Laguna Seca Celebrates 60th Year–And 10 Little-Known Facts About It

Patrick Everett Tadeo

Laguna Seca Raceway, or Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as it is currently known, recently celebrated its 60th year since it was first opened to stage the eighth annual Pebble Beach Road Race which was held from November 9 to 10, 1957.

Laguna Seca is one of the most popular race tracks in the world, in part because of its very technical corners, the most famous–or infamous, depending on what you believe–of which is the corner known as the Corkscrew. Comprised of Turn 8 and Turn 8A, the Corkscrew is a hard-left, hard-right turn with a five-and-a-half story drop in elevation. Gran Turismo players are familiar with the Corkscrew since taking it successfully within a specified amount of time rewards you with a license to play certain challenges within the game. For Gran Turismo 5, players have to navigate the drive up, through, and out of the Corkscrew within 21 seconds for you to receive a Bronze trophy–within 18.5 seconds for the Gold trophy–to earn the International License A#3. We’re sure there have been times you’ve wanted to throw the controller in frustration for not meeting the required time. 

Anyway, as Laguna Seca celebrates its 60th year, we’re giving you 10 little-known facts about it:

  1. The genesis of the Laguna Seca Raceway started when, during the seventh annual Pebble Beach Road Race in 1956, Ernie McAfee, a popular racer within California at that time, fatally crashed his Ferrari into a tree. Since the race was held on the town roads of Pebble Beach in California, it was decided that a dedicated race track was needed to keep both the drivers and the spectators safe.

  2. Laguna Seca stands on what was once Fort Ord‘s maneuver area and field artillery target range. Due to the Pebble Beach Road Race’s popularity and its financial impact to the community, Fort Ord offered the use of of the area to the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) in 1957. SCRAMP was formed by a group of civic-minded businessmen who were willing to donate their time and money to keep sports car racing alive in Monterey.

  3. SCRAMP, together with the Monterey Chamber of Commerce, negotiated a five-year deal and paid $3,000 to the US Army for use of the land, and on August 7, 1957, a lease was signed.

  4. Initially, SCRAMP raised and collected $125,000 which was then used to begin the track’s construction in the first week of September. The track was completed in only 60 days, just in time to hold the first race on November 9, 1957, where 100 entries were received and 35,000 spectators arrived. It cost SCRAMP a total of $1.5 million to construct the track.

  5. The current layout is very different from what it looked like when it first opened. The original Laguna Seca measured 3.1 kilometers. To meet the requirements of the  Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), particularly the minimum track length to host MotoGP races, the track length was increased to 3.6 kilometers by creating an infield in what is now Turns 3, 4, and 5, and removing the straight that used to start at Turn 2 and end at Turn 5.

  6. As it so happens, since it was a fatal Ferrari crash that gave birth to Laguna Seca, it was also a Ferrari–a 500 Testa Rossa driven by Pete Lovely–that won the very first race, the eighth annual Pebble Beach Road Race.

  7. At the 2009 Monterey Historic Races, which features classic race cars competing in a friendly race around the track, David Love lost control of his Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa on the first corner of the Corkscrew and hit the tire wall with the car’s right side. To give you an idea as to how valuable a car like that is, a similar one was sold in 2011 for $16.39 million.

  8. The fastest lap around the Laguna Seca was set by a  Ferrari F2003-GA driven by Marc Gené who was clocked at one minute, 5.786 seconds during the 2012 Ferrari Racing Days. However, it is considered unofficial as official records are only recognized when it is set in race conditions. Officially, the fastest lap around Laguna Seca is one minute, 10.103 seconds set by an Acura ARX-01B driven by David Brabham at the 2008 Monterey Sports Car Championships. As for the production car lap record, it’s held by a 2016 Dodge Viper ACR driven by Randy Pobst with a time of one minute, 28.65 seconds.

  9. Laguna Seca is Spanish for “dry lake,” which is what the track was before the US Army took over it to establish the now-defunct Fort Ord. When SCRAMP and the US Army were constructing the track, it was agreed that the land should be changed as little as possible. As legend has it, the Corkscrew came to be when the crew told the bulldozer driver to “get down the hill any way you can” as they were going to lunch. 

  10. To complete the Corkscrew successfully, Laguna Seca’s official advise to drivers is to go up the blind crest on the right as you approach the first turn or Turn 8. Apply the brake before you reach the crest and then turn in late so you can go straight down the hill. The drop is blind though so your visual reference is the oak tree that’s close to the track to line you up for the bottom of the hill, or what is known as Turn 8A. As you drive through the turn, apply some throttle to help shift weight to the rear of the car and you’re off to Turn 9, the Rainey Curve. 


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