The historic automobile races at Monterey are spectacular on their own and well worth a trip across a continent. Yet coupled with the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the high-end automobile auctions, and a plethora of other auto events that take place during the same mid-August timeframe, it produces a tour de force for car enthusiasts.
The sprawling, scenic Laguna Seca racetrack in the hills of east Monterey is the setting for the event, drawing some 300 historic racing cars for a weekend of racing and camaraderie. (This year the "weekend" actually takes place over five days, Aug. 12-15.) There are other historic racing events in other parts of the country, including the Historic Festival at Lime Rock Park over Labor Day weekend, and the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival in June. But the Monterey event is in a class all by itself.
All historic races have a showing of exciting Corvettes, but they also offer a close look at Corvette's competition and the development of automotive racing from the beginning of the 20th century. All of these wheeled competitors can be examined up close and personal, as spectator tickets include entry to the paddock. You can talk with the owners and drivers, plus hear the engines fire up and watch the cars take off to the track for practice or racing.
The historic racing cars are the center of attention, but there is something for everyone to enjoy. The Rolex "Moments in Time" display is a traveling museum and one of the most popular features. Set up in a darkened tent in the paddock are displayed some of the most significant race cars of all time, including the beautiful blue Corvette SS that was the factory entry in Sebring in 1957. The softly illuminated cars and storyboards provide a reflective break from the sun and action out on the track. Other attractions include good food and wine; autograph sessions with racing notables; and a vendor section and marketplace where you can find merchandise and souvenirs, car products, and racing schools.
The historic cars are just part of the auto show. Local clubs secure parking in special areas creating, in effect, a Lamborghini show, an Alfa Romeo show, a Porsche show, a Ferrari show, and so on. Last year the Corvette Corral displayed C1s to late model Z06s and was located above Turn 5, one of the best viewing areas. Even the perimeter road presents a continuous moving show of expensive, powerful, and beautiful cars.
There is so much to see and do that some scheduling suggestions are in order. This year, for the first time, the Pre-Reunion is open to the public. Taking place the weekend before the main event (Aug. 7-8), the Pre-Reunion allows the competitors to shake down their cars, test tires, and get in practice laps in a more relaxed atmosphere. Then on Thursday and Friday, Aug. 12-13, practice and qualifying get underway in preparation for the weekend's racing. On Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 14-15, there are warm-ups before noon, and racing starts just before 1 p.m. If you are going to the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, be aware the concours field is open on Sunday only, and it's best to go early in the morning. The field opens at 10 a.m., but if you get there really early-as in hours before-you may be able to watch the classics as they're positioned on the Pebble Beach golf course's 18th fairway.
High-end auctions also provide excitement with cars so rare you may never see them again after they go off to private collections. In 2009, Gooding and Co. offered the Rondine Corvette GM concept car by Pininfarina and the Race Rat '60 big-tank Corvette. RM offered the '68 Corvette L88 race car that ran at Le Mans a record six consecutive years. Consider making these the evening entertainment of an unforgettable automotive week.