‘Friends of Laguna Seca’ battles ISC for control of Laguna Seca

Jourdain in the Gigante car at Laguna Seca in 2003
Jourdain in the Gigante car at Laguna Seca in 2003

Friends of Laguna Seca (Friends) is a new non-profit public benefit corporation dedicated to the revitalization and modernization of the Laguna Seca Recreational Area (LSRA) for the advancement of the greater community of Monterey County and the local economy that it serves. Friends has submitted its proposal to the County of Monterey and is building an expert team to manage the entire Laguna Seca Recreation Area.

The Friends proposal includes a 25-year commitment to rebuild the LSRA complex and implement a new business model that will include:

– A $50 million dollar capital improvement plan with $25 million invested in the first five years;
– Establishing a profitable mix of events that will utilize all the assets of the LSRA;
– Maximizing sponsorship opportunities and race track rentals;
– Developing premium camping areas and an upgraded rifle/pistol range;
– Enhancing the end-user experience facility-wide; and
– Bringing new events and premium programs to increase utilization within current restrictions taking particular care to respect our neighbors on Highway 68.

Restoring Trust

"The Friends core values include transparency, accountability and reliability," said Friends President Ross Merrill. "Friends will restore trust in the management of Laguna Seca, and will do so from the ground up. Restoring trust includes partnering with the hardworking people who volunteer their time and talent to this public asset."

A Grand Jury report published in July, "Monterey County Parks and SCRAMP: Uncertainties and Instabilities" called out the recent history of mismanagement and unsound business practices by the current concessionaire, including late payments to the County and raceway vendors and civic groups, which late payments damaged the concessionaire's relationships with the County, and the business and nonprofit community.

Lee Shepherd, a Laguna Seca Raceway volunteer and former board member, said: "The irresponsible practices detailed in the Grand Jury report does not reflect the quality and care shown by the hard-working volunteer force. Like many local citizens we have serious reservations about the SCRAMP leadership and its new partnership with a for-profit company, International Speedway Corporation (ISC). Friends of Laguna Seca has made clear that the volunteer legacy and culture of responsibility and accountability will be restored, and that's why I support its proposal."

Also voicing support for the Friends proposal are longtime Laguna Seca Raceway volunteers Don Ask, Jim Coldwell, Dennis Farber, Marge Ann Jameson, Neil Jameson, Pat Kelly, Carlos Noreiga, Diane Noreiga, John Pfeiffer, Bill Reichmuth, and Carl Schumaker. Board Member Bruce Canepa commended the longstanding volunteers and their commitment. "We deeply value the volunteer corps! Their tireless work and dedication over years of service has not gone unnoticed, which is why we welcome their participation in Friends."

Team Brings Operations and Program Management Expertise

The Friends team is led by General Manager Lauri Eberhart, a 20-year veteran in speedway management and motorsports. Eberhart has held positions at Speedway Motorsports, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Richmond International Raceway, Michigan International Speedway and Nazareth Speedway. She has a wealth of experience in speedway operations, management and strategic planning.

Eberhart noted, "The Grand Jury report acknowledged the inherent challenges of the raceway including noise, traffic and environmental constraints, and deferred maintenance and capital improvement needs. We fully understand a responsible long-term raceway manager should be a good neighbor, demonstrate organizational adaptability, and find new revenue opportunities beyond racing."

Also on the Friends team is Tim Frost, an economic and financial consultant with more than two decades of experience in the sports and entertainment business. Frost has performed feasibility studies, market demand studies, economic impact analysis, valuation and financial consulting of motorsports facilities and motorsports industry participants.

Focused on Local Control of County Asset

Board member and Friends' Treasurer Thomas Minnich added, "The track and facility belongs to the County, and therefore taxpayers. We want to lend all of our expertise, passion, and resources to the entire facility. The key is being able to oversee all the finances, so that money raised at the facility can be put back into its operations and infrastructure. To run an enterprise you must be able to control 100 percent of the expenses and 100 percent of the revenues. Our business plan is focused on stabilizing the enterprise and addressing the neglect and deferred maintenance issues that exist on the property while simultaneously implementing modern management practices to create a world-class venue that will benefit the surrounding community." Board members Ned Spieker and Jonathan Feiber, who bring decades of financial and startup experience, concurred.

Board member Gordon McCall added, "We want to bring the best of both worlds: volunteer spirit and professional business management. Beyond the raceway, Laguna Seca's shooting range and campgrounds can also be better run in order to provide more revenue to reinvest in the facility. This is our backyard, we live here, our friends and family are here, we've grown up at this place — that's really important and speaks a lot to our intentions. That local tie really does keep things from going astray. There is nothing local about ISC, a for-profit company based in Daytona Beach, Florida."

Friends' initial board and the team they have assembled bring longtime business experience and key expertise in fiscal management, fundraising, planning, construction, design and motorsports. The founders of Friends also have a history of Laguna Seca racing. Equally important, Friends has garnered a broad set of endorsements from business, community and motorsports industry leaders. All recognize the need for a fiscally capable, community first focus. They include:

– Zak Brown, Just Marketing International (JMI)
– David MacNeil, WeatherTech, 2016 IMSA road race series title sponsor
– Petersen Automotive Museum
– Bruce Meyer, Meyer Pacific
– Rob Dyson, Dyson Foundation
– National Auto Sport Association (NASA)
– Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
– Rancho Cielo
– Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group
– Jameson Classic Motorcycle Museum
– The California Parks Company

The Friends' donor relations community advisors include local leaders such as Don Chapin, David Gill, Kurt Gollnick, Bruce Taylor and Warren Wayland.

The County of Monterey is evaluating proposals and is expected to select a concessionaire to operate the Laguna Seca Recreation Area in the near future.

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