When you talk about famous West Coast tracks, the name probably most often mentioned is the home of the 2015 NASA West Coast Championships, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. There is good reason for that, and it begins with the history of sports car racing on the Monterey Peninsula.

The Mazda Race of NASA Champions also took place at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May.
The Mazda Race of NASA Champions also took place at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May.

History

Road racing on the Monterey Peninsula got started with the Pebble Beach Road Races in 1950. After successful runs on public roads around the legendary golf course, the racing moved out to Mazda Raceway in late 1957, making a similar transition to formal road courses as did the racing in Elkhart Lake, Wisc., at Road America and Watkins Glen, N.Y., when the street circuits became too hazardous.

Mazda Raceway has seen nearly every major series in the sports car and motorcycle world and plays host to the famous Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion every year during Car Week, where the finest vintage racecars are used as originally intended in full-blown competition. Mazda Raceway is managed by the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula and brings in major revenue to the local economy and the park system as the track is located within the Laguna Seca Recreation Area, a Monterey County park. Uniquely, all profits from the track are donated to other volunteer groups as SCRAMP is a not-for-profit entity.

During Car Week, the city of Monterey fills with vintage racing cars of all kind, with many of them offered at auction.
During Car Week, the city of Monterey fills with vintage racing cars of all kind, with many of them offered at auction.
During Car Week, the city of Monterey fills with vintage racing cars of all kind, with many of them offered at auction.
During Car Week, the city of Monterey fills with vintage racing cars of all kind, with many of them offered at auction.

Getting There

Mazda Raceway lies just east of the city of Monterey, Calif., which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state.

Unfortunately, the airport in Monterey (MRY) has fairly limited capacity, with service from San Francisco International (SFO), Las Vegas (LAS), Phoenix (PHX), San Diego (SAN) and Los Angeles (LAX). Rental also cars go quickly, but reasonable alternatives are just flying into one of the major airports near Monterey and then driving in. San Jose (SJC) is closest, and Monterey is about two hours from the San Francisco Bay Area airports at San Francisco (SFO) and Oakland (OAK).

If you’re driving in, access is good from U.S. 101 via Highway 68, which takes you through Salinas and to the front gate of the track.

 

Staying There

Hotel rooms can be pretty spendy and tough to get on the Peninsula because of the sheer volume of tourists. Hotel rooms are booked up often well in advance, but a good alternative is to look on VRBO or Airbnb to find a rental house that meets your needs. During Monterey Car Week in 2014, I found a nice house that fit my family comfortably for about half of what we would have paid at a hotel.

With regard to what city to stay in, this is a matter of personal preference but the location we had in Pacific Grove was pretty ideal in terms of access to Highway 1 and also an easy stroll to reasonable dining options downtown. A bonus of staying in Pacific Grove is that Asilomar Beach is a very short drive or walk from most of Pacific Grove and there are beautiful views and tide pools to explore all along the Sunset/Ocean View Boulevard route that follows the shoreline. Pacific Grove is also close to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and downtown Monterey.

Because it is in a county park, Mazda Raceway also has plenty of campsites ranging from rustic sites with few amenities to full-service sites equipped with hookups for RVs. Many of the sites have excellent views of the track, so this can be a great option if you don’t mind roughing it a little.

If you can schedule some leisure time into your trip to the Western States Championships, the drive south on Highway 1 offers some spectacular scenery.
If you can schedule some leisure time into your trip to the Western States Championships, the drive south on Highway 1 offers some spectacular scenery.

Eating there

The Peninsula is full of excellent dining establishments but several really stand out. One of my favorites close to the track is the Baja Cantina on Carmel Valley Road that has a neat gearhead theme and excellent Mexican food. Another prime choice is to enjoy a meal at Clint Eastwood’s Carmel Mission Ranch Hotel. The scenery and the food are excellent. If you want something a little simpler and more casual, Gianni’s Pizza in Monterey is a great family friendly place to grab a pie or calzone.

You also have a whole host of options in downtown Monterey on the city’s famous Cannery Row. In terms of chain restaurants, there is the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, an El Torito and a Chart House. For world-class steaks, the Whaling Station is a fine choice, but shower up before you go. It’s that nice. The Fish Hopper also is great, with terrific steak and seafood options in a dining room perched over Monterey Bay.

