The Laguna Seca Follies

What was the Monterey County Board thinking? They weren’t – and got bought off cheap.

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Aerial view of the track in 2018 | Laguna Seca photo

For John Narigi, the new general manager of the Laguna Seca Recreation Area that includes WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, we must offer our most heartfelt welcome to the business of motor racing, natch. But unfortunately, that is where our optimistic view of the change of guardianship of the track from the Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) after 57 years of management will end.

John Narigi | IHSMP photo

Who would have thought that the beautiful Monterey Peninsula would have a County Board that resembles a collective of the most corrupt Chicago Aldermen? Last fall, in what was one of the most blatant quid-pro-quo moves that I have seen since moving from the Windy City 10 years ago, the keys to Laguna Seca were handed to, by far, the least-qualified petitioner.

Supervisor Chris Lopez | Monterey County photo

Narigi himself made significant donations to key board members, and it has been reported by the Voice of Monterrey Bay that he is under investigation “by the state Fair Political Practices Commission into allegations of campaign money laundering and other possible violations of election law. Among the recipients of the contributions under scrutiny were the campaigns of Monterey County supervisors John Phillips and Chris Lopez.

Supervisor john Phillips | Monterey County photo

“The complaint to the FPPC raises questions about more than $60,000 in contributions to Phillips and $10,000 to Lopez and additional questions about what could be impermissible coordination of campaign activities by candidates and political action committees in which Narigi has been heavily involved.”

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What’s even worse is that the 300-some volunteers who have kept the track running through SCRAMP have been alienated, and they are not likely coming back.

According to a press release issued by the track on July 7, “The management of the Laguna Seca Recreation Area has established a new department to support and work with the numerous service organizations and 250-plus dedicated volunteers who formerly comprised the volunteer base of the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP).

“Recently, after months of contract discussions with a select group of officers of the Laguna Seca Volunteer Association, who were former SCRAMP officers, the association determined not to continue discussions with A&D Narigi Consulting LLC, per an email the association sent to volunteers.”

It should be noted that negotiations for the former SCRAMP volunteers, now known as Laguna Seca Volunteer Association, broke down in early June after two months when the LSVA felt that they could not continue.

Vintage IMSA race cars in the Corkscrew | Laguna Seca photo

In a letter from LSVA to Narigi’s organization, it was stated by  the volunteers group that “It became apparent during these negotiations that there is a lack of understanding of volunteers and a lack of respect for the volunteers.

“Because of these and other problems, the Directors of the Laguna Seca Volunteer Association have voted to end all negotiations for now to provide experienced volunteers to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.  The Association would be open to fruitful discussions in the future if a true partnership could be agreed upon.”

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Laguna Seca has subsequently initiated a new department to work closely with the organizations who want to continue volunteering at events, as well as assistant directors and individuals.

laguna seca
The California race track hosts premier vintage-racing events | WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca photos

Kalina McKinney is the new volunteer coordinator at Laguna Seca.

 “The individuals whom I have communicated with are enthusiastic about returning as ambassadors of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca,” McKinney said. “I am greatly encouraged by the responses and knowledge base they are sharing. Now, we just need to get back on track.”

Pun aside, certainly there are those individuals who just love Laguna Seca. I am one of them. It’s a fantastic track, but now the whole situation has become a quagmire. Some worry that it might not be a track for a whole lot longer.

There are many legendary tracks that have fallen to the rising prices of the real estate they occupy. There are still many out there that mourn the loss of Riverside to what is now just a dumpy sprawling retail area. Many think that Narigi has positioned himself to cash in on turning the beloved track into housing.

Those who argue that the land cannot be repurposed are wrong. The U.S. military deeded the land to the county decades ago – so it’s purpose can change at the hands of a corrupt board with an insider managing the property.

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Would volunteering at the track be good or bad? It is a principle issue. A lack of volunteers would collapse the infrastructure of Laguna Seca, making it no longer viable as a profitable entity – it certainly was mismanaged financially by SCRAMP during the past several years, which has led to the county’s vote.

Laguna Seca

But then those who have been alienated could come back and do their service to the iconic pavement. Success is still not guaranteed, but at least there would be infrastructure. My gut is that no one in power at Laguna Seca has any long-term plans for racing.

