Featured: What It's Like To Live At Laguna Seca During Monterey Car Week

What It’s Like To Live At Laguna Seca During Monterey Car Week

Andrew Golseth By Andrew Golseth
August 24, 2017
6 comments

Photography by Andrew Golseth

This was the first year I’ve attended Monterey Car Week, and for those of you who’ve yet to go, let me tell you, you’ll need to do it more than once—there’s just no possible way to attend everything. Between the concours, parties, auctions, ocean drives, and Laguna Seca lunacy, the only way you’re seeing it all in one week is with a Doc Brown Edition DeLorean. I’ve wanted to go for what seems like forever—and it barely happened for me this year—but a good friend insisted I crash with him and his father-in-law’s Lotus team at Laguna Seca. How could I pass that up?

So, for five nights, I slept in a 70-foot double-decker race rig in the Laguna Seca paddock and it was one of the very best things I’ve ever done. It was, in no exaggeration, absolutely extraordinary to spend so much time so close to the action. Here’s what it was like.

I landed in Monterey on Wednesday evening, and following a dinner with my hosts for the next few days, I eventually arrived at the track as darkness set in. Most of the cars were covered for the night, but I couldn’t help but notice the exposed shadowy forms of the Alfa GTAs, the 8C, and the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa adjacent to the hauler I’d be living on for the coming days. Foolishly, I asked if the Ferrari was in fact a real one, which earned me some lighthearted mocking for even thinking it might be a replica. “Is that a real [insert vehicle]?” became the recurring joke for the rest of the week. I suppose I deserved it though!

What was I thinking? Of course it was real, this is the United State’s vintage motorsport mecca, but I just couldn’t keep my awe to myself, and I was still having a hard time accepting this new reality. The only time I’ve ever seen a car like this was in a museum, but here was one parked in the open right next to me, and it would be taken to the track in a few days’ time. Having something like that parked 20 feet from my sleeping head each night was something I never really got used to thinking about.

I woke up the next morning to the most beautiful alarm: starters whirring, the cold-start snort of carburetors, and exhausts rasping through their warm-ups as the dew-glazed machines fired to life like a reveille-awoken soldier ready for duty. I grabbed a cup of coffee and my camera and began perusing the paddock—the 250 TR was far from the only car I’d drool over.

As the covers came off, I watched mechanics wrenching, fine-tuning their engines, and checking tire pressures and oil levels, ensuring everything was dialed-in. The loudspeaker barked out an announcement for the day’s first qualifying run, instructing all group entrants to make their way to the pre-grid, and I followed on foot to the pit lane.

I’m not a morning person, but I barely required any of my usual AM caffeine here; even before the racing, watching the pre-grid fill up had me wired and anxiously attentive. Concours are great, but they simply don’t hold a candle to what racetracks can offer. The sounds, the smells, the visuals, it provides your senses with more than they can handle, and the aura of this spectacle reminds us: this is why we love cars.

I’m sure every year is special in its own way, but 2017 just so happened to have a unique trifecta of celebrations. It’s the 70th anniversary of Ferrari, the 60th anniversary of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and the 60th anniversary of Formula Junior. Needless to say, there was quite a mixed bag of participants. Did I mention my favorite Ferrari is the 250 SWB? Because it is, and there were several racing throughout the week, including one previously wheeled by Stirling Moss. I was having a seriously tough time reminding myself this was my life, at least for the moment.

When it came time for Bruce, my host, and the gang to get their cars ready for their group’s events, I simply stood back watching. I didn’t want to get in the way and slow the team down, but they were all so encouraging and receptive to me, saying, “You’re part of the team, get in here!” After I figured out how to squeeze into the spaceship-like Lotus 11, I was instructed to pump the brakes—they certainly gave me the easy jobs, but I did my best not to disappoint! By the end of the first day I felt like a member of the team; a novice member no doubt, but a welcome addition nonetheless. For that, I’m very grateful to every member of the team for letting me help out with what I could. Thanks guys!