Downtown Monterey is home to many great attractions and restaurants, including The Fish Hopper and the Whaling Station steak house.
Downtown Monterey is home to many great attractions and restaurants, including The Fish Hopper and the Whaling Station steak house.
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Driving there

The first time I went around Mazda Raceway, I was in the back seat of a Mercury Grand Marquis driven by a Shelby Club instructor showing the newbies the line around the track. The track is located in a valley surrounded by steep hills that unload and load your suspension in quick succession, which nearly made everyone in the big Merc hurl as we lurched around. The most legendary turn and my personal favorite is the Corkscrew where you aim the nose of the car at a certain oak tree just off the track while you hold on for dear life as you drop five stories through the turn. You also gain some major speed from Turn 11 to Turn 1 after you cross the finish line, which makes for some interesting passing opportunities as you play the game of “who is going to brake first” while you hurtle downhill toward the Andretti Hairpin.

The front straight at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is fast and tricky, with a blind rise, then a hard-on-the-brakes downhill scamper into the Andretti Hairpin.
The front straight at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is fast and tricky, with a blind rise, then a hard-on-the-brakes downhill scamper into the Andretti Hairpin.
Most of the turns at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca have lots of camber to keep your car planted, but many turns also lead to uphill stretches of track.
Most of the turns at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca have lots of camber to keep your car planted, but many turns also lead to uphill stretches of track.

As to services, there are usually tire vendors onsite and the local towns have plenty of auto parts stores and car dealers that can supply spares. Salinas is a better bet than Monterey for finding automotive solutions. There are also specialty automotive shops that can help with welding or other repairs on the Peninsula and in Salinas.

Get your plans arranged soon because the 2015 Western States Championship is going to be a monster and you don’t want to miss your chance to cross another dream track off your bucket list.

 

The Facts

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

1021 Monterey-Salinas Highway

Salinas, CA 93908

www.mazdaraceway.com

http://www.co.monterey.ca.us/parks/lagunaseca.html

831-242-8201

 

Baja Cantina

7166 Carmel Valley Rd.

Carmel, CA 93923

www.carmelcantina.com

831-625-2252

 

Carmel Mission Ranch Hotel

26270 Dolores St.

Carmel, CA 93923

www.missionranchcarmel.com

831-624-6436

 

Gianni’s Pizza

725 Lighthouse Ave.

Monterey, CA 93940

http://mbom1.tripod.com/monterey/giannis.html

831-649-1500

 

Bubba Gump Shrimp Company

720 Cannery Row

Monterey, CA 93940

831-373-1884

 

El Torito

600 Cannery Row

Monterey, CA 93940

831-373-0611

 

Chart House

444 Cannery Row

Monterey, CA 93940

831-372-3362

 

The Whaling Station

763 Wave St.

Monterey, CA 93940

831-373-3778

 

The Fish Hopper

700 Cannery Row

Monterey, CA 93940

831-372-8543

 

Lodging

Laguna Seca Recreation Area

1021 Monterey-Salinas Highway

Salinas, CA 93908

http://www.co.monterey.ca.us/parks/lagunaseca.html

831-755-4899

 

Monterey Marriott

350 Calle Principal

Monterey, CA 93940

831-649-4234

 

Embassy Suites Monterey Bay – Seaside

1441 Canyon Del Rey Blvd.

Seaside, CA 93955

831-393-1115

 

Comfort Inn Monterey Peninsula Airport

1200 Olmsted Rd.

Monterey, CA 93940

831-372-2945

 

Quality Inn

2075 N. Fremont St.

Monterey, CA 93940

831-373-5551

 

Rodeway Inn

2041 Fremont St.

Monterey, CA 93940

831-373-2911

 

Monterey Bay Travelodge

2030 N. Fremont St.

Monterey, CA 93940

831-373-3381

 

Ramada Limited Monterey

2058 N. Fremont St.

Monterey, CA 93940

831-375-9511

 

Super 8 Monterey

2120 N. Fremont St.

Monterey, CA 93940

831-372-6066

 

Economy Inn

1131 Fremont Blvd.

Seaside, CA 93955

831-899-2700

 

Discovery Inn Monterey

1106 Fremont Blvd.

Seaside, CA 93955

831-394-3113

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Images courtesy of Brett Becker and SeeMonterey.com