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Sports

Shaky Ground: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Management Pushes Back on County

There’s a saying at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca: “for people, not for profit”.  That’s because behind the multi-million dollar events that happen at the track off Highway 68 is the non-profit Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP).

SCRAMP built the raceway from the ground up back in 1957 on land owned by Monterey County, and has run the facility ever since.  But today it finds itself on shaky ground with its landlord.

Monterey County has been talking with the publicly traded International Speedway Corporation (ISC) out of Florida, which runs NASCAR, about potentially managing the facility.

“It was shocking.  It really was.  When you build a track in 1957.  You put all the investment into it. From a volunteer standpoint, the hours  countless hours people have given to this track for SCRAMP, not for an outside entity coming from Florida.  We want everything to stay here in Monterey,” says Gregg Curry, Board President of SCRAMP.

Each year SCRAMP runs five events at the raceway, including this week’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.   The events bring in thousands of dollars for local charities and millions in economic benefit to the region, though SCRAMP itself admittedly has had a rough few years.

In 2014, the grand prix motorcycle racing event, MotoGP, didn’t return to Laguna Seca and SCRAMP says the economic downturn hurt its finances, which slowed the pace of payments it makes to Monterey County.

Still SCRAMP says 2015 is shaping up to be a good year, and they’ve been trying to negotiate a  ten year contract with the county that includes plans to make improvements to the facility.

“In our minds, whoever we’re competing against, we can certainly match it.  We can certainly go to the table and let’s get this straightened out,” says Curry. 

But Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter says the county has an obligation to maximize the potential of Laguna Seca.

“Say you had a piece of property, a hotel, and you hired a management firm to manage it.  They didn’t make the payments on time.  They lost money.  They failed to maintain the facility. You’d probably look for another tenant,” says Potter.

Potter says at this point the talks with ISC are just talks.  The two are in a 90 day due diligence period where ISC is exploring if it wants to make a management proposal for the track.  If it does, the public will be invited to comment. And he says the idea has never been to end the relationship with SCRAMP, just maybe, change it.

“I think the problem right now is that there’s a perception that its either SCRAMP or ISC.  Our hope was that the two would figure out a way to partner together, and to be able to go ahead keep SCRAMP’s volunteer element, keep some of their employees, have ISC managing the track, but not to have SCRAMP go away entirely,” says Potter.

The challenge for SCRAMP is what it does is manage.  So it’s pushing back against the county.  It’s taken out ads in the local newspapers, and its loyal volunteers have followed up with letters to the editor and campaign style buttons that say, “Keep Laguna Seca Local”. 

Volunteers are the real engine behind all the events at Laguna Seca.  Hundreds of community members work the events in exchange for a donation to their non-profit. 

“It’s a blast.  No other way to describe it,” says Greg Dahlem who is working the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion to raise money for the Monterey Bay Veterans.

He says if the track is taken over by someone else, he hopes a place remains for volunteers.

“It’s a difficult thing.  Unfortunately, money is a major, major consideration.  If somebody has the ability to come in and really put the money in it, that’s a positive. The negative is, it loses the locality,” says Dahlem.

In a talking points memo, the International Speedway Corporation it says, “ISC is fully committed to creating a working relationship with SCRAMP, including engaging their staff and volunteer network to continue supporting the many charitable relationships they have developed throughout Monterey County.”  The memo also notes volunteers do work its track events.