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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?