Laguna Seca

Years ago, in 1957, the motor racing landscape forever changed. That’s when the first sports car race was held here at the new Laguna Seca Raceway.

The beginnings of Laguna Seca Raceway is traced back to the Pebble Beach Road Races that began in 1950. And by 1956, this popular race had swelled to more than 50,000 spectators crowding the tree-lined forest course. International driving stars regularly competed and the atmosphere was both racing and a social happening.

There were, however, some very serious problems concerning driver and spectator safety, who were dangerously close to the road. There were no safety areas between the racers and the many pine trees that lined the public roads. There was also concern about the quality of the road surface and widths for safe passing.

Unfortunately, in April 1956, the concerns took a disastrous turn. Ernie McAfee left the road in his Ferrari 121 LM and hit a tree. It was a fatal accident, and the last race to be held in the forest.

Remarkably, the track was completed in a mere 60 days, just in time for the first race to be held on November 9 and 10. When Major General W.M. Breckenridge and officers cut the ribbon on the new facility, 35,000 spectators and 100 entries had shown up. The success of the inaugural race sealed the track’s future. While the track has undergone enhancements, it still retains its original sports car racing spirit.

Through the years, the scenic facility has hosted many international events that have attracted visitors from around the world, such as Can-Am, Trans-Am, Formula 5000, IMSA, IndyCar, American Le Mans Series, Superbike World Championship and MotoGP motorcycle races, as well as the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

The track itself has undergone significant changes over the past two decades to meet evolving safety homologation requirements. Changes include the addition of the infield in 1988 (present day turns 3, 4 and 5) extending the track from its original 1.9-mile length to its current 2.238-mile length, plus the relocation of pedestrian bridges and embankments, and the expansion of gravel pits for additional runoff.

Perhaps one of the most famous moments in motorsports lore took place at the Corkscrew when Alex Zanardi passed Bryan Herta on the inside of the Corkscrew on the last lap of the 1996 CART race to take the victory.

Laguna Seca Raceway continues to be recognized as one of the top ten traditional road courses in the world.

Now, years later, Laguna Seca Recreation Area, which is owned by the County of Monterey flourishes with major race events.