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Laguna Seca Signs New Deal With SCRAMP

An aerial view of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca The immediate future of Laguna Seca has been secured after a welcome outbreak of common sensePicture: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
 Neil Tipton
 Wednesday, February 1, 2017

After a saga which has seen more twists, turns and plot reversals than a Brian Rix farce, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors has this week voted to grant a new three-year deal to SCRAMP - the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula - to manage the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca.

The agreement between the two parties was confirmed by Michael Smith, president of the SCRAMP Board of Governors.

"We have been working very closely with County Staff over the past several months to develop a plan that builds upon this iconic facility's heritage of delivering significant economic impact to the Central Coast," he explained. "We will celebrate this heritage throughout the year with 60th anniversary celebrations, culminating in a Racing Through the Decades feature at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion in August."

The new deal with SCRAMP brings to an end several years of wrangling, which began in 2015 when it was revealed that then County Board supervisor Dave Potter was starting a bid to end the 60-year association with the sports car club. The County Board hoped to join forces with the International Speedway Corporation (ISC), in the hope of securing much-needed investment for the iconic race track. Ultimately, these plans came to nought amid an outcry from SCRAMP and many in the racing community about the way the transition was being handled.

Potter revised the plans in 2016, instead launching a tender process to award a long-term management concession to an outside group, preferably with experience of operating racing circuits. Under the deal, any new operator would have been expected by the Board to assume the financial responsibility for the much-need upgrades. This rather fanciful proposition seemingly placed all the risk on the investors, who would be expected up to sink considerable sums into a facility they did not own, with limited opportunities to earn it back.

It speaks volumes of Laguna Seca's standing with the local and racing communities that anyone would even consider coming forward, but two suitors did quickly emerge, namely the Friends of Laguna Seca (FLS) and the World Automobile Championship of California (WACC). Adding to the drama, SCRAMP then entered into an alliance of its own with ISC, who submitted their own joint proposals for the management contract.

In October last year the Board ultimately selected the Friends of Laguna Seca, formed by a group of wealthy locals, who made the necessary promises to spend tens of millions on upgrades. Despite being a credible group of prominent businessmen, the Friends were unable to agree final terms with the County, seemingly due to the Board being wary that the group did not have all of the cash up front, but had instead secured promises of investment from its numerous backers.

All of which left Laguna Seca with no confirmed operator and the 2017 season approaching fast. A further abortive attempt to find a new concession operator was quickly scrapped when Potter's time on the Board came to an end, with his replacement Mary Adams quickly deciding to extend an olive branch to SCRAMP.

Her new three-year deal includes a promise by the county to pay SCRAMP an annual fee equal to 20 percent of all net operating income and to provide a $270,000 per month advance on the fee to help offer the nonprofit organization a steady operating fund. At the end of each calendar year, the parties would settle up on the difference between the $3.4 million in monthly advances and the final annual fee.

It replaces the current monthly deal, in place since 2014 when the long-term agreement with SCRAMP and the County Board expired. Under that arrangement, it was SCRAMP that was responsible for paying the county a portion of raceway revenue. Falling income amid a changing motorsport landscape meant this left SCRAMP facing an impossible task to invest in the necessary upgrades to continue hosting major revenue-bringing events.

Supervisor Adams she was pleased with the deal, stating it offered consistency for both parties, but questioned why the process to reach it had been so acrimonious, suggesting it could easily have been dealt with amicably. In a masterful piece of understatement, she told the Monterey Herald: "I think this is good. This clears things up. But it seems like a lot of time and resources were spent to reach this point."

The short-term deal allows time for both parties to continue to look at the options for the longer-term future of Laguna Seca. County officials have said they intend to continue negotiations with all bidder groups on a long-term deal, while SCRAMP has confirming it will continue to work with ISC on its bid.

The 2017 major event season at the Mazda Racewaygets under way with the Ferrari Challenge on May 12-14; followed by the Spring Classic vintage car and motorcycle races on May 19-21; Superbike World Championship on July 7-9; Monterey Pre-Reunion on August 12-13; Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion on August 17-20; Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix on September 21-24; and rounds out with the Pirelli World Challenge on October 12-15.

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