Year in Review
Many yearlong residents of California’s Monterey Peninsula refer to annual Monterey Car Week as the time when everybody goes crazy.
Small wonder. Most other weeks of the year, the atmosphere in and around Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pacific Grove is fairly mellow, a historic seaside locale where vacationers and tourists mingle, players and spectators flock to the Pebble Beach Golf Links, and visitors easily tour the scenic area.
But during that certain week in August, the peninsula becomes the collector car epicenter of the world, and 100s of thousands of people cram in for the collector car shows, auctions, parties, vintage racing and multiple other events, all culminating in the grand Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on the 18th fairway of the aforementioned golf links.
Traffic becomes abominable and parking impossible. While all the car people seem to be having a great time, and business people rake in the cash, the local folk struggle to carry on some semblance of their normal lives.
In February of this year, the Carmel City Council decided it had had enough, and acted to impose limitations on in-town events. As regulars know, downtown Carmel every year is the scene of two of the most-popular events of Monterey Car Week: the Concours on the Avenue car show and the lunchtime stopover of the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance.
The concours on Ocean Avenue, Carmel’s main street. takes place on the Tuesday of Car Week and generally kicks off the annual festivities. Essentially a localized car show, although with many bringing their collector cars from all over for display and judging, the event has grown incrementally into a large-scale affair.
The Tour d’Elegance stopover a couple days later is a huge deal, bringing a massive wall-to-wall crowd of people who relish the opportunity of seeing up close, for free, most of the fine classic cars that will be shown the following Sunday at the Pebble Beach Concours. The cars are parked on that same section of Ocean Avenue while the drivers and guests have lunch.
The Carmel council members had decided a while back that two madhouse Car Week events was plenty for the small and wealthy community, although the city does get packed with overflow crowds from the other nearby happenings. Starting in 2017, the Prancing Ponies Car Show came to town, focusing on women and their Ferraris, while attracting other sports, exotic and classic cars to their Wednesday event.
It’s all become a bit much, council decided, as local residents expressed their fear of crowds growing larger and traffic getting worse, essentially crippling the town. Some unruly drivers and screeching-tire episodes in the off hours also have neighbors, and police, taking notice.
So at the February meeting, the council voted on a plan that would limit the Car Week events in Carmel to the Concours on the Avenue and the Pebble Beach tour stopover, and to “work with neighboring communities and the county on ways to mitigate the impacts events held outside the city limits have on the town.”
What exactly that mitigation would entail had not been finalized, but the limitations are scheduled to take effect during Monterey Car Week in August 2021.
The legislative action happened before the 2020 Car Week and the Pebble Beach Concours were canceled because of the ongoing pandemic.
But the council decision is emblematic of the general ebbing of enthusiasm by local people as Car Week is viewed by many as getting nearly out of control, becoming far too much of a good thing. The Monterey County Board of Supervisors has discussed rejecting any additional car events that might get introduced into the fray.
While Monterey Car Week is foreseen as coming back in full for August 2021 if the pandemic is by then brought under control, as expected, there is some feeling that things have reached a tipping point and some of the collector car activity might wind up being curtailed in the future.
Another major piece of Car Week that could be endangered is the annual Monterey Motorsports Reunion, one of the nation’s top vintage racing events, at nearby Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca.
That’s not because of overcrowding but because of management turmoil at the racetrack. In June, just days before the rack announced that it was canceling the races because of coronavirus, negotiations broke down between the new management that had taken over the facility and the new volunteer workers group that replaced the longtime volunteer organization SCRAMP – the non-profit Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula.
The volunteers, who crucially serve to monitor the racing as corner workers and such, are essential components for the amateur racing.
Then in September came the news that Monterey County had unceremoniously ended its contract with the Historic Motorsports Association to operate the Monterey Motorsports Reunion. The HMSA, which has been the reunion’s sanctioning body for the past 46 years, is highly regarded for its impact on the development of historic racing.
In place of the HMSA, the county named Historic Sportscar Racing, a Florida-based sanctioning body.
With both SCRAMP and the HMSA removed from their longtime positions with the Motorsports Reunion, and disagreements unsettling planning, it remains to be seen how the racing will fare when and if it resumes in August 2021.