NASCAR & Auto Racing

Accountant Nick Saetes looks to crunch numbers in Sonoma

Nick Saetes has been an accountant in Sacramento for decades. He’s become quite proud of his right thumb from all his work on a calculator, he said. His well-muscled thumb gives the drag racer an almost unfair advantage over his fellow racers in the NHRA’s Division 7 competitions.

Of course he’s joking. Or is he?

“After doing 2,000 tax returns the first six months of the year, I like to take the second half off and race,” said Saetes, who will compete Friday and through the weekend at Sonoma Raceway. “And after running the calculator that long, I’m pretty good on the (transmission) lock button on the steering wheel.”

Saetes, 59, said that at the starting line, he holds the trans-lock button down and revs the engine to about 5,000 rpm. When the green light shines, how fast he releases the trans-lock button often determines if he wins or loses his Super Comp race.

This weekend’s event is one of seven in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Pacific Division and one of 44 scheduled across the United States in which amateur drivers earn points toward divisional and national championships. There’s also a year-end purse of more than $500,000. Categories include Comp Eliminator, Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas and Super Street. The division’s Top Sportsman Series, Top Dragster Series and Sportsman Motorcycle Series will run in conjunction with the event, as well as the NHRA Harley-Davidson Drag Racing Series.

Other local racers joining Saetes in Sonoma include Elk Grove’s Pete Cerda (Super Comp), Auburn’s Randy Burcell (Stock Eliminator), Sacramento’s Jim Rau (Super Stock) and Yuba City’s Jesse Adams, who leads the standings in the Top Dragster division. Rau is fourth in Super Stock Division 7 standings, while the others are out of the top 15 in their respective divisions.

In Super Comp, drivers cannot travel faster than 8.90 seconds of elapsed time (ET) from starting line to finish line. That 8.90 ET equates to approximately 155-185 mph, Saetes said, depending on the engine stutter that drivers input into on-board computers to limit fuel intake and therefore speed. Without the stutter acting as a governor, Saetes said the 565-cubic-inch Chevy block pushing his dragster with 1,000 horsepower easily could go over 200 mph.

A perfect Super Comp run is 8.900, Saetes said. An 8.905 is great. But an 8.899 will get a driver disqualified. That’s called a “break out.”

Drivers use detailed weather reports generated by weather stations in the pit areas to give them information that is inputted into the onboard computer to limit speed. Saetes takes into consideration before each run the track temperature, head and tail wind speeds and barometric pressure. And while the numbers are important to avoid breaking out, winning and losing usually is determined by how quickly a driver recognizes the green light on the starting line and releases the trans-lock.

“It all comes down to how fast you get off the line,” Saetes said. “How good is your reaction time?”

NHRA charity dinner open to fans

To help kick off the 28th NHRA Sonoma Nationals next weekend, fans are invited to the Eric Medlen Nitro Night Charity Dinner on Thursday at Bay Club Stone Tree in Novato.

The evening is dedicated to the memory of Oakdale’s Eric Medlen. He won the Funny Car championship for John Force Racing at Sonoma Raceway in 2006 and died a year later in a testing accident.

Tickets for the evening are $125, and include wine/beer and dinner. All proceeds go to qualified youth groups in Sonoma County in Medlen’s name through the Speedway Children’s Charities, the charitable arm of Sonoma Raceway. Bay Club Stone Tree is less than five miles from the raceway, and the raceway has added a free shuttle for campers to and from the event.

Drivers and NHRA personalities who will dine with fans include Ashley Force, Brittany Force, Courtney Force, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman and Larry Dixon.

Nitro Night also serves as a kickoff to the NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway, July 31 to Aug. 2. This year’s event marks the series’ 28th annual visit to the Sonoma Valley and will feature professional competition in the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes.

For more information on the charity dinner,

Laguna Seca to host NASA Western States Championships

The 2.2-mile, 11-turn undulating road course at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca will host the second National Auto Sport Association Western States Championships July 31 to Aug. 2 to crown champions in 36 classes.

For more information, go to

Mark Billingsley covers local motor sports for The Bee. Reach him at or @editorwriter001