Milestone Moment: Ricky Rudd Wins First Race at Sonoma


By Keith Waltz

NASCAR stock car racing invaded California’s wine country on June 11, 1989, when Ricky Rudd held off Rusty Wallace to win the Banquet Frozen Foods 300 at the track now known as Sonoma Raceway.

NASCAR was forced to find a new Golden State venue for its premier racing series after Riverside International Raceway was consumed by development following the 1988 season. The historic track, located in the Los Angeles suburb of Riverside, had been a regular stop on the NASCAR schedule since the early 1960s.

Officials opted to move Riverside’s traditional June race to Sonoma Raceway, located in the rolling hills north of San Francisco.

Rudd, driving Kenny Bernstein’s Quaker State Buick, led 64 of the 71 laps around the 2.52-mile serpentine track in front of an estimated 53,000 fans. He took the lead for the final time on lap 22 and had matters well in hand until a late-race caution flag set up a dramatic four-lap dash for the cash.

Wallace, who started from the pole in Raymond Beadle’s Kodiak Pontiac, gave it his best shot following the restart. He and Rudd made contact at least three times during the closing laps, but Rudd held on to win by 1.1 seconds.

“I figured he’d give me a lick in the rear bumper and my thought was to open some daylight,” Rudd said about the restart.