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Steven Cole Smith
Steven Cole Smith Contributor
12/2/19 9:44 a.m.

And just like that, it was over.

 

After three hours and 18 minutes of mostly one-sided debate, 62 years of racing history came to an end when, on November 19, 2019, the Monterey, California County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to end the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula’s management of the track it is responsible for building, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

 

Known as SCRAMP, the organization was formed in 1957 to work with the U.S. Army to build a track on an unused portion of Fort Ord. SCRAMP volunteers raised the $125,000 needed to build the track, and construction began in September of that year. By November, the track was ready to host its first race, drawing more than a hundred entries and 35,000 fans.

 

In the past five years, SCRAMP has fallen out of favor with the county, which holds the deed on the track. Assistant County Administrative Officer Dewayne Woods in particular has had SCRAMP in his sights, accusing the organization of mismanaging Laguna Seca. Indeed, in the past SCRAMP was at least guilty of some confoundedly flatfooted bookkeeping, and while it has tried to turn things around, Woods said that SCRAMP came to the table in November $2.2 million in arrears.

 

Three years ago Woods tried to find another group to run the track, and was in active negotiations with the (now) NASCAR-owned International Speedway Corporation, but ISC backed out, and Woods and the county board reluctantly gave SCRAMP a three-year contract to continue to run the track until the end of 2019. Again, Woods reached out to ISC, but he said they were too busy to take on a new assignment.

 

Fine, because this time around, Woods was more organized. John Narigi, longtime general manager of the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa and apparently friend to every council member, appeared from nowhere to create a one-man racetrack management company, and created a proposal so ideal that it’s almost as though Dewayne Woods wrote it himself. A&D Narigi–the “A” and “D” are the first initials of the name of his two sons–is now responsible for the future of Laguna Seca.

 

John Narigi, Courtesy his Twitter

 

Exactly how this happened is unclear. After more than 25 years at the same hotel, Narigi retired, and was thrown a party at a different hotel, with invitations that said the affair was to honor his service and his departure from Monterey, since he is “moving back to the Pacific Northwest.” He apparently changed his mind when a custom-tailored opportunity to run Laguna Seca presented itself.

 

So A&D Narigi submitted a proposal, as did SCRAMP and a company headed by Chris Pook, the veteran promoter known primarily as the founder of the Long Beach Grand Prix.

 

Out of the gate at the November 19 council meeting, Woods gave a lengthy presentation on all the improvements made to the facility, in a sense suggesting, in so many words, that the track’s “return to vibrancy” has been “achieved due to the engagement of the County.” To paraphrase, the past three years have been good for Laguna Seca not because of SCRAMP, but in spite of it, and A&D Narigi was the only viable option going forward. The noose was tightening around SCRAMP’s neck.

 

Of course, SCRAMP is at least partly responsible for digging its own grave. It came into the most recent three-year contract in the hole, and the county bought out SCRAMP’s assets, and invested $6.8 million in the track. The argument could be made that the county starved its asset prior to this investment, but that argument was not part of Woods’ presentation.

 

SCRAMP CEO Timothy McGrane was given five minutes to make his case, and he said that Woods “completely overlooked” SCRAMP’s contributions in the past three years and pointed out that you can’t grasp the complexity of motorsports “by looking it up on Google.” 

 

Photograph Courtesy Porsche

 

Over the last 62 years, SCRAMP has raised more than $50 million and pumped it back into the track, McGrane said. Yes, there had been debt accrued, but one reason is that the board loaded unprofitable events onto the track’s shoulders. Such as a bicycle event that the county awarded a 15-year deal, but the contract “severely undervalued” the event’s worth. And there was the council-endorsed World Superbike race that visited Laguna from 2014 to 2018, losing $2.5 million. And it was the council, not SCRAMP, that decided to bring the Superbike event back for 2019, “losing another $800,000,” McGrane said. No one on the council was moved.

