Squid Speaks

Vroom, Vroom…No one knows this, but many years ago, Squid was driving down Highway 68 while daydreaming. The memories are a little fuzzy, but Squid must have taken an unexpected turn into Laguna Seca because the next thing Squid remembers is riding the ol’ jalopy on the track next to race cars that were zipping by. (Security was ramped up after that.) What’s weird is that Squid harbors no love for motorsports. Squidditch—that's the only sport Squid can get behind.

Even a racing grinch like Squid, however, can appreciate the passion that some folks bring to the sport. Take, for example, Tim McGrane and the 40 staff members of the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP). Having founded the track 62 years ago, SCRAMP has turned Laguna Seca into a legend. Scandals aside, the existence of the track has been a net benefit for the county, which owns it. 

SCRAMP’s contract with the county to manage Laguna Seca expires at the end of the year, and if Assistant County Administrative Officer Dewayne Woods has his way, the contract will not be renewed. For a hearing on the matter that will take place tomorrow at the Board of Supervisors meeting at 10:3am on Tuesday, Nov. 19, Woods is recommending the county dispense with decades of SCRAMP management in favor of a new firm set up in June by John Narigi.

Narigi is the retired former manager of Monterey Plaza Hotel and a longtime representative of the Peninsula’s hospitality industry. He has no experience in racing. But Narigi’s “approach…is most closely aligned with the timeline and business model required for future success,” according to the recommendation approved by Woods. 

What was it about SCRAMP’s approach that Woods didn’t like? Well, SCRAMP was asking for a 20-year contract in order to justify long-term investments. Narigi’s bid was for three years. SCRAMP also wanted more money out of the deal that Narigi was asking for and more autonomy to operate without county staff interference.  

But before the supervisors hear the case for Narigi, they will be treated to a little boasting from Woods himself. That’s because the first Laguna Seca item on the agenda is “a presentation outlining the County's accomplishments” over the last few years. During that time, Woods has been the de facto top executive of the track, often sidelining the official CEO McGrane. 

According to Woods’ 35-slide presentation, “county” accomplishments include new paving and paddock restrooms, $5.5 million in capital improvements, the return of the Porsche Rennsport event, a revamped track rental program–and the much-heralded return of IndyCar racing. 

The Woods presentation credits several other county officers for these accomplishments but, oddly, doesn't mention SCRAMP at all. According to McGrane’s version of events, outlined in an email to supporters, it’s SCRAMP that “orchestrate[d] the long-awaited and highly-successful return of IndyCar to Laguna Seca.”

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Bolstering McGrane’s claim is a letter submitted by racing legend Roger Penske, who as of earlier this month, owns the IndyCar series. “It is very important that Tim and the SCRAMP team continue with overall management of Laguna Seca with Monterey County,” Penkse wrote. 

“A long-term agreement with SCRAMP will provide the continuity needed for infrastructure and capital planning.”

Is the letter a threat? Would Penske withdraw the IndyCar at the end of the contract if SCRAMP isn’t in charge? It’s impossible to know. 

Also impossible to know are Narigi’s plans. Last Squid checked, he’d retired and moved out of town, but he keeps reappearing at water-related meetings to stump on behalf of Cal Am, which has long aligned itself with hospitality-industry interests. (See: more water.) Maybe Narigi thinks three years is as long as it will take to get a new water supply online, and he’s looking for something to do to bide his time. 

Squid thinks a three-year timeline sounds overly optimistic, like race car speed in the world of Monterey Peninsula water issues. And maybe just barely enough time to learn how to drive the operations of a race track. 

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