Saturday, November 8, 2014

Laguna Seca...Happy Birthday!

As one grows older, fifty-seven years ago seems like not so far in the past. This weekend that many years past, motor racing on the West Coast was changed forever with the first race at Laguna Seca Raceway.

The official opening on November 9th. Photo, courtesy Laguna Seca

Its history can be traced back to the Pebble Beach Road Races that began in 1950. Cars such as Porsche, Ferrari, and MGs raced through the tree lined course drawing crowds of 50,000 by 1956 with international driving stars. It was the place to see and be seen!

However, with that many spectators and a pine tree lined course on public roads, safety issues started to arise. You need to remember, safety in motor racing in that day was not thought of the same as today. In a race in April 1956, disaster struck, well known Ernie McAfee driving a Ferrari 121 LM slid off the road and hit a tree. It was a fatal accident, and ended the racing in the forest.

The overwhelming popularity and the financial impact to the community of racing in the area however impressed the military authorities at Fort Ord. They began working with a newly formed civic minded group of businessmen and formed the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula to keep sports car racing alive in Monterey.

By 1957 the Association and the Military had selected a site in a natural bowl on Fort Ord called Laguna Seca to build the race track.  The name came from the area called Laguna Seca Ranch. The Association (SCRAMP) paid the Army $3,000 and a lease was signed on August 7, 1957. Meanwhile, SCRAMP volunteers were hard at work to raise enough money to build the track. That was going to take about $125,000 for construction. The funds were raised and construction began the first week of September 1957 with the track complete in a short 60 days, just in time for the first race held on November 9th.

The weekend of the ribbon cutting with Major General W.M. Breckenridge and the SCRAMP officials saw 35,000 spectators and 100 entries ready to try out the new facility. The inaugural race was a huge success with Pete Lovely winning, driving a Ferrari, and sealed the tracks future.

It's now an International destination for spectators and racers world wide and remains as it was in the past, an economic engine for Monterey and the surrounding cities.

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