 

Next, Chris Pook began his five minutes saying that, “I kind of feel like Daniel in the lion’s den.” Pook, like McGrane, seemed to sense that he was just going through the motions.

 

Last was Narigi, who said that while he has no experience or expertise in racing, he will “entertain” those who do. Sound business practices is what Laguna Seca needs, he said, and his nearly 26-year career at a hotel stands as proof that he understands the hospitality industry. Narigi said he is an “entrepreneurial operator who believes in pushing the envelope.”

 

Forty citizens had signed up to address the board, and they were next. Most expressed support for either SCRAMP or Narigi. One said that he was “watching the assassination of a non-profit organization,” which did not go over well with the board members. But the speaker who drew the loudest applause from the house was Dennis Farber, chairman of the SCRAMP Race and Events committee.

 

Farber pointed out that SCRAMP supplies as many as 700 volunteers a day to run the events, and that those volunteers donated 45,000 hours of time in 2018. While Narigi said he will continue to use those volunteers, “It is presumptive to assume that the volunteers will automatically go to work” for Narigi, Farber said. “No one has approached the volunteer organization to ask if we will support them.” The assumption that the volunteers “will work for a for-profit company, after so many years of supporting a non-profit organization,” is not guaranteed.

 

It’s arguably Narigi’s biggest concern: If a large portion of SCRAMP volunteers decline to donate time to A&D Narigi, what happens then? Like her colleagues, District 5 Supervisor Mary Adams said that she wanted to continue with the “volunteer cadre continue absolutely in the way it is,” but offered nothing more than an attaboy for that to occur. She has confidence in Narigi, because he is “a turnaround guy, a fix-it person,” but the volunteers must continue to provide free labor for Narigi if his plan is to succeed.

 

The Board of Supervisors weighed in individually, mostly with support for Narigi and near-contempt for SCRAMP. District 1 Supervisor Luis Alejo said that SCRAMP has proven that, “People who know the business have shown that they do not know how to run this business.” He also addressed what he perceived to be an “eleventh-hour smear campaign” by both social media and the conventional media that “bashed” the board unfairly. He was especially annoyed by a story on Racer.com that pointed out that Narigi made campaign contributions to three of the five council members, including Alejo.

 

All that said, not everyone with motorsports credentials is upset about the move. Barry Toepke was vice-president of the track for nearly 10 years, leaving last May to become Director of Marketing and Operations for the New Car Dealers Association in San Diego. “I see this as a positive move,” he told Grassroots Motorsports. “Someone who will run the track as a business.”

 

When the dust clears, Toepke said, he believes the SCRAMP volunteers will line up behind Narigi. “People have to separate SCRAMP’s two entities–there’s the management, and then there’s the volunteers.” The volunteers, he said, are drawn to the track by the events, and they’ll keep coming back.

 

Photograph Courtesy Nissan

 

As for the management, Tim McGrane, SCRAMP CEO, thought this would be his last job. He took over the track on June 1, 2018, after a long history with motorsports and automobiles. McGrane grew up in the shadow of the Brands Hatch track in England, and since moving to the U.S., he has worked with classic car auctions, with events such as the Pebble Beach Concours, and from 2013 until he was recruited by Laguna Seca, he was the executive director of the massive Blackhawk Automotive Museum near San Francisco.

 

His hire was heralded by motorsports pros. Scott Atherton, outgoing IMSA president, ran Laguna Seca from 1993 to 1997, said at the time that McGrane’s “industry experience, character and personal style will be a perfect fit for the track and the community. A wise choice has been made, and I am very much looking forward to working with Tim in his new role.”

 

Even Dewayne Woods, the architect of McGrane’s demise, praised his hiring. “Tim shares the County’s vision of transforming the raceway into a world-class facility,” Woods said. “The combination of Tim’s experience and the County’s engagement will expedite success in this transformation.”

