pump much-needed dollars into the local economy.

This weekend will see the first NASCAR race at Sonoma Raceway in 714 days. The event is not just about what goes on on the road course but it's a time to gather with family and friends and enjoy what Wine Country has to offer.

"It's exciting to have the race here but it's even more exciting that we're going to have fans here to see it," said Jeff Motley with Sonoma Raceway.

With Sonoma County still being in the orange tier, attendance at the event will be capped at 33 percent capacity, which translates to roughly 16,000 people in the stands on race day.

Last year, the SaveMart 350 was moved to Charlotte, taking dollars out of the economy but, this weekend, it's like old times at the Carneros Deli and gas station.

"It will be controlled chaos but we're ready for it and we're so happy they're back," said Heidi Hug with Carneros Deli.

Business gets a big boost on NASCAR weekends. To be ready, Hug brings in more staff and makes sure the store is well stocked. "Coors light of course, monster drinks, the energy drinks. In the morning it will be the coffee," Hug explained.

One reason Carneros Deli sees such a huge increase in business is because many NASCAR fans enjoy the weekend by camping onsite.

Jennifer Ketchem and Doug Gonzalez say most of their money is spent at the supermarket: "It was groceries. Since we're camping, it's a big cooking party -- have a great time -- just sit around and enjoy everyone's company."

Along with a smaller crowd, fans are noticing other changes at the raceway. The popular meet-and-greet events with the racers have been canceled. So have the qualifiers and the practice rounds. The goal is a return to full normal next year.

"Sunday, they get in their cars, we introduce them and they race and that's not what we are about or what we are used to doing," Motley said.

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