The Monterey, California racetrack, Laguna Seca, has been under assault by the County of Monterey for the past few years. The county has been entrusted with management of the area formerly part of military base Fort Ord since well before it was decommissioned in 1994; the race track has been under management by the non-profit Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) throughout its history, which began with construction of the road racing circuit in 1957.
Currently known as WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the undulating track’s governance has long been a bone of contention for the county, which has regularly challenged SCRAMP’s management of the facility. In 2015 Monterey County began private talks with International Speedway Corp. (ISC) to manage the 2.238-mile natural road-racing circuit; ISC declined the invitation.
A year later officials met with another group, Friends of Laguna Seca to replace SCRAMP for the 2017 racing season, but couldn’t agree to terms. The County then reverted to a three-year agreement with SCRAMP to continue their management of the always-busy circuit, who had new CEO Tim McGrane at the helm.
With McGrane in charge, the affiliation with WeatherTech came to pass, remediations to facilities were begun, the vast grouping of volunteers was placated to continue their affiliation with SCRAMP and the circuit, and INDYCAR, the NTT IndyCar Serires returned to Laguna Seca for the first time since 2004. The latter’s appearance in its 2019 season finale was widely accepted by fans, hospitality units in the surrounding area and those participating in the successful event.
None of that mattered to the county of Monterey, which was meeting with former local hotelier, John Nagiri and his group, A & D Nagiri Consulting to take over the circuit. While Nagiri had a long career in the hotel business, he knows zilch about motorsports and racetrack management. He recently retired as Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa vice president and general manager, following a 25-year career at the venue.
Still, the county signed a four-year contract with his newly-conceived consulting firm to take over the successful circuit, which plays host to major events in IMSA, SCCA, World SuperBike, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, Porsche’s Rennsport, bicycle races as well as the newly-rejuvenated Indy car race.
The contract will run from this coming January until December 31, 2023. There’s an option for a three-year extension through 2026. Under this contract, the new management company gets a monthly advance of $286,000 with an annual two-percent cost-of-living increase, together with a 20-percent incentive fee, based on the county-owned facility’s annual net operating income.
Nagiri’s proposal was one of three, including one from SCRAMP and another from a firm named Laguna Seca Management, led by Chris Pook, who started and initially managed the wildly-successful Long Beach street race, which had its 45th contest this past April. Nagiri, who is friendly with the whole of the county’s board and has contributed to their reelection campaigns, stated his focus was to “maximize use of the raceway and recreational assets in partnership with the county and community organizations.”
SCRAMP had delivered a proposal to the county for a long-term 20-year management and operating agreement, according to McGrane. The proposal “incorporates solid plans for revenue generation and expense reduction, expansion of the use of existing facilities and development of Laguna Seca into a world-class destination,” he said.
In his initial discussion of the Laguna Seca property, Nagiri insisted he intended to increase entertainment value at the venue, highlighting endeavors to produce activities for “the ladies”, a projection that was met with disdain by many of the workers who have invested countless hours into making Laguna Seca a better place to visit.
It remains to be seen if this agreement will be workable, if the nearly 1,000 volunteers will stay with the new management, if sanctioning organizations that had placed their trust in SCRAMP can find the same congeniality with A & D Nagiri Consulting. It remains to be seen if Laguna Seca continues as a racing venue in an area where property values are arching beyond the pale.
By Anne Proffit