 

Topeke agrees with that assessment even now, saying that he had a hand in McGrane’s hiring. “Tim inherited a mess,” and he was so busy handling the crisis-of-the-day that he couldn’t get ahead. “It was too much,” Toepke said.

 

McGrane agreed that the job was a challenge, and he knew that going in, but he was hoping for more than 18 months to turn the track around. When several friends suggested to McGrane that he apply for the Laguna Seca job, “I thought they were crazy,” McGrane said. But the more he looked into it, the more he thought he could help.

 

Now, at 60, he told us that he planned to spend a quiet Thanksgiving with his family, then work on his resume, “Something I thought I’d never have to do again.”

 

As for A&D Narigi, the one-man band inherits a busy facility–there’s some sort of on-track action scheduled for 22 of the 31 days in December. Given Narigi’s close ties to the Monterey Board of Supervisors, and their unanimous, enthusiastic, hand-picked endorsement of him, it seems likely that he’ll be cut far more slack than McGrane was.

 

Laguna Seca is a fragile, almost ornamental facility that’s beyond iconic to the racing world. Does John Narigi realize that? We’ll see.

 

Photograph Courtesy Honda

Read the rest of the story

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
12/2/19 9:56 a.m.

That's a great report on what's going on. Thank you.

bluej
bluej UberDork
12/2/19 10:49 a.m.
Keith Tanner said:

That's a great report on what's going on. Thank you.

Yeah, seriously, Thanks for this.

namoyer
namoyer
12/2/19 11:12 a.m.

So, a one-man "organization" with no race track management experience is going to save Laguna Seca raceway??  SCRAMP may have had it's faults, but the Monterey County Board of Supervisors were never responsible agents after the US Army handed over the track.  Something is rotten here.  

slowbird
slowbird Dork
12/2/19 11:12 a.m.

Very interesting...thanks for the detailed and nuanced report. At least it seems like they are going to try to run the track right and not just set it up for failure so they can bulldoze it and build shopping malls. Keyword is seems. I guess we will just have to wait and see how it goes.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
12/2/19 11:17 a.m.

Shopping malls will never happen there. Mansions would.

slowbird
slowbird Dork
12/2/19 11:31 a.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Pardon my ignorance, I've never been to the area and my brain lumps all of California together...shopping mall and housing complex was the fate of Riverside, my favorite "demolished before I was old enough to understand the concept of demolishing/i wish i had a time machine to go back and see it" track. blush

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/2/19 11:37 a.m.
bluej said:
Keith Tanner said:

That's a great report on what's going on. Thank you.

Yeah, seriously, Thanks for this.

Thank you, thank you. (And tell your friends. smiley )

NOT A TA
NOT A TA SuperDork
12/2/19 11:38 a.m.
slowbird said:

Very interesting...thanks for the detailed and nuanced report. At least it seems like they are going to try to run the track right and not just set it up for failure so they can bulldoze it and build shopping malls. Keyword is seems. I guess we will just have to wait and see how it goes.

Funny that I thought the opposite. Seems like they've found the perfect guy to take the fall and get paid well for it. Collect a nice paycheck for a few years to put in as little effort as possible while things disintegrate without worrying about needing to use the job as experience for another. Just go back to retirement with the extra loot.

If the volunteers go on strike, that creates a quick easy way for the county to find the operation unable to break even.

Then the property can be used for something else.

 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
12/2/19 11:49 a.m.
slowbird said:

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Pardon my ignorance, I've never been to the area and my brain lumps all of California together...shopping mall and housing complex was the fate of Riverside, my favorite "demolished before I was old enough to understand the concept of demolishing/i wish i had a time machine to go back and see it" track. blush

There are some very different parts of California. Riverside was in a very populous area - basically, LA. Laguna Seca is in the inland hills between a super high money high prestige area and agriculture. Throw a golf course in the midfield/paddock area and put a few houses ringing it and you'll do very well. The houses will likely have nods to racing theme to celebrate the heritage of the site, ignoring the fact that they killed the very thing they are celebrating in that classic tone-deaf manner. 

