As a car guy I’d always been pretty embarrassed to say that I hadn’t been to Monterey car week, especially having lived in California for the better part of a decade. In my defense a handful of dummies had really made the whole thing out to be somewhat unattainable for someone like me. You’ve got to reserve a house at least a year in advance! Hotel? Forget it! Tickets for Pebble are $250! Brooks Brothers is mandatory! Over the years, as I perpetuated this mythology in conversation, several people had pointed out “…Pebble is great and all, but the Historic Races at Laguna Seca are what it’s all about…”.
Since I’m a bit of a bone head it took me another half a decade to finally decide – God dammit I’m renting an RV and I’m going to Monterey Motorsports Reunion!
Well that plan basically went nowhere. Luckily Stuart had mentioned to his Art Center colleague and my former instructor Eric Noble (Awesome guy, and President of advanced automotive consultant The Carlab) that we were considering making the pilgrimage. Eric has been camping at Laguna Seca for a good 25 years now and insisted that we join him and a few of his favorite former interns at their campsite near turn six. We had an amazing time, and learnt a lot about what we hope to make a new tradition.
Camping at Laguna Seca is a truly magical experience. After a night of talking cars around the campfire you emerge from your tent in a thick fog. As people gradually start mulling around fixing their breakfast, there is a faint hum and crackle in the air as the PA system gets switched on. The MC begins outlining the days events and sporadically updating his estimation of when the first cars will be released for warm up. By this time the sound of cold engines firing in the paddock have begun to echo off the sandy hills of Monterey, and a sense of urgency seems to overcome what ever degree of hangover you may be coping with. The loudspeaker crackles with news that the mornings runners must wait until the fog has lifted, apparently though, the race director is as excited as anyone and turns the cars loose long before the track has emerged from the haze of the Pacific.
From turn six you can see nothing but a hundred yards of track in either direction when you hear the roar of 2 dozen of automotive histories earliest racing machines thunder toward turn two. What emerges from the fog is admittedly slower than expected, but watching these cars climb the hill toward the infamous Corkscrew disappearing into the fog like World War One fighter planes is one of the most memorable things I have ever seen. I could have sworn they were playing “Flight of the Valkyries” over the PA, but it was all in my head.
Usually when someone explains The Monterey Motorsports Reunion they’ll point out the amazing fact that these guys are really out there racing. Like for real, wheel to wheel, racing in priceless pieces of history. Well it’s true. You’ll see dust clouds, spinning cars, and there is nothing like the sound of the nose of a McLaren Can Am car scraping the curb as it descends the Corkscrew.
What’s really cool about the pre war stuff, is the physicality of the drivers. These guys are literally hanging out of the car shifting their weight around like they’re riding a motorcycle. Most of them have a manual fuel pump which requires quite a bit of attention if you’re planning on making it up the hill.
Group 2B featured FIA Mfg. Championship Cars 1963-1972. This was a great class, dominated by Porsche 911s, but their was some spirited competition from some classic underdogs like the Mini Cooper and BMW 2002.
Group 7A featured Historic Trans AM Cars including Sam Posey’s Sublime Dodge Challenger!
Maserati was the featured marque, celebrating their 100 year anniversary. There were dozens of Tipos and other intricately welded Maserati tube frame cars.
Group 3B was all business. 60s and 70s Can Am cars, some of the loudest and fastest cars on track all weekend. There was a 1974 Shadow DN4 (From Wixom!) which was blisteringly quick, and utterly dominant. The field was packed with lookers though, the Lolas really caught my eye, and it’s always a treat to see Bruce McLarens distinctive orange cars blasting around the track.
Group 5A was a really diverse class featuring 1973-1981 FIA, IMSA GT, GTX, AAGT, GTU GT cars.
Group 2B was another really diverse class featuring 1963-1972 FIA Mfg. Championship Cars. The Porsche 908 and Ferrari 312 are 2 of my favorite race cars ever so it was amazing to see them out on track. Vic Elfords 908 is an absolute beauty, with one of my current favorite racing liveries.
Group 6B was the class I really came to see. A slew of Porsche 962s and the infamous Mazda 787 were the highlight of the weekend for me. This class also featured some really gnarly Mustangs and Capris that were very impressive in that fugly wide kind of way…
The Fastest cars of the weekend were the Formula Atlantics. For the most part they’re not much to look at as a piece of sculpture, but I really fell in love with this 1975-March-75B. Watching these cars come down the Corkscrew was pretty thrilling, with what looks like literal leap of faith lap after lap.
Laguna Seca is a prime example of everything that’s great about a classic American race track. Steeped in history, memorable turns, low catch fences, dozens of vantage points, great food, local beer, and dedicated fans of all ages and walks of life. This event should be on every car guys bucket list. Don’t let the pomp and circumstance scare you away.