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Could big changes be in store for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca?

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Vintage sports cars approach the Andretti Hairpin at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca during the 2013 Monterey Historics. Photo by Thomas A. DeMauro.

Since the track’s construction in 1957, Laguna Seca, now Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, has been operated by SCRAMP, the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula. In recent years, SCRAMP has come under fire from Monterey County officials primarily for its financial performance, a finding largely substantiated by a recent civil grand jury report. Now, as The Los Angeles Times reports, three entities are vying for control of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, including the odd pairing of SCRAMP and its former rival for the track’s management, the International Speedway Corporation (ISC).

In June of 2015, rumors began to circulate that ISC, which manages 13 NASCAR-frequented tracks around the country, would be taking over operations of Laguna Seca. In August, it appeared as if ISC would soon control Laguna Seca, too, but, by September, the corporation had completed its due diligence and opted not to pursue further dialogue with the county. SCRAMP, for its part, worked proactively with Monterey County officials, establishing a Board of Governors to ensure proper fiscal and event management moving forward, and has done what it can to solicit public support of its governance. Since 2014, SCRAMP has acted on a month to month basis, as the county has refused to issue any long-term contracts.

For Monterey County, however, even SCRAMP’s renewed efforts appear to be too little, too late. Despite the fact that the grand jury report found fault with both SCRAMP and the county, the track’s shortfall of revenue in recent years has the county seeking bids from outside organizations to assume ongoing operations of Laguna Seca. On Monday, July 25, three proposals were reportedly submitted to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, including one put together by SCRAMP and ISC, who joined forces in May to co-author a plan for the track’s future.

In the press release announcing the partnership, Michael Smith, president of SCRAMP’s Board of Governors, said:

ISC’s national scale and financial expertise combined with SCRAMP’s operational knowledge and many local charitable relationships create a unique synergy providing for the facility’s long-term stability. We believe strongly that together we can position Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for success in today’s competitive racing environment.

A second proposal for the management of the track was reportedly received from Friends of Laguna Seca, an organization that counts Bruce Canepa, Gordon McCall and Lauri Eberhart as board members. According to the group’s mission statement, it’s composed of civic-minded local business leaders with an interest in preserving racing on the Monterey Peninsula, which mirrors the reason that SCRAMP was founded nearly six decades back.

The final proposal was allegedly submitted by a group led by Chris Pook, founder of the Long Beach Grand Prix (and former consultant to the failed Formula 1 Grand Prix of America at Port Imperial) and Monterey businessman Landon Hofman.

The Board of Supervisors will reportedly reconvene in late August with a decision on the track’s future, but obstacles remain for any group awarded the contract. The grand jury report stated that capital improvement projects over the next five years will require a $10 million investment, atop the $2 million needed just for ongoing expenses in the near term. Despite an annual revenue in the range of $10 million – $15 million, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca has lost an estimated $250,000 per year, and the next operator will certainly be expected to correct this.