Since 1957, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca has been in the local hands of The Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, or SCRAMP. However, Racer reports that talks started in June for the International Speedway Corporation to possibly take over the track’s operations. SCRAMP is not happy.
According to a letter published by SCRAMP board president Gregg Curry on the track’s website, the decision over who will continue to operate Laguna Seca now rests with the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. Per the Monterey Herald, any potential deal concerning the track will be considered in open session with opportunities for the public to comment, so now SCRAMP is asking for the public to chime in with support.
A timeline released by SCRAMP explains the events that led up to this, starting with a 2011 proposal from SCRAMP to take a larger role in the county-owned Laguna Seca Recreational Area where the track sits. Shortly thereafter, the county hired consultants at The Hunden Company to study the Laguna Seca Recreational Area’s commercial viability, but has never relased the findings of that report to SCRAMP’s knowledge. Likewise, consultants at The Barrett Company were hired in 2013 to study the Laguna Seca Recreational Area’s commercial viability, producing yet another report that SCRAMP claims they’ve never seen. Another consultant, Carlos Uretia, was brought in to negotiate the concession agreement for the track in 2014, but Uretia’s report was never formally presented to Monterey County and the Monterey County Parks Department took no action on it, despite the fact that SCRAMP was on-board with Uretia’s proposal.
Per SCRAMP’s timeline, the track’s operators were put under a microscope in 2014, with everything from their relationship with Mazda North American Operations to safety improvements to the track going under increased scrutiny. More consultants were hired to review everything, some of whom never even got in touch with SCRAMP.
I’m getting bad flashbacks to The Bobs just reading through all of that.
The Monterey Herald reports that SCRAMP has been continuing to manage the facility on a month-to-month basis since March 2014, after their concession agreement expired. In their statement quoted by the Monterey Herald, officials explain that the county “has been exploring options for the management of the raceway to ensure its long-term success.”
One such option was the International Speedway Corporation, a Florida-based entity founded in 1953 by Bill France Sr. which owns 13 of the tracks that comprise half of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup schedule. However, the existing promoters at SCRAMP feel as if they’ve been excluded from the county’s closed-session proceedings regarding the track’s future.
“None of the discussions [regarding a new concession agreement to assume management of the track] were shared with Monterey County taxpayers nor with SCRAMP representatives,” claims SCRAMP’s timeline.
SCRAMP board president Gregg Curry released this statement today about the county’s moves to cut SCRAMP out of the track they’ve been involved with since the track’s creation:
The Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) built what is known today as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 1957. Laguna Seca was created by a Federal Land grant to provide a safe and dedicated facility for racing. The land was originally a part of Fort Ord but was deeded to the county in 1974 to administer the land with a concession agreement to operate the facility with SCRAMP.
SCRAMP is a non-profit organization that has served the community for nearly 60 years, which annually donates more than $250,000 of its proceeds to 60-70 local charities and civic organizations. SCRAMP has grown from presenting a single motor sports event in 1957 to annually producing five major events which generate a $200 million economic benefit for Monterey County. More than 300 local community members annually commit thousands of hours volunteering at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the love of motorsports in Monterey County.
We are a local, active and highly visible member of the community dedicated to bringing world-class racing events to the Monterey Peninsula — benefiting our race fans, sponsors, charitable organizations and our community.
SCRAMP has invested more than $50 million in the Laguna Seca facility, and we continue to be committed to upgrading Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to enhance the overall experience for spectators, sponsors, participants and visitors.
Since January 2014, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors has conducted closed-session meetings to discuss a new Concession Agreement without SCRAMP’s knowledge. These closed-session meetings resulted in the Board of Supervisors entering into a 90-day due diligence agreement with International Speedway Corporation (ISC) to take over management and operation of the raceway. ISC is a for-profit, publicly traded corporation based in Daytona Beach, Fla., whose primary business is the ownership and management of NASCAR race tracks.
SCRAMP is requesting a fair and open process where we will be given equal consideration to continue to improve and manage operations of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and that this process be held in the open with the benefit of public participation and review.
We urge you to contact your Monterey County Supervisor to support and request consideration of SCRAMP to keep revenue local for the benefit of our community and to continue the legacy SCRAMP established in 1957. We, your neighbors and friends, ask for your support.
