Monterey Addiction

Mercer Runabout

The Monterey Peninsula, just ninety-nine miles south of San Francisco, is the setting for interesting contradictions. Carmel is lush while nearby Fort Ord is barren. Home to old wealth, Pebble Beach shares the peninsula with the backdrop for John Steinbeck's Cannery Row. Into this setting inject a 10 day celebration of the car culture. Again contrasts, classic cars mingle with the latest Lambos, trailer queens with hot rods, parades with races, and “over the top” Italian Festivals with the low key elegance of Pebble Beach. There are historic and pre-historic races of old cars laced with demos of current F1 cars and manufacturer demonstrations of brand new models. It is a never ending parade of opposites that leaves no one wanting.

Alfa Romeo BAT car

The first of the final three days is given over to massive shows of the hardly rare, but far from pedestrian, cars that populate high-end motorsport in California. Expensive Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, modern Bugattis and all their would-be competitors line fairways at lesser known golf courses and prepare the multitudes for what is to come at Pebble Beach two days later.

Alfa Romeo BAT car

These Concorsos are great light fun and unlike Pebble Beach, few take them seriously. This is a visual feast in a village setting with everyone never more than a few feet from a vendor selling posters or auto parts or even furniture with some connection to motorsports.

Concorso

The casual atmosphere at the Concorsos on Friday are a wonderful beginning to an event filled weekend that culminates with the Pebble Beach awards on Sunday afternoon.

Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca is a racetrack built at the former Fort Ord military base. The landscape is a hilly mass of tan mounds that pass at a distance for sand. Actually the hot and dusty ground is coarse pebbles over a hard packed base.

In California, as elsewhere, attractive tracts of land are used for housing developments, not race tracks. The nearby ocean causes mornings to be cold and often foggy. The welcome California sun that burns off the fog is usually brutal by noon.

Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca

This is the setting for the racetrack jewel known as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Again an anomaly, a rare combination of good driver's course and excellent spectator's course. Among the best tracks in the country, it is definitely a challenge to drive well and quickly. Laguna is long straights, fast sweepers, rapid elevation and direction changes. To be quick here, you must be focused and clever and brave. To be impetuous here is a mistake. Off track excursions may not be race ending, but there is no way to recover the ground lost to close competitors who are patient.

In the sixties, building challenging road courses was the triumph of racing enthusiasts selling local business people and towns that had large tracts of scrub land sitting idle that their sport would bring revenue to the area. Lime Rock was a used up quarry. Bridgehampton was sand dunes at the end of Long Island. Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca Raceway was a hot desert section of Fort Ord reportedly once used as an artillery range.

This road course quickly established itself as a challenging and relatively safe racetrack. Laguna Seca was the salvation for a California racing community that was destined to lose Riverside, a premier facility in the Los Angeles area, to developers. Today, Mazda Racewayat Laguna Seca is the West Coast home of the Skip Barber Racing Driver's School, professional and vintage racing, and club racing for the locals. It is a busy place.

Pebble Beach

While golf may have predated racing on the Monterey Peninsula, it wasn't by much. In the fifties the tree-lined roads around the area were commandeered every summer for high speed sports car racing. Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby, Phil Walters, John Fitch and Briggs Cunningham, to name a few, raced Ferraris and Jaguars in amateur races organized here by the Sports Car Club of America. By today's standards, safety was laughable, but the colorful Pebble Beach events established sports car racing in California.

Pebble Beach

As exciting as racing was, it was really Bing Crosby, his famous friends, and the advent of televised golf that made the Pebble Beach famous in the fifties and sixties. Movie stars populated the "Amateur" portion of his PRO-AM golf tournament and they simply loved playing with the pros and hamming it up for the TV cameras. Soon the nearby roads were too dangerous for the ever faster cars that were emerging and so racing moved from the open tree lined roads to the arid and sandy hills of Laguna Seca.

But cars didn't desert Pebble Beach entirely. The 18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Club became the site of the best car show in America, if not the world. A class win at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance can increase a car's value tenfold. An overall win makes history for both the owner and the restorer.

The winners circle at Pebble beach is a select club of wealthy enthusiasts who invest huge sums of money in vision, imagination, and craftsmanship to compete for the title of Pebble Beach Winner. It can be argued that as a result of these competitive but relatively few people, the remainder of the field has upped its game also and that we, the public, are the real winners.

Yellow Peugeot

Ordinary automobiles are auctioned every day all over America and on the internet. Because there are less "special" cars for sale at any one time, auctions for them are less frequent. Preparing a good offering of cars can take months. The events surrounding auctions are crucial to drawing the people who buy those cars.

Blue Jaguar

The beautiful Monterey Peninsula, with the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca, the Concorsos and Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance set around Pebble Beach and Spyglass and in close proximity to Carmel, are a magnet for wealthy motorsports enthusiasts. Wherever these people gather, there exists an opportunity to auction cars. Major car auction companies compete for months in advance for auction entries. Buying a car auctioned at Monterey confers celebrity on the buyer. Auctions houses are well aware that competing egos make for great drama and larger profits. Huge, glossy and expensive catalogs are sent out well in advance. Champagne and hors d'oevres are de rigeur at preview parties and the personal arm twisting that it takes to bring the "right" people together with the "right" cars is never ending. Top auction houses have the private phone numbers of wealthy patrons and call them by their first name. That is the entry price for having an opportunity to be put together with the car of your dreams. It is great fun to watch and if you keep your hands in your pockets, it is virtually free.

Jerry Seinfeld in a Blue Porsche

As if this is not enough, the street show and people watching is the filler between events. This is, after all, California, perhaps not the birthplace but certainly today's home of the car culture in America. For three days every year the streets of Monterey and Carmel are visited by some of the most beautiful people and cars in the world. Movie stars and other famous people sit beside you at dinner and gawk at the same cars you gawk at all day long. Here, the cars are the stars.

Monterey in August is addictive. It is a must for life's bucket list. So make a plan to attend, it is only ten months before it happens all over again, only differently again.