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Laguna Seca once again caught in management tug of war

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Sports cars mix it up at Laguna Seca during the 2013 Historics. Photo by author.

On January 31, 2017, the Board of Supervisors in Monterey County, California, approved a deal that gave the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) a three-year contract, retroactive to January 1, to run Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Such a decisive move would generally end any debate over the track’s management and future, but recent meetings between the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, SCRAMP, and the Friends of Laguna Seca, a group also vying for management of the facility, seem to indicate otherwise.

SCRAMP has run Laguna Seca, in whole or part, since the facility’s opening in 1957. Following the 2008 economic downturn, the group has been under increasing pressure from Monterey County to improve performance and revenue, and a 2016 grand jury report criticized the group’s management and financial fitness, opening the door to a series of bids for the track’s ongoing operation. Last summer, three groups — including SCRAMP, Friends of Laguna Seca, and World Automotive Championship of California — submitted proposals to run the facility, and initially, it appeared as if the county would side with Friends of Laguna Seca.

While this organization lacks the six decades of experience claimed by SCRAMP in running Laguna Seca, its members aren’t newcomers to the area nor to motorsports. Bruce Canepa certainly needs no introduction to those in the old car hobby, and Lauri Eberhart was formerly the vice president of communications and general counsel of Speedway Motorsports and executive vice president of Charlotte Motor Speedway. Gordon McCall is the founder of annual automotive and motorcycle events at The Quail Lodge and collections development director for the Petersen Museum, while Jonathan Feiber is a board member at Gordon Murray design and an advisor to the Revs Program at Stanford University. Others in the group are racers, restorers, and collectors, all with ties to the storied Monterey track.

The situation changed in January 2017, when the Board of Supervisors elected to grant the three-year — revocable — contract to SCRAMP, seemingly ending discussion, at least in the short term, about the facility’s operation. Despite the existing agreement and reportedly at the request of Monterey County, Friends of Laguna Seca recently submitted an updated proposal for management of the track.

The county, SCRAMP, and Friends of Laguna Seca — along with supporters of the two factions — met at the July 25 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, which was followed by a closed-door session to discuss the management of the track, its concessions, and surrounding facilities. As the Monterey Herald reports, the county rejected the latest proposal from Friends of Laguna Seca, citing the organization’s lack of history in its reasoning. This decision seems to reaffirm SCRAMP’s appointment, but the only certainty in this ongoing saga appears to be the county’s uncertainty over the facility’s ongoing operation.

For now, things are status quo with Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but that could change with the next request for proposal issued by the county. A quote by Mary Adams, chairwoman of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, published by the Monterey Herald, seems to offer little reassurance:

I think for me and perhaps for other supervisors we were really looking at a business decision on behalf of the residents of Monterey County. This was a very laborious, time-consuming process to reach the same conclusion we reached earlier this year. I think we’ll stay on the same path at least for the time being.

“For the time being” is hardly a reassuring phrase for SCRAMP, already engaged in improvement projects at the facility ahead of this year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, taking place August 17-20. Caught up in this uncertainty is an irreplaceable racetrack with six decades of history, and a future that remains unclear.