Why would the county be looking at handing over the reins to an outside entity? The Monterey Herald states that while the non-profit SCRAMP has donated over $12 million to area charities and brought in hundreds of millions of dollars into the regional economy, they have also taken a lot of heat for the loss of the MotoGP United States Grand Prix to Circuit of the Americas as well as the loss of its Champ Car (yes, the series that merged into IndyCar) round.
To me, it would be foolish to blame the local entity for those series’ moves. While Laguna Seca is beloved by pretty much everyone, SCRAMP claims that additional MotoGP events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Circuit of the Americas in 2013 took a chunk out of their own attendance figures at the Laguna Seca round. SCRAMP also claims that the decision to discontinue hosting MotoGP was also due to the increased costs of hosting the event, which would have caused them to lose money. Besides, international motorcycle competitions haven’t completely disappeared from the track, as it still hosts World Superbikes.
As for Champ Car/IndyCar, if anyone who isn’t from the Boston Consulting Group can explain IndyCar’s scheduling logic using, I don’t know, actual reason and sense that BCG never fully utilized in their recommendations, please do. Sense hasn’t factored into IndyCar scheduling for quite some time, and it’s been such an issue that the mere suggestion that they’re adding two to four races feels like a huge leap forward. As it stands now, if “raging dumpster fire” had an entry in the dictionary, you’d see a photo of IndyCar’s schedule in all its baffling shortness. Like MotoGP, SCRAMP also claims that the event was no longer commercially viable for them to host.
To hold those two schedule moves against a local, passionate group of promoters doesn’t make any sense, either. Laguna Seca continues to hold a full schedule of enviable events, from Monterey Historics to the United SportsCar series all the way down to more grassroots fare like Rennsport Reunion and Miatas at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It’s on many track dorks’ bucket list everywhere, because everyone feels as if it’s a must-drive circuit. Other tracks have tried to integrate a Corkscrew-like turn because Laguna Seca’s exists, and it is cool, but everyone (self included) wants to drive the original.
Other concerns that may be at play were outlined in a “Fact vs. Fiction” document posted on Laguna Seca’s website. In it, SCRAMP alleges that the county never acknowledged several business plans they submitted, while the county claims that SCRAMP has not submitted a business plan in four years. There’s also some debate as to the exact amount that the facility is in debt as well as the amount SCRAMP owes the county. The county claims that SCRAMP owes them $800,000 and is $8 million in debt, however, SCRAMP alleges that they owe the county only $260,000 (which they say will be paid in full by June 2016). As for the debt, SCRAMP notes an accounts payable balance of $1.2 million as well as $1.8 million in a payment agreement with Dorna (the rights holder for World Superbikes and MotoGP), which they say is current. Accusations that facilities have not been improved, that SCRAMP has a private escrow account the county can’t access, that SCRAMP claims ownership of buildings on county land, and that the entire venture is unprofitable and has lost events were also refuted by the organization.
No one ever says that running a race track is a particularly profitable venture, with the insane liability inherent in motorsports, constant attacks from NIMBY dingleberries, rising event fees and other costs and worries involved with a track’s operation. Letting the two least profitable weekends go while working to fill the calendar with other events suggests that SCRAMP at least has some grasp on their financials, even if they are currently in the red.
Who is right? Not being local or privy to either side’s records, it’s hard to tell. Part of the issue that smells so fishy here is that a lot of the information the county sought regarding the track appears to have been withheld not only from SCRAMP, but also from the taxpayers who foot the Laguna Seca Recreational Area’s bills.
On principle, though, I think SCRAMP would really have to screw up—on a major, negligent, breach-of-fiduciary-duty level of screwing up—for there to be adequate justification to move the operations of the track out of the hands of a group of passionate locals who have been running the track since its inception. ISC is based in the same building as NASCAR’s operations in Daytona Beach, Florida—all the way at the opposite end of the country. That’s not to say they don’t know what they’re doing or would do a worse job with it, but they wouldn’t have the same history with (and personal attachment to) the track that SCRAMP does.
Monterey County did say that Laguna Seca was a matter open to public input, however, so if you feel passionately one way or the other, now is the time to make your voice heard. Contact information for the Monterey County Supervisors was listed below SCRAMP’s letter.
[Correction: We originally reported that ISC was “NASCAR-owned” after seeing several articles describing them as such on this matter. LW99 tipped us off that they are actually separate entities despite sharing a founder, an office building and some high-up personnel. The article has been corrected above.]
Photo credit: Getty Images
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.