Tahoe
Tahoe Reader
12/2/19 12:02 p.m.

Didn't  know they still build shopping malls. How sad the way this went down. SCRAMP was not perfect, but the Narigi thing sounds like a failure waiting to happen. Maybe that's the plan. With all the slick deals going down maybe they'll build a resort there and have a zipline going down the cork screw.

alfadriver
alfadriver MegaDork
12/2/19 12:04 p.m.

The whole volunteer thing will only matter to who they "work" for.

For instance, if my club rented the track for $15,000, and I could bring my own corner workers, then the workers would work for my club, and benefit the club.

Or if Indycar rented the track for $100k, they could bring their own workers in the same manner.

On the other hand, if Indycar rents the track for $100k, expecting the track to provide all of the workers- then that's a very different equation.  If it were me, I would very much question where all the money is going before I donated my time for the Indycar event.   Or perhaps if A&D Negiri pays Indycar a fee to come to the track so that they can have an event, and the profit all comes from people attending the event plus concessions- so that many of the workers are directly working to cover the cost plus make a profit- I really can't see people actually donating time to a for profit entity.

But that's just me.

FWIW, I've rented tracks on behalf of a car club, and have paid people that the track suggested to replace our members doing the work- so that we could all enjoy ourselves a little more for a small fee.  

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
12/2/19 12:13 p.m.

David add me to mix of "well done" your report covered all of the aspects as the situation.

I am hopeful as perhaps when an insider tells the board certain types of events are total money losers they will now listen. Time will tell.

Strike_Zero
Strike_Zero UltraDork
12/2/19 12:22 p.m.
Steven Cole Smith said:

 

 ​​​Farber pointed out that SCRAMP supplies as many as 700 volunteers a day to run the events, and that those volunteers donated 45,000 hours of time in 2018. While Narigi said he will continue to use those volunteers, “It is presumptive to assume that the volunteers will automatically go to work” for Narigi, Farber said. “No one has approached the volunteer organization to ask if we will support them.” The assumption that the volunteers “will work for a for-profit company, after so many years of supporting a non-profit organization,” is not guaranteed.

 

It’s arguably Narigi’s biggest concern: If a large portion of SCRAMP volunteers decline to donate time to A&D Narigi, what happens then?

". . . what happens then?" is a good question.

dculberson
dculberson MegaDork
12/2/19 12:22 p.m.
alfadriver said:I really can't see people actually donating time to a for profit entity.

Not only that, for-profit entities are not allowed to use volunteer labor. So who they're volunteering for really matters. Indycar could not use volunteer labor, they must pay their workers minimum wage.

_
_ Dork
12/2/19 12:25 p.m.

Having been to LS, and having it be my favorite track of all time, I'm glad to hear things aren't shutting down. 

slowbird
slowbird Dork
12/2/19 12:30 p.m.
Strike_Zero said:
Steven Cole Smith said:

 

 ​​​Farber pointed out that SCRAMP supplies as many as 700 volunteers a day to run the events, and that those volunteers donated 45,000 hours of time in 2018. While Narigi said he will continue to use those volunteers, “It is presumptive to assume that the volunteers will automatically go to work” for Narigi, Farber said. “No one has approached the volunteer organization to ask if we will support them.” The assumption that the volunteers “will work for a for-profit company, after so many years of supporting a non-profit organization,” is not guaranteed.

 

It’s arguably Narigi’s biggest concern: If a large portion of SCRAMP volunteers decline to donate time to A&D Narigi, what happens then?

". . . what happens then?" is a good question.

Hmmm. Good question indeed.

Then again, if the county threatens to shut the track down, all those volunteers *might* show up and chain themselves to the bulldozers, or at least that's what I hope they would do.

But yeah, the county should not count on getting the volunteer turnout that SCRAMP did. If they do then they are fooling themselves.