While they’re the ostensible stars of the show as it were, we all know it’s not all about the cars. From vendors to famed drivers, builders, and collectors, internationally known and local legends, it seemed everyone in the automotive universe was here at some point. Christian Von Koenigsegg to Magnus Walker, Dorian Valenzuela to Brandon Adrian, the Bring-A-Trailer folks to John Morton, there were quite a few familiar faces bobbing about in the crowds. Needless to say, it was great meeting new friends and catching up with old ones. Everyone was genuinely welcoming, and all were happy to share their company with me, a novice track-goer at best. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so welcomed in such a foreign environment. I may not be able to recall every new name from the weekend, but I can tell you they were the best bunch of enthusiasts I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

The camaraderie between drivers and teams was especially noteworthy too. Listening to longtime competitors chatting and laughing about old track war stories, you could feel the sense that everyone took racing seriously, but no one placed winning above safety for one another and their respective machines. This was about respectfully enjoying the sport. However, that’s not to say there wasn’t good old-fashioned wheel-to-wheel racing taking place. Accidents happened. Cars love-tapped and even made contact with walls, but cars can be repaired and, thankfully, nobody was injured.

Nobody wishes to see someone’s prized race car damaged, especially ones of such high caliber, but I’m not going to deny the extra excitement that trading paint brings to spectatorship—and what a venue to spectate from! The view of four-rotor Mazda legends screaming down the main straight before Turn 2 was nothing short of breathtaking (and ear-splitting), and watching multimillion-dollar Ferraris spiral down the corkscrew wasn’t such a dull sight either!

By the end of the first day, my feet ached and I was exhausted from all the hours and the excitement they generated. The rest of the week continued very much in the same fashion. Photographing, meeting people, running around the track for optimal viewing locations, and trying to remember to eat and stay hydrated. I didn’t sleep all that much, and frankly I didn’t shower nearly as much as I would have liked to either, but day after day, the dreamlike atmosphere was unwavering. Waking up to the sound of racing engines banging away, walking out into the cool foggy mornings and taking in the day’s first view from the bottom of the rig’s steps never got old.

So, from someone who’s just checked off a major bucket list item, hear this: if you can get yourself to Monterey Car Week, do not hesitate. The only regret I have after reflecting on the past weekend is not going for the first 27 years of my life. I hope to see you there next year!

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Chris WoolmanSotirios Bakaimischristopher gaySpencer TillimNicolas Moss Recent comment authors
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Chris Woolman
Chris Woolman

Great photos and coverage of the event. Would have loved to see photos of what it was like in the paddock after hours. The camaraderie, sitting by the “campfire”, etc. But, I would imagine most people were out in Monterey doing other stuff.

Sotirios Bakaimis
Sotirios Bakaimis

Great photos!!!

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay

Well, better late than never. My first was in 1982 for the 9th Annual Monterey Historic Races: A Tribute to Porsche. I still have the program. This was the first of four years in a row that my father and I drove down from San Francisco in his Lotus Cortina. I have very fond memories of the drive, as we would drive to and fro’ the track for both Saturday and Sunday’s events. I had been around historic and contemporary racing my whole life, but a truly defining moment was watching and listening to Jacky Ickx hammer his 1981 Le… Read more »

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay

Oh yeah, I was eleven years old. It was on the old track layout, and it was absolutely wonderful. I remember being able to drive the car around to different vantage points on the circuit, and we could just watch the races from the Cortina. Not sure you could do that today, but I haven’t been there for a historic event since 1988.

Spencer Tillim

That looks like Bruce! He is a great guy. My parents were good friends with them from the Ferrari Club as I was growing up. He’s had a couple of those Lotus’s over the years. Waking up to the sound of hot cam’ed engines, the smell of race gas and fog is one experience I certainly miss. It’s way better than any hotel. I’m down here in CBad if you ever want to connect. I love your articles.

Nicolas Moss
Nicolas Moss

Even though I got to go this year, after reading about your extra-immersive experience my shade of envy green is pretty close to what #38 was wearing. Even from my “normal-spectator” vantage point, its still amazingly immersive. I like to spend the early hours going through the paddock before it gets thick with people and I become too much of a danger to those around me as I stumble from stall to stall in an auto-infused daze. Then watch the races and repeat in the late afternoon. In these “quieter” hours the mechanics and owners are welcoming and chatty, and… Read more »