Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca marked its 50th anniversary in 2007 with the introduction of the “Legends of Laguna,” to honor some of the legends who have made Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca one of the world’s most historic and important motor racing circuits.
The Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) has been operating since 1956 and created what Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is today.
Before the first of the fabled Pebble Beach Road Races in 1951, the Monterey Peninsula was not quite the tourist destination. In fact, it was hardly known outside of California, other than by soldiers who received their Army basic training at nearby Fort Ord.
The sports car races that traced their way around the trees of Del Monte Forest began attracting thousands of fans to the Monterey Peninsula to watch the Pebble Beach Road Races. Jobs and tax revenue to fund community projects grew as visitors from around the world were being drawn to the Peninsula. When the Pebble Beach Road Races ended in 1956, because cars had become too fast for open road racing, the potential economic impact was enormous.
A group of local businessmen did not, however, see catastrophe. They saw opportunity. They envisioned a permanent race track where the Pebble Beach Road Races’ tradition could be continued, preventing the potential loss of jobs and tax revenue.
The group founded SCRAMP on November 1, 1956 with a charter to, “benefit local charitable and non-profit organizations and to promote the economic vitality of Monterey through the encouragement, solicitation, organization, sponsorship and perpetuation of motorsports events in the vicinity of the Monterey Peninsula.” SCRAMP continues to organize races at the track, and staying true to its charter.
It’s All About People
The results have been nothing short of success. Nearly $12 million has been distributed to 100-plus Monterey Peninsula charitable and service groups over the five decades. Groups such as the United Way, Special Olympics, Boy and Girl Scouts, Rotary, and Lions are vital to the success of the facility, as they provide volunteer workers for race events, which in turn raises funds for their activities.
Moreover, is the positive impact of the more than $1 billion in added revenue that has been generated for Monterey Peninsula businesses as a result of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca events. For example, the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, featuring MotoGP World Championship, resulted in an estimated $100 million influx to Monterey-area businesses.
Today, SCRAMP is the most important economic and charitable organization in Monterey County.
It is distinguished from all other organizers of world-class sporting events because of the way and why it operates. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is unlike any other major professional sports facility in the US, or anywhere else. Racing at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is for people, not for profit.
There are nearly 2,500 registered volunteers who help make Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca successful. They are organized and managed by 200 volunteer Assistant Directors and a paid staff of approximately 25. They are guided by a 25-person board of directors that is comprised of Monterey Peninsula community leaders.
The numbers are just convenient measures of what racing at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is about. Far more important, is the way lives have been touched.
Everything at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca happens because men and women from all walks of life work together cooperatively year after year to make each event successful. They have done this, and they continue to do it, in the spirit of a time-honored American tradition. They are people working together to make their community a better place to live and to help their neighbors, as Americans have done since before the days of frontier barn-raisings.
SCRAMP Was Ahead of its Time
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is the result of the vision of SCRAMP’s founders that led to exploratory discussions with the U.S. Army about using land on Fort Ord for a track. These meetings led to a truly unique arrangement. The Army leased SCRAMP land for the track and the Army Corps of Engineers helped with its construction. This was more than 30 years before innovative community use of military base land was made a necessity by base closures.
It was a win-win situation. Everyone in the Monterey Peninsula community gained – business owners, workers, taxpayers, soldiers at Fort Ord and people who needed a little help from their friends, such as local charities and service groups.
It Became World Famous Almost Instantly
A year and eight days from the day SCRAMP was chartered and two months after SCRAMP was granted construction approval, Pete Lovely won the first race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca driving a Ferrari. That was on November 9, 1957.
Almost overnight, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca became world famous and now it is the premier road racing facility in North America. Worldwide, it is mentioned in the same breath with other historic tracks like Le Mans, Indianapolis, Monaco, Monza, Brands Hatch, Road America, Spa-Francochamps, Watkins Glen and the Nürburgring.
The track in 2011 is a physically different Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca than in 1957. Originally 1.9 miles long with nine turns, it now has 11 turns and it is 2.238 miles in length. Gone are the haybales that once lined turns, replaced by wide open runoff areas that allow for spins, without contact. Gone is the original Turn 2 that whitened knuckles because driving through it was like trying to thread a needle at 130 mph, replaced by infield turns that are challenges of another kind and bring racing closer to more spectators. The pit area outside the final turn has been replaced by grandstands that make watching dashes to the checkered flag and pit lane action as comfortable as spectating at any professional sports event.
In character and spirit though, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is very much the same as it has always been. The hillsides are still fabulous for expansive views and picnicking. The paddock is still easily accessible where racers, their race bikes or cars, crews at work, and celebrities can all be seen up close and personal. The atmosphere of events is still like that of a family reunion.
What will never change at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is The Corkscrew. Most legendary tracks have signature turns that are spoken of in awe by those who have dared to race through them as fast as humanly possible: the Nürburgring’s Flugplatz, Paddock Bend at Brands Hatch, Monza’s Lesmo curves, Turn One at Indianapolis, etc. But nowhere in racing is there anything like The Corkscrew.
There is Nothing Quite Like it in Racing
The Corkscrew is approached by going flat out up the backside of the hill that overlooks Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s namesake dry lake. A heartbeat after blue sky and gnarled oak trees pop into view straight ahead, you are on the brakes and turning hard left. Suddenly you are going downhill rapidly. The track seems to have disappeared from underneath you. You’re in The Corkscrew.
No rollercoaster ride on the planet is like it. The pit of your stomach is empty. You are being forced right towards disaster. After a nano-second of fear, the tires grip the pavement. Again, you breathe, plummeting into a right-hand turn. You swing left and, just before you fly off the track, you dive right into it. You’re through The Corkscrew. If you got it right, you went from top to bottom in less time than it took to read this paragraph, and you’re on your way to a fast lap.
Every driver and rider who take the wild ride through The Corkscrew takes it because SCRAMP and the Army had agreed that the land should be changed as little as possible to construct the track, thoughtfulness that pre-dated conservationism by nearly 20 years. When the bulldozer cutting the path for the track back in 1957 crested the top of the hill, the operator saw the same sky and trees that drivers and riders see today. Then he turned left and became the first driver to go through The Corkscrew, and undoubtedly the slowest.