A few years ago, when an interim contract was awarded to SCRAMP, there were other players. My pick was a group called “Friends of Laguna Seca” headed by Bruce Canepa. He had a group of very wealthy and powerful racer types, such as Walmart heir Rob Walton, who were ready to inject millions upon millions of dollars into the success of the track.

The whole thing just seems too fishy – and that is not just the smell from Monterey Bay. But  hey, the whole planet is on fire at the moment, so who cares about a dumb race track?

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37 COMMENTS

  1. SCRAMP was an arrogant group, and one that had little care for the handicapped or ADA law. I was glad to see them go.

    • Go to Spa in Belguim and check ADA compliance then get back to me on the Global Standards of “accommodation”… Strangling shoestring businesses to install infrastructure upgrades when they barely can cover track maintenance is as good way as any to kill off a track.

      Life isn’t fair, and sometimes you just have to accept there are places you won’t be able to go or do unless YOU put out the effort, and not force someone else to Kow Tow to your special needs.

    • Laguna Seca has better ADA compliance than most race tracks. I am not sure what you would be expecting, and am less sure what SCRAMP would have to do with it. It’s a County Park.

    • Please speak with any of the volunteers from the Monterey Bay Vets who spent thousands of hours shuttling ALL of guests, handicapped or not, to any safe, requested location.
      Or any of the people who rode on those shuttles.

  2. Randy, I had no particular love for SCRAMP, and frankly they could be part of the quagmire the track faces now. There were just better choices in the first RFPs, and this last one. Chris Pook’s group could have gotten rid of SCRAMP without alienating anyone.

  3. As I wrote when this first went down (the request for proposal..) the deck was totally stacked and that Condos were only a matter of time (probably custom homes, but it didn’t read as well…) If there were any interests at all, with means, the Board should be sued – and I don’t believe that their political position protects them from criminal activity or civil damages –but racetracks don’t have that kind of clout… So many wonderful days spent at that venue — 35 Historics, in fact… but it’s gone now, for certain. R.I.P.

  4. I’m glad I got to drive this course a couple of times before it’s inevitable demise.
    It saddens me to think of this track becoming a neighborhood of tract homes. I’ve seen it so many times before…

  5. Thanks for telling it like it is Tom. I imagined the entire management change fiasco was all to turn the track into housing. Sad…

  6. So much negativity written and we haven’t even had one significant event yet to criticize the new management efforts of the County, the Supervisors or John Narigi. SCRAMP was unsustainable with it’s debts, Friends of Laguna said they’d put up $ in escrow but that never happened. We brought Canepa back on the Selection Committee but he started to run things “his way” which was contrary to our agreement and now he has resigned. IMSA and Indy are confident that the facility will deliver this fall. It sure would be nice to see a positive spin or at least wait until after the first major event to judge the management abilities of the all parties involved that make Laguna Seca such a special place.

    • Darius, you say with so much authority that FLS never put up $ in escrow. You know otherwise, and I’d like to clarify the point to the folks you have misled. We established a 501c3 Non-Profit, and as such, until a contract was ratified with the County, could not accept cash, as there is no legal mechanism to return it if not selected. This is why we put a legally binding pledge book together. You know the names in the book, and you also know the collective resources, along with a ton of goodwill, which seems pretty absent today. We all wish for LSR to succeed, however, these last few years have just been a sad joke.

      • Gordon,
        Thank you and the others for the effort to manage the track. If the county supervisors were not so corrupt your group would have been great stewards. I love the track and have been volunteering for many years. However, despite my affection for the track, I won’t be returning as a volunteer because I am so offended at the process the county engaged in and the actions of Narigi and company.

        • Thank you Bob, and thank you for all of years of volunteering. You and your volunteer colleagues are/were the heart and soul of LSR. We tried our best, however, a backroom deal will always trump good intentions.

    • Darius,
      I wish I were as optimistic as you are.
      But when a manager who stated [to someone whose accuracy I trust] that he had never been to an auto race until he went to Le Mans in January and also fired the one person who had almost a quarter century of operational knowledge…
      M.

  7. Toly, I believe that the original turn one and two could be restored easily — the track is still there, albeit buried under gravel for additional parking. It would be really cool if they dug that section up and had two configurations of the track. Of course, the new “twisties” slow the cars down somewhat and that was done for the FIA regulations at the time. They were hoping to host a USGP for Formula One. They did get FIM clearance and the bikes ran there for many years. My dad and Carl Haas tried to do the same with Road America back in the late 1980s and early 1990s in hopes of a USGP — but alas there were not enough 5-star hotels in the immediate area to support the circus.