My opinion has shifted more negatively since my first comment.

racer_tim
racer_tim
12/2/19 12:34 p.m.

Don't forget that SCRAMP went to the County to ask for more venues to generate $$$ the the county turned them down.  The mullion dollar home owners were the most vocal about additional venues due to sound and traffic.  You can't complain when you buy a house next to a race track, then complain about the noise and traffic.  The BoD caved to those multi million dollar home owners.  How typical these days.

Also, the $$$ that SCRAMP earned and gave the County didn't directly go to Laguna Seca,  it went into the general Parks and Rec funds, that were then divvied up to all the other county parks.  The County has handcuffed SCRAMP for years.

The A&D stand for his sons, that one was killed in an accident on South Boundary road, and filed a lawsuit against the track, that was settled out of court, and the file was destroyed in 2016.  How convenient.  

 

 

 

wearymicrobe
wearymicrobe UberDork
12/2/19 12:46 p.m.

Mark my words this will end up with LS looking like Thermal in 5 years. They will find a way to build out on this no question. 

_
_ Dork
12/2/19 12:49 p.m.

Just hold out till everything is electric. Then there will be no noise ordinance. 

alfadriver
alfadriver MegaDork
12/2/19 12:55 p.m.
racer_tim said:

Don't forget that SCRAMP went to the County to ask for more venues to generate $$$ the the county turned them down.  The mullion dollar home owners were the most vocal about additional venues due to sound and traffic.  You can't complain when you buy a house next to a race track, then complain about the noise and traffic.  The BoD caved to those multi million dollar home owners.  How typical these days.

Also, the $$$ that SCRAMP earned and gave the County didn't directly go to Laguna Seca,  it went into the general Parks and Rec funds, that were then divvied up to all the other county parks.  The County has handcuffed SCRAMP for years.

The A&D stand for his sons, that one was killed in an accident on South Boundary road, and filed a lawsuit against the track, that was settled out of court, and the file was destroyed in 2016.  How convenient.  

 

 

 

These days?  The issue of people moving to someplace loud, and then complaining has been going on for decades.  This is hardly a new thing.  Don't put that anywhere near something new.  And it's not just rich people- when home prices were cheap enough near airports, complaints happened, and routes had to change.  

I've seen this happen in a moderately sized town in Idaho, and I know it's happened here in Detroit.  For sure, it has happened near where race tracks have been for decades.  

Just want to point that out.

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
12/2/19 12:56 p.m.

Every event from F1 to SCCA club racing relies on "volunteer" corner workers as well as other postions. I've worked in various spots from tech inspection to corner worker to spotter for USAC, SCCA, IMSA, NASCAR, AMA and a couple more and never got paid a dime................they all fed me lunch of course and some of the lunches were even quite good. 

Where are people suddenly getting the idea that race workers get paid when currently at most tracks across the country very few race workers get paid for the weekend.

L5wolvesf
L5wolvesf Reader
12/2/19 12:58 p.m.
racer_tim said:

The A&D stand for his sons, that one was killed in an accident on South Boundary road, and filed a lawsuit against the track, that was settled out of court, and the file was destroyed in 2016.  How convenient.  

Agreed, but I did not see where this was mentioned in the post here.

Toyman01
Toyman01 MegaDork
12/2/19 1:09 p.m.

This really sounds like the beginning of the end to me. 

Get rid of "racing" management. 

Bring in "business" management to save it.

Prove that it just doesn't work and decide to transition to something else that also doesn't work. 

Sell off property to "developers" for a nominal amount. 

I wonder if there are any developers on the current board or current board members that are owned by one. 

alfadriver
alfadriver MegaDork
12/2/19 1:14 p.m.

The thing about forcing the track to close for some rich locals misses the fact that the track has supported some ridiculously rich car owners over time.  

There are HUGE cubic dollars on both sides of this.

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