Of all the racetracks in California, none is more storied than Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. This is where racers like Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti and Bobby Rahal made their names — and those racers’ sons continue building that legacy today. When you set a wheel onto this wildly undulating racetrack, with its world-famous turns and straightaways, you can feel a palpable sense of history that surrounds the place.
Built in 1957 for $1.5 million after the Pebble Beach Road Races were deemed unsafe, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was built on land that was part of Fort Ord, a former U.S. Army base and artillery target range. In fact, there are warning signs about unexploded ordnance that still lie dormant on the grounds. In 1974, the property was deeded over to the Monterey County Parks Department, and is part of the parks system to this day.
Because the track is near the coast where luxury homes have been popping up on nearby hillsides, there are only so many days per year that have essentially no noise limitations — 105 dBA is the high limit, which is Deep Purple loud. Most of those days are taken by the marquee events, such as World Superbike, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and Grand Am and American LeMans races.
NASA was lucky enough to get one of those 105 dBA weekends, and when some 245 racers and time trial drivers converged on the facility, they made all the beautiful noise they could. People camping at the park that weekend would have to put up with them while they had their fun.
The numbers were almost staggering, even for a combined regional event. Nearly 70 time trial drivers took up two run groups — the facility only allows 35 cars on track at a time. Spec E30 filled an entire run group in what was probably the largest gathering of those cars ever assembled in NASA history. At the Saturday night barbecue, workers fed more than 600 people. The paddock was packed full, but careful planning and mapping made it all work.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca also is unique in that it is one of the only tracks your family might want to visit. Most of the other tracks around California are so far out in the middle of 105-degree nowhere that you’d never get them out there. If they get bored at the track, there are plenty of alternatives nearby. Big Sur is just an hour drive down U.S. 1. The Monterey Aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf and Monterey Bay are 10 minutes away down route 68. They can meet you at your hotel after the day of racing is done. So let’s get on with the racing.