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Lou Gold, president of the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula stands with Major General William M. Breckinridge during the ribbon cutting. (Photos courtesy of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca)

Lou Gold, president of the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula stands with Major General William M. Breckinridge during the ribbon cutting. (Photos courtesy of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca)

Green Flag Waved Nov. 9, 1957, to Open Laguna Seca Raceway

BY MARK MAYNARD

It was Saturday morning, Nov. 9, 1957, when America’s newest road course opened in Monterey, Calif. — Laguna Seca. The ribbon cutting occurred during the 8th Annual Pebble Beach National Championship Sports Car Road Races. Few of those in attendance might have expected that the hastily-built road course carved into the Fort Ord Army Installation was the beginning of an iconic motorsports venue.

The 8th annual event was a first for Laguna Seca. The name was a carryover of the races that began in 1950, racing through the Del Monte Forest of Pebble Beach, which had also added a Concours d’Elegance to bring a social atmosphere to its race weekend.

Six years later in 1956, the Pebble Beach Road Races showed the imperative need for a safer, larger race track to host one of North America’s most famous competitions.

Following Ernie McAfee’s death during a crash that year, organizers decided that the current Pebble Beach course was “not enough track” to house the rising horsepower being created annually.

Inaugural Laguna Seca race winner Pete Lovely (car no. 125) starts in third position on Nov. 10, 1957.

The nine-turn Laguna Seca road course was created in just 60 days at a cost of $125,000. In this image, inaugural race winner Pete Lovely (car no. 125) starts in third position on Nov. 10, 1957.

Military Approval

The Army brass was in attendance for the race because it was on an active military reservation. Negotiations to use the site began with Major General Gilman Mudgett, then commander of Fort Ord. Maj. Gen. Mudgett sent the request up the chain of command to the Sixth Army in San Francisco, which approved. However, in January 1956 the Defense Department withheld permission because a military reservation was not suitable for an event of this kind because of liability and public opinion.

After several months of lobbying by Fort Ord and Sixth Army officials — and members of the California Congressional district, the DOD reversed its opinion and left it up to the Fort Ord Commander.

Mudgett gave his permission with the stipulation that a property lease be drawn up between the military and the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, which then admitted the newly formed SCRAMP as a member to oversee the race.

The U.S. Army and the Monterey Chamber of Commerce signed a lease for the Fort Ord property on Aug. 7, 1957. But another entanglement had to be addressed. Two lessees retained cattle grazing rights from the Army on a portion of the property. Two separate leases were required, which took another three weeks’ time.

By the time all the property rights were retained, it was September when plans could be finalized for a Nov. 9 race weekend. Incredibly, the nine-turn road course was created in just 60 days at the cost of $125,000, just in time for its inaugural race on Nov. 9 and 10, 1957.

Carroll Shelby racing in 1960 at Laguna Seca in a red Maserati Type 61

Carroll Shelby in 1960 on the Laguna Seca course in car No. 98, a red Maserati Tipo 61.

Laguna Seca Track Design

Wallace Holm, a young Salinas, Calif., architect, was the site development chair. He explained the track design by drawing a rough diagram in the dirt, staked the course, and the bulldozers went to work.

One of the most famous, one-of-a-kind turns in motorsports sits atop the circuit — the Corkscrew. As the story goes, the construction foreman drove up the hill and informed the bulldozer driver that he was going to lunch. The dozer driver asked the plan for the next phase of the track, to which the foreman said, “just get down the hill any way you can.” And notorious hard-left, hard-right combination of turns was created.

The first race program included some cautionary advice for visitors, such as: “Stay away from the hay bales. They were put there because experts felt that was where a car going wild would hit. Don’t try to prove the experts wrong the hard way,” and “Don’t try to cross the track. At the least, you are exposing yourself to arrest. And you may be tempting a quick and painful and final end to your day’s spectating.”

Sir Stirling Moss in 1961 Laguna Seca as he won his second straight Pacific Grand Prix.

Sir Stirling Moss in 1961 as he won his second straight Pacific Grand Prix.

Laguna Seca Greats

Sixty-five years later, the “dry lagoon” has been the venue for countless memorable moments. As a non-motorsports entertainment site, Laguna Seca has hosted such dignitaries as The Pope, the Beach Boys, and Grateful Dead.

Its reputation in motorsports is a legendary Who’s Who of racing. Among its veteran racers are Dan Gurney, Sir Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Jim Clark, Mario Andretti, Bruce McLaren, Bobby Rahal, Roger Penske, Valentino Rossi, and Wayne Rainey, all Hall of Fame athletes. Even actor-racer Paul Newman favored the location by constructing garages for his race team. The Newman Building remains in use today.

If You Go

Get information on camping, special events, and an update on the capital improvements at WeatherTechRaceway.com, or call for tickets and accommodations at (831) 242-8200.