Laguna $$$eca

The CEO position at SCRAMP was seen as the job no one would want. Before he was hired in 2018, Timothy McGrane says he knew about the dysfunction at Laguna Seca, but decided he was up for the challenge.

The audience broke into applause last year when the Monterey County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a deal to bring IndyCar back after a 15-year absence from the racetrack at Laguna Seca. The only person who seemed to have had doubts was Supervisor Jane Parker, who questioned county staff about the cost of the event.

Under the terms of the contract, the county would pay an annual sanctioning fee to IndyCar for three years: $1.2 million in 2019 and $1.5 million the next two years.

“This is a big deal,” she said. “But I also want to make sure if Sears Point couldn’t make it work with a lower sanctioning fee… how we think we are going to make it work and not put county taxpayers at risk.”

Sears Point is the former name of Sonoma Raceway, which had just given up hosting the event because of the fee. Raceway president Steve Page said his track was losing “between $200,000-$250,000” a year on IndyCar.

Dewayne Woods, the assistant county administrative officer who is in charge of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, responded to Parker confidently. He said the goal would be to at least break even and perhaps turn a profit for the county.

With almost a week until IndyCar’s comeback event – dubbed the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, the race will be the season’s championship decider – it’s too early to tell if Woods has delivered. “That’s a difficult thing to gauge at this point,” he says.

But the sales of tickets, merchandise and private event space have been strong, he adds: “We are having a hard time finding any more things to sell.”

The attraction of IndyCar may have been a factor in the increased ticket sales for IMSA’s Monterey SportsCar Championship on Sept. 13-15 at Laguna Seca.

Large revenue numbers would help validate a study commissioned last year by Laguna Seca and conducted by CSU Monterey Bay, then presented to the Board of Supervisors in February, that found the track was responsible for $84 million in direct spending in the region in 2018. (The study did not report on indirect spending beyond that.)

Perhaps no one is hoping for good news more than Timothy McGrane, the chief executive officer of the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, or SCRAMP, a nonprofit that operates Laguna Seca through a contract with the county.

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McGrane, who reports to Woods, says Woods has been “relentless with his pressure,” stationing county staff full time at SCRAMP’s. “Everyone at SCRAMP has been focused on doing the right job, but no job is right for [Woods],” McGrane says. He fears that the county may soon end his group’s contract.

Woods says he values SCRAMP’s volunteer corps, calling them “absolutely wonderful.” But he acknowledges the organization’s position as the operator of the track is not guaranteed.

“The county is looking at any and all available structures that make sense for the long-term stability of the business of Laguna Seca,” Woods says.

Vigilance and accountability, Woods says, are necessary because SCRAMP had mismanaged its affairs for many years: “Three years ago, Laguna Seca was going out of business.”

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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