Laguna Seca renaissance, Part 1: Rediscovery

Photo: Barry Cantrell/Motorsport Images

The Laguna Seca Raceway Foundation exists to raise funds for the development of the Laguna Seca Recreational Area and is a separate entity from both the track operator and Monterey County. A 501c corporation, the LSRF has been rejuvenated of late with key additions to its board of directors — men who collectively posses a clear vision for WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca’s future with the energy and wherewithal to help secure it. In the weeks ahead, RACER — now part of the organization via the naming of its founder and president, Paul Pfanner, to the board — will share the behind-the-scenes of this world-class raceway’s renaissance.

This story was originally posted on RACER.com and authored by Steve Nickless

“You know you’re getting up there,” opined Group 44’s venerable Bob Tullius, “when you’re at a vintage race and you can remember when every car was next year’s model.”

Those words from the 1960-’70s Trans-Am great (once my boss) rang painfully true as I stared wide-eyed at the silver ex-Herb Adams 1964 Pontiac GTO Tullius had pedaled to some surprising Trans-Am success back in 1971, a forerunner of the 1970s success he would enjoy with V-12 Jaguars and V8 Triumphs in the 1970s.

The brisk walk through the jam-packed SVRA Trans Am Speedfest paddock on a chilly Friday morning at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca was like that: First trek to a pro race in more than a year; first time back to the Monterey Peninsula and Laguna in nearly 25 years; and a cascade of memories, of cars and drivers and important races at Northern California’s most scenic if not most challenging (Sonoma Raceway would likely argue) road course.

John Hildebrand’s beautifully restored ’64 Pontiac GTO (driven by Bob Tullius to second place in the ’71 Trans-Am season opener at Lime Rock) was just one of many attention grabbers at the Laguna Seca SVRA Trans Am Speedfest. Image by Steve Nickless

Unlike the immaculately restored GTO — and hundreds of other lovingly prepped machines (including but not limited to a trio of Cobras, a pair of ex-Bud Moore 1970 Trans-Am Mustangs, and more than 30 Formula Fords) — under the hood, the track itself was showing some of its age and the effects of a spectator-less 2020 season (the COVID curse plaguing all the world’s racetracks).

The Trans Am Speedfest weekend was a revelation, not just for the joy of an incredible Trans Am TA2 class race on Saturday, the chance to hang out with great FF and modern-day friends and heroes, but a personal discovery of a group of local residents fiercely committed to sharpening Laguna Seca’s luster.

I learned about the Laguna Seca Raceway Foundation from RACER magazine’s founder and major domo Paul Pfanner, newly invited to a board that includes movers and shakers from the Peninsula, from the Salinas and Silicon valleys (and, in Pfanner, from SoCal) who share a common passion, vision and goal: Helping direct Laguna Seca’s renaissance, funding a return to prominence as one of the world’s finest racetracks; helping to coordinate communication between Monterey County (which controls the 559 acres of federal land deeded to it “for use a public park and public recreation area”), the track operator, A&D Narigi Consulting, sponsors (including title sponsor WeatherTech), an organized group of volunteers and many thousands of race fans into a cohesive, forward-looking entity ushering in a return to the Laguna Seca Raceway glory days.

The Foundation was established as the “SCRAMP Improvement Fund” in November 2002; was subsequently granted 501(c)(3) tax status in April of 2003; then changed it’s name to Laguna Seca Raceway Foundation in April of 2019. For much of that time, the Fund/Foundation has been a key financial contributor to the county-run Sports Car Racing at the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP)-operated racetrack on federal land just off Highway 68 west of Salinas.

A global racing mecca: Through its 65-year history, Laguna Seca has played host to almost every form of motorsports, from drivers schools and SCCA club racing to IMSA and IndyCar. Barry Cantrell/Motorsport Images

The Fund cut back its involvement, though, through a five-year period of operational changes culminating in the sudden end of the long relationship between the County and SCRAMP in 2019, with A&D Narigi Consulting, LLC, given the track-operations contract in early 2020.

But the Fund’s mission was kept intact. Board members Carl Anderson, Greg Evans, Steve Fields, Bill Reichmuth, Ken Schley, Ned Spieker and retired IndyCar star Danny Sullivan, hired a new Executive Director, Dick Renard, in 2017. Three new Board members – Skip Cook, Martin Lauber and Ross Merrill – came aboard in 2019. And, at the end of 2020, a “lost year” due to the coronavirus and resulting California ban on crowds, a fourth joined in: RACER founder and president Paul Pfanner.

In just a few short months, the revitalized LSRF has made significant progress reflected in the name change from “Fund” to “Foundation” more accurately reflecting its purpose. “Looking forward,” explained newly elected Board President Ross Merrill, “we are striving to renew cooperation among the County, operator, volunteers and evaluating future projects aimed at enhancing the facility.”

Helping to restore Laguna Seca Raceway’s world-class luster reflecting its upscale surrounds for the benefit of fans, participants, volunteers and, of course, the community is the Foundation’s very tangible goal.

During the Trans Am SpeedFest weekend, RACER got a glimpse behind the scenes, spending time with several of the Foundation’s key players who struggled to contain themselves detailing “next year’s model” of a world-class racetrack.

For more information on the Laguna Seca Raceway Foundation, check out its Facebook page or log onto lsrfnd.org.

UP NEXT IN PART 2: Passion, with Foundation President Ross Merrill