Road racing and concours d’élégance have a 66-year history on the Monterey Peninsula. In 1950, a group of local enthusiasts was looking for a location for a European-style road race. Sterling Edwards figured the famous 17-Mile Drive might be just the place and Pebble Beach agreed. The race was on. To add a bit more European flair to the weekend, a local resident, Alton Walker, arranged to hold a car show, taking on the concours d’élégance label to give it a French flare.
That race/concours combo worked beautifully for six years. However, racing through the narrow, tree-lined roads proved too dangerous, underlined by the death of Ernie McAfee in a Ferrari 121 LM in 1956. Once again, local car fans came to the rescue and built nearby Laguna Seca raceway in 1957.
At that point, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was on its own and easily proved it had the drawing power to do so. Laguna Seca also became a favorite spot on the automotive calendar, but as a separate event from the concours.
Enter Steve Earle. It was 1974, and Earle gathered a group of enthusiasts with vintage race cars at Laguna Seca to race on the Saturday before the concours. The pairing of racing and concours was on again…and has been for 42 years.
Earle is the hero of what has happened. Vintage racing was not unknown in the U.S., but the standards hadn’t been set. That’s what Earle did, creating an atmosphere in which the hobby/sport could grow without the dangers and deaths that could have quickly quelled it. From the start, for instance, there were (and are) no prizes given for winning, but there are awards for great cars. Contact between cars is forbidden and drivers are urged to respect their fellow competitors on track.
That first year there was no featured marque at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races, but Alfa Romeo signed on for 1975. Since then, many automakers have been honored: Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Porsche, Ford, Ferrari, Chevrolet, Maserati and others, several on more than one occasion. For 2016, BMW is celebrating its 100th anniversary by headlining the races.
Earl’s General Racing group conducted the historic races through 2009, when organization of the event changed and it is now called the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.
Still, the racing remains the same and takes place over two weekends at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The Pre-Reunion is held on the weekend before the main event, this year on August 13-14. Many cars come for the 10 days and race both weekends. The Reunion itself begins on Thursday, August 18th and continues through Sunday.
During those days a total of 15 different classes practice, qualify and race. That number includes such varied cars as Brian Blain’s 1911 National Speedway Roadster, a rare and treasured 1958 Scarab MkI, numerous Ferraris, roaring Can-Am machines, 40 Trans-Am pony cars, Formula 1 cars, Cobras, scads of Porsches…the list goes on.
It’s one thing to be at Laguna Seca’s famous Corkscrew to watch the cars wind down that 5-story twisting drop, but it can be just as much fun to walk through the paddock, getting a close look at the race cars and talking with their owners who are generally all too happy to answer questions. Here’s to another 42 years of vintage racing in Monterey, California.
(Top photo by Kyle Burt)