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January 4, 2011

Hot Laps at Laguna Seca

A couple of administrative updates to lead things off ...

1) I'm still waiting to hear from Julia, a winner of the Ryders Eyewear giveaway. You've got until the end of Thursday night, January 6 to contact me before I pick another winner.

2) Everyone still has a bit of time to enter the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo and the Wilderness Running Company / Black Diamond Icon contests. Get going, then come on back for today's post.


In more than 50 years of existence, Monterey County’s Laguna Seca Raceway has been the home of countless world-class events.

It’s primarily known, of course, for motor sports; every year, the track hosts multiple races ranging from historic sports cars to American Le Mans to Champ cars to AMA superbikes. Pick a summer weekend, and chances are that you’ll hear the roar of engines drifting over the nearby Fort Ord open spaces, or that you’ll be stuck in traffic behind thousands of gearheads who flock here from all over the world.

In recent years, the venue has hosted a wider variety of events, including music festivals and the wildly popular Sea Otter Bicycle Classic. One of the only racing events it has never hosted is a running race – but a friend of mine is trying to change that.

Even better, this friend is the kind of guy who has an ideal combination of passion for the sport and a long list of contacts to actually make his plans come to life. So he made a few phone calls, talked to some people, and checked a list of requirements for what it would take to pull off a running event on one of the most famous racetracks in the world.

And then he sent out an e-mail to a handful of friends: We’re doing a feasibility study for a race on the Laguna Seca Raceway – you’re invited to come run a few laps.

This isn’t the kind of invitation that comes along everyday; for obvious reasons, the course is pretty much never open to the public, and track management is extremely strict about keeping the course clear for various driving teams to run practice laps throughout the week. I had never set foot on the track in my whole life, and if my friend’s race plan somehow fails to materialize, I might not get another chance again.

In other words, I was in.

Which was how I found myself in an empty paddock (click to enlarge any of these photos) inside the raceway at 6:30 on a weekday morning a couple of weeks ago, along with a few other lucky friends willing to run a few hot laps under the guise of information gathering. After a few basic instructions - basically, 1. Stay on the road, and 2. Be off the track in exactly one hour - we were on our way …

… beginning, of course, at the track’s start line, to commence a series of 2.2-mile loops through motor racing history.

Several features of this track are legendary among auto race aficionados, such as the Andretti hairpin just beyond the opening straight. Honestly, the curve didn’t seem like such a big deal to us at approximately 8 miles per hour; I suspect that at 120mph it might be a different story.

The hairpin drops you in the main infield area, where you enjoy one of the few flat stretches of the raceway ...

... as Laguna Seca is more famous for its hills and curves, such as this climb up the Rahal Straight …

… leading to one of the most notorious spots in all of racing:

Turns 8 and 8A, known more commonly as The Corkscrew. It’s an S-shaped curve down a steep drop that is always a gathering spot for race fans generally looking for one of two things: spectacular wipeouts or spectacular passes. Even on foot, our first reaction to the downslope was, “Whoa, this is steep” – the thought of negotiating the turns in a Formula 1 car or a crotch rocket motorcycle was a little more than any of us wanted to fathom. I suppose that’s a reason why we’re runners instead of race car drivers.

After the Corkscrew, there’s a short straightaway before reaching Rainey Curve …

… and eventually the final drag in front of the grandstands to complete your first lap. By this time, our group was nearly unanimous in our belief that having a footrace on this track would be awesome – but since we still had plenty of time left over, we decided to do a couple more laps just to confirm our theory.

On our second trip around the course, I noticed a few maintenance people on the track, blowing pebbles off the asphalt, grooming the shoulders, or sweeping the blue and white course markers, and it occurred to me: this is probably one of the most well-groomed and well-maintained roads in America. Meaning, of course …

… that I had to try it barefoot. I kicked off my shoes for the final lap, and was amazed at how smooth the ground felt underfoot. If every road in America were like this, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot more barefoot runners out there.

Unfortunately, time ran out on us after the third lap, so we climbed back into our cars (which still weren’t allowed on the race track, by the way) and headed for work, agreeing to compare notes and discuss the possibility of hosting an event here sometime in the future. There are still a lot of considerations to account for and hurdles to overcome, but one thing seemed clear: this would be an ideal setting for a race.

Hopefully things will come together for such an event to happen, but even if it doesn’t, I’ve got some cool memories of our hot laps in the dead of winter this year.

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Kevin 1/5/11, 4:12 AM  

Growing up in San Jose and living in Monterey for 2 years I have some great memories of seeing races at Laguna Seca, I would love to be able to run out there as I don't think I will ever be able to drive out there. If this race could coincide with the 8 months or so I'm going to be residing in Monterey again this summer/fall/winter that would be awesome!

Kovas Palubinskas 1/5/11, 6:06 AM  

What a great opportunity!

Mamarunsbarefoot 1/5/11, 6:13 AM  

wow that is soo cool!! What an awesome opportunity for you!!

JimDog 1/5/11, 9:01 AM  

Sick!!! Please keep us posted on whether or not a race there gets approved! That would be awesome!!!

Angie Bee 1/7/11, 8:23 PM  

That is so rad! Love that you kicked off your shoes. It looks like a great barefoot running site.

Clynton Taylor 1/9/11, 10:20 PM  

How fun is that! Great opportunity. And sounds like a fantastic surface for barefoot running - glad you tried that! Might be interesting to run it during a race...or maybe not.

JenniferLeah 1/11/11, 2:56 AM  

wow~what a great place to run.
You are surrounded by so many amazing places where you live-you are very blessed :)
Enjoy each day~

andy d,  1/19/11, 12:48 PM  

Having attended races @ Laguna Seca for six years, I've always dreamed of running on the track. It seems like a great venue to hold an organized event!!

Since they allow bicyclists on the track, it gives me hope that they will favor a running event too.

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