Laguna Seca, one of the United States of America’s - nay, the world’s - most famous racetracks, opened all the way back in 1957. That’s 67 years ago if you don’t feel like doing the maths yourself. It’s probably safe to assume, then, that not many of the people who live within earshot of the circuit were there before it was.
That hasn’t stopped its neighbours from filing a lawsuit which, if successful, could spell the end of racing at the historic track. Last month, a group calling itself the “Highway 68 Coalition”, a collective of local residents and business owners, lodged a complaint with Monterey County, the local government authority in which Laguna Seca sits.
The group refers to the circuit as a “public nuisance”, and alleges that, under zoning laws set out in 1985, “motor vehicle racing and race car driving are neither allowed nor permitted uses” for the land in which the circuit sits. Seems a little strange that it would have taken nearly 40 years of racing for someone to point this out, but the reality is that the track’s historical usage allows it to skirt around some of these laws. The Highway 68 Coalition seeks to strip it of these protections and bring an end to all racing activities.
Unsurprisingly, the lawsuit focuses on noise complaints, as well as accusations that the circuit doesn’t comply with environmental legislation for the area. Take a look at satellite imagery of the track and amongst the scrubby brown hills, you’ll spot patches of lush green to the southwest. This is The Club at Pasadera, a country club and exclusive gated community that only opened in 2000 (and includes a gun range, the noise of which the residents don’t seem to have a problem with). In fact, most residences in the area post-date the track by quite a while, which really does lead you to wonder why anyone would move there if noise was going to be an issue for them.
Already, the circuit operates with strict noise limits and has a cap of 35 annual event days. These include some of North America’s premier racing series - IndyCar and the IMSA sports car championship both visit annually, and it also hosts the Motorsports Reunion historic event as part of the nearby town of Monterey’s annual Car Week. Every few years, it’s also the setting for the Porsche Rennsport Reunion, the world’s biggest gathering of Porsches and their owners. In 2022, events at the track brought nearly $250 million in economic impact to the area, according to Monterey County.
It’s becoming all too common for racetracks to have to curb their activities due to noise complaints - see also the full Grand Prix loop at Brands Hatch, which is only used a handful of times a year due to the growth of nearby towns and villages. Given that Laguna Seca is already subject to similar restrictions, seeking to shut it down altogether seems a little extreme - we can only hope for a favourable outcome for the brilliant Californian circuit.