  8. It seems to be ironic that the remote locations of tracks like Watkins Glen, Road America, Mid-Ohio (and I guess, Road Atlanta and VIR) — which mean that will never be considered as possible sites for an F1 race — meant that they are not attractive (or even viable) site for commercial deployment and, hence, protected from this scourge. The Laguna Seca/Pebble Beach combo was such an idea pairing to support the ‘Historics’+ Concours. I suppose that the Concours and its ancilliary events is protected for now given that it is on privately-owned territory –and the golf course lends value to the real estate in the vicinity.
    Of course, the racing at Laguna Seca is legendary; who can say that about Sonoma or COTA?

  9. Looking at all sides…let’s hope that County Residents will be aggressive in maintaining this key element of diversity that makes Monterey the most special place in the world to live. Laguna Seca, the Aquarium, Beaches, 17 Mile Drive, Big Sur, Wine Country, Golf, Shopping and Dining in Carmel and Pacific Grove…etc. Diversity makes the world of the Peninsula unique…and the incredible track is yet another example of what residents and visitors can experience like no other place in the world.

    Time for all of us to JOIN forces to retain this jewel of racing.

    • I wish that was true Rick. I have been around this side show for 30 plus years and the residents (not all) have always had opposition to the track. Even the ones who moved or built next to a raceway. Insane. but the latest stupidity takes the cake.

  10. Hi Tom:
    I have only been to Laguna Seca once but I have many fond memories of the track. It would be a travesty if motorsports enthusiasts lost the track. Riverside is long gone and so is the British Columbia track, Westwood. We are at the mercy of those who would bulldoze and pave over history, shortsighted people who put a buck ahead of everything of true worth. John R. Wright: vintagejohn@rogers.com

  11. I raced at Laguna for over 20 years and certainly my favorite track. In my opinion the Historics in August has been in decline ever since Steve and Debbie Earle were railroaded out of the event they started. It has never been the same. I hope the track can survive, it is truly legendary. Terry Larson

    • Hello Terry,
      You are also one of my hero’s.
      I just posted a comment about Wayne Rainey and Laguna Seca that might upload after this reply to your post.
      Meanwhile I think I still have the original AM radio that came with the Carmen Red 67 E-Type that I am hopeful is still within your magnificent collection. I worked with that car from 1983 until 1990.
      Btw- I did repaint the air filter housing and plenum on that car with a great hammertone match and baked it in an industrial paint oven when I had access to that as a sheet metal product designer in Queens, NY. back then. I did not paint the alternator heat shield but instead matched to that.
      Take a close look at the pop rivets on the plenum- I touched those up with a modeler paint brush and silver paint. ;-).
      It would be my pleasure to get that radio to you.
      Best Regards,
      Adam White

  12. Other than the issues with SCRAMP, another fly in the ointment is the sound restriction issues at Laguna. The HWY 68 coalition and others have made life very difficult for the track and drivers or riders who pay dearly to enjoy it.
    Over recent years there have been improvements and modifications to vehicles that reduce their sound levels quite dramatically. I’ve been lucky to be involved with the development of some of these systems.
    I believe in the future, with proper adjustments and modifications, almost all vehicles could run at Laguna and meet their strict sound level requirments. This issue has always been at the forefront of the complaints about the track. Let’s keep working together to keep Laguna open.
    I was there today and I do not hear the death bells yet. Try to have a positive attitude. Let’s not let one individual bring it down.

  13. It’s just sad. I’ve seen King Kenny wheelie the corkscrew. I’ve seen Juan Manual Fangio drive one of the Silver Arrows. I’ve seen 3 GTP cars side by side in the corkscrew. I even saw the infamous UFO. It’s just sad

  14. Sad to see that the Monterey County does not realize that with Laguna Seca they have a worldwide famous motorsports centre that is far more important than another few houses or appartments. The Friends of Laguna, who would have made it all profitable and professionally organised were outgunned by corruption. The community profits from the events in a big way; without Laguna all the European visitors will no longer have a reason to come and spend millions in the area. I have been there almost every year since 1984, without Laguna I will most likely not be back. The State should investigate the corruption and overrule the County decisions.

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