News & Stories

Collier Collection Cars on the Corkscrew Curve; Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca turns 60

December 15, 2017 In the News, Racing

By John Lamm

Laguna Seca Raceway’s history began with a death. Braking hard for Turn 6 on the Pebble Beach road course, Ernie McAfee lost control of his Ferrari 121 LM. On April 22, 1956, McAfee slammed into one of the hundreds of trees that lined the 2.1-mile, California Monterey Peninsula course and died instantly.

While racing through the Pebble Beach forest had to end, the spirit of the sport had taken hold on the Monterey Peninsula. Just as racing in villages like Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and Watkins Glen, New York led to permanent tracks — Road America (1955) and Watkins Glen International (1956) — come 1957 race fans in and around Monterey had their home circuit.

Pete Lovely on his way to winning the first race at Laguna Seca driving a Ferrari 500 TR. Photo Credit: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Archive

The Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, as it’s now known, has just celebrated its 60th anniversary. Its history is rich, and cars from The Collier Collection at The Revs Institute have played a part.

After McAfee’s death, local enthusiasts formed the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) and cut a 5-year, $3,000 rental deal with the U.S. Army for a section of Fort Ord. The group raised $125,000, allowing construction to begin in September and come November 9, 1957, Laguna Seca (dry lake) was ready for its initial race. There were 100 entries, and 35,000 people watched Pete Lovely win that first competition in a Ferrari 500 TR.

Roger Penske (66) and Dan Gurney (19) lead at the start of the 1964 Pacific Grand Prix.
Photo Credit: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Archive

In its original 1.90-mile form, the track was roughly a circle, yet anything but flat. From the beginning, the dominating feature is one of the most famous corners in racing, the Corkscrew. After a hard left, the circuit swoops from Turn 8 down to the right and Turn 8A, a 5-and-a-half story drop in just 450 feet. The track continues to run downhill from there.

In 1974, the track was deeded over to the Monterey County Parks Department and is still operated by SCRAMP. Come 1988, the track went through a major layout change. A new infield section was added, upping the length to 2.14 miles and then 2.23 miles. It now has 11 corners. This reconfiguration was done to meet the minimum lap distance requirement so MotoGP motorcycles could race at Laguna.

Nicky “The Kentucky Kid” Hayden celebrates his 2006 MotoGP win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Photo Credit: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Archive

Another important step came in 2001, when Mazda bought the naming rights and a title change to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Through the years the circuit has hosted races by MotoGP, IndyCar, Trans-Am, Can-Am, SCCA Nationals, NASCAR, World Superbikes, American Le Mans, Pirelli World Challenge and, of course, the Mazda Miata Cup.

Audi R10 TDIs finished 1-2 in the 2008 American Le Mans Series race.

In all those seasons a few scenes still stand out. Among them:

  • Kenny Robert’s seven motorcycles wins.
  • Alex Zanardi’s IndyCar pass of Brian Herta by taking to the dirt in the Corkscrew.
  • Nicky Hayden getting his first MotoGP win.
  • Mark Donohue cutting his sub-1-minute lap on 1.9-mile Laguna in the Porsche 917/30; those who saw it will never forget it.

SCRAMP’s Gill Campbell accepts the prestigious FIA Members Heritage Cup from FIA president Jean Todt (left) and Nick Craw at a recent celebration. The award honors the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.
Photo Credit: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Archive

In 1974, Steve Earle founded the Monterey Historic Automobile Races, which grew into the premier vintage race program in the U.S. Now called the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, it was recently awarded the FIA’s (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) prestigious FIA Members Heritage Cup for the quality of its presentation.

In addition to being Laguna Seca’s named sponsor, Mazda has always been a factor at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Here its Group C 787 leads another Mazda, an RX 792B. Both are rotary powered.

The Reunion is an annual mid-August event that runs over two three-day weekends. For The Revs Institute, the event has been an annual trek for roughly a quarter of century. The list of cars from the Collier Collection that have raced there driven by the likes of Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Brian Redman, Gunnar Jeannette, John Morton and Bruce Canepa runs on and on. Among them are several Porsches, including 908s, the RS-61 and the 910. A Porsche Abarth Carrera GTL, RS-60 and 917 P/A. And others: the Vanwall GP, Ford GT40 MKI, Corvette Grand Sport, Scarab. Abarth Simca, Cooper T-51, and Briggs Cunningham’s 1939 Bu-Merc.

Collier Collection cars will be running at the Reunion in 2018, when Laguna Seca begins its next 60 years. Which ones? Stay tuned.

For a quarter century, The Revs Institute’s Collier Collection has raced its cars at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. We’ve created a gallery of some of their action.

Steve Earle, creator of the Monterey Historic Automobile Races, driving the Collier Collection’s 1939 Bu-Merc.

Scott George doing a demo run of the 1950 Cadillac Series 61 “Le Monstre.”

Brian Redman in the granddaddy of all Porsche Can Am cars, the 1969 917 PA.

Heading downhill on the Corkscrew, the 1963 Corvette Grand Sport, Bruce Canepa driving.

The 1960 Porsche Abarth Carrera GTL festooned with data-gathering equipment.

At Porsche’s Rennsport Reunion IV, Brian Redman at the top of the Corkscrew in the 1971 Porsche 908/3.

A little beauty, the 1964 Abarth Simca 2 Mila Corsa.

Gunnar Jeannette in the 1966 Porsche 906 Carrera 6.

Headed uphill out of turn 6, the 1967 Porsche 910/6.

Revs’ 1938 Maserati 8CTF takes center stage for the Rolex Reunion’s 2014 group shot.

The 1966 Ford GT40 dives down the Corkscrew.

Riding with Brian Redman in the 1958 Scarab.

The 1965 Ferrari 250 LM Berlinetta GT.

Always a favorite, the 1969 Porsche 908 LH “long tail.”

A race winner in its day, the 1969 Porsche 908-2 Flunder.

The 1954 Osca with which Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd won that year’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

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John Lamm started his automotive journalism career in 1965 as a racing photographer for Autoweek magazine. After a tour in Vietnam, he joined Motor Trend in 1969, then Road & Track in 1975, where he worked for 37 years. He has also written for Car and Driver and Automobile magazines. Credits include 10 books and Lamm has been honored with the International Motor Press Association’s Ken Purdy and the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor awards for writing. Lamm’s photo archives include hundreds of thousands of images ranging from an 1893 Benz Victoria to many of the latest automobiles. He is on the organizing committee for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and been a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for two decades. Lamm lives in San Clemente, California with his wife, Scheri.

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