After recently visiting Sonoma Raceway, and seeing all the great work and leadership the venue has demonstrated, the Alliance recently sat down with Steve Page—President and General Manager of Sonoma Raceway LLC—to learn how sustainability and environmental stewardship have taken root at Sonoma Raceway.
Alliance: Steve, can you tell us a bit about your role and time at Sonoma Raceway, and experience in the Sports World?
SP: I’ve been at the Track for 26 years. It has been my longest career stint, and I hope to spend a few more years here—if I don’t screw it up! Before, I was with the Oakland A’s for 11 years, and I had a 3-year stint in politics as press secretary for Leon Panetta when he was a member of Congress.
The track (Sonoma Raceway) has changed dramatically since 1991. In 1996, the raceway was purchased by Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports which was a life-changing event for us. The corporation has invested over $100 million to make it a modern sports facility. It’s been an exciting ride!
Alliance: In a recent tour of Sonoma Raceway, the Alliance was thrilled to see a variety of great sustainability projects and programs–for example: solar panels, FSC certified wood shade structures, waste management strategies, owl birdhouses, etc. Are there any initiatives or projects you find most inspiring or successful?
SP: It’s hard to pinpoint one, as they are all part of a larger effort. The biggest piece of it was the installation of the solar electric facilities. We are generating almost half of our energy from the solar install. The most visible manifestation (and the ones we get most comments about) are from the sheep we are using. We have almost 1600 acres of native grassland, so we must keep that grass short. It’s been about 8-10 years since we added the “Wooly Weeders” [sheep].
From an aesthetic standpoint, the work we’ve done with Humboldt Redwood provides a new look to the facility and adds comfort and shade. We’re adding to it each year, and looking to add new things to the fan environments.
On the automotive side, we’ve tried very hard to provide a showcase for the latest in Green Automotive Technology—particularly as it relates to performance automotive. We’ve really tried to go down dual paths with the things we do in a green manner, and use the industry we’re in to showcase technology and greening the automotive world.
Alliance: As long-time members of the Green Sports Alliance, how would you make the case for integrating sustainability programs to other tracks around the country and world?
SP: Well I think number one, it’s just good business. The solar system is cutting our electric bill. The sheep are much more economical in maintaining the property. These initiatives are good because they are setting a good example, but also have benefits to us as a business.
Alliance: This year’s Alliance theme was PLAY GREENER™, a theme of guiding sustainability best practice from the sports world to their fans. As a sport with ample fan engagement time (camping culture for example), how do you communicate your sustainability programs to your fans? What are some strategies you’ve found most successful, and what challenges have you overcome to be successful?
SP: What we’ve tried to do is make our green programs an organic piece of what we are as a raceway. There’s a balance between doing that and being preachy and chest beating. I think the way you go about it is simply by setting an example. By doing what we can, by setting an example, regardless of the industry you’re in, is something you should be interested in and integrate into your business philosophy.
I think the biggest challenges we’ve had is integrating it into our business practices. But when you’re doing things with capital investment, you must put those up against other facility improvements that may have more directly relevant day-to-day revenue.
We’re always mindful of that what we do on the green front must stand on its own in the business component. For example, Panasonic was a huge foundational partner. It was a Panasonic solar system, and they have continued to be a key track sponsor. The green initiatives were important to their involvement.
Alliance: What can we look forward to in the future of Sonoma Raceway, and your various events/races and projects?
SP: We’re always looking at new ways to physically improve the facility. At some point, I hope we can increase our ability to generate solar electricity. I think the most exciting places will be in the automotive world—we’re going to be hosting one of the premier automotive events in the world in 2018.
We’re always on the look-out for the products and competition in the world of green racing. As they come online, we’re always keeping an eye out on what we can keep in our schedule of activities that keeps us in the forefront of the green performance movement.
Thanks to Steve and the entire Sonoma Raceway team for being leaders in the sports greening movement and demonstrating best practices across the racing industry.
To learn more about the sustainability elements of Sonoma Raceway go to https://www.sonomaraceway.com/track/sustainability/