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.
Extended dates aren't the only changes to the Monterey historics for 2010. SCRAMP, the 50-some-year-old racing association of the Monterey Peninsula, is producing the event this year, which has been renamed The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Legendary racer Dan Gurney is being honored, and there will be special races for vintage Formula 1 cars (to celebrate F1's 60th anniversary), Trans-Am cars, a Bugatti Grand Prix, and, for the first time ever, '59-'75 stock cars. To get you in the Monterey mood, here are a few highlights from the 2009 race weekend, plus a historic look at Laguna Seca from GM's photographic archive.
Favorite Races Fifteen separate groups raced at the 2009 Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races, about equally split between Saturday and Sunday. Whether caused by imprinting in childhood or not, the following groups were my favorites to watch. All of these, with the exception of the Trans-Am group, included Corvettes. When you are scheduling which races to watch in 2010, look at the group description, as the group number can change from year to year.
Group 1B 1947-1955 Sports Racing and Production Cars: This included the '54 Corvette that has raced here for more than 30 years.
Group 3B 1955-1962 Production Sports Cars: Corvette battles against Morgan, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Triumph, Porsche, and MG.
Group 4A 1955-1960 Sports Racing Cars over 2500cc: The winner in 2009 was a Corvette-powered '58 Scarab Mk 1. Competition also included Maserati, Devin, and Lister.
Group 4B 1963-1966 Production Sports Cars: Competition is exciting with Grand Sports, Cobras, Shelby G.T. 350s, Lotuses, and Ferraris in the field.
Group 6A 1966-1972 Historic Trans-Am Cars: Another hugely popular class with many Camaros, Mustangs, and Javelins, along with assorted BMWs and Alfas.
Group 7B 1973-1980 IMSA GT, GTX, AAGT Cars: Even more fierce and fast, look for the likes of Greenwood Corvettes to challenge the Porsches filling this class.