Cheating Death and the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca

Twenty years of indifference to motorsports ended on July 20, 2008.

Before the writing, the hard part of riding — the author in Turn 9.

By accident, I watched the U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca on a projector at the long-gone Lovejoy’s Bar in Austin, Texas. Rossi passed Stoner in the dirt on the last lap, accompanied by drunken Texan whooping and hollering. Lone Star beer fogged my visor on the way home and made me dip knees at every corner. Stupid, I know.

Growing up in the cable TV landscape of the 1980s, Laguna Seca was a regular on ESPN. IMSA, CART and even SCCA races played out over yellow scrub and blue sky dropping into grey snaking corkscrew pavement. Laguna etched itself in my brain, along with Watkins Glen, Road America and countless other tracks.

From the start

It took 60 days to build Laguna, or 3 months from when the ink dried on the lease. Carved from the eastern edge of the Fort Ord Army base, Laguna Seca cost about $3,000 to lease and about $125,000 to build. They hurried for a reason. Laguna’s predecessor, the Pebble Beach Road races, were a major draw, socially and economically. But they ended when Ernie McAfee crashed and died in his Ferrari LM 121. Pete Lovely then won next year’s inaugural race at Laguna aboard a Ferrari 500 TR.

Laguna was a nod to safety, economy and other sensible reasons. It’s been modified some over the years, for additional safety and length. But the spiritual heart of the track has always been the corkscrew, and by some accounts, the long-lost Turn 2. Born of the jet-age, it was an act of modernity, post-war affluence and a belief in the future of motorsports. 


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