Laguna Seca, the Corkscrew, Pebble Beach

Intertwined stories of the world-leading Monterey Car Week

California’s coastal area in and around the Monterey peninsula is breathtakingly beautiful – winding roads lined by pine, palm, or cypress trees; the beautiful light created by the proximity to the Pacific Ocean; and the gentle warm breezes make for an ideal car-driving environment.

By 1950 in the U.S., as everywhere else in the world, and with WWII fading into the background, people were once again focusing on their favorite pastimes. To create a motor-racing event in such a glorious country was only logical, and so the Del Monte Trophy came into being. The Trophy run led through the narrow and twisty town roads of Pebble Beach, including a small section of the famous 17 Mile Drive, one of the most scenic drives through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove. The drive serves as the main road through the Pebble Beach gated community and a specific section seemed to perfectly lend itself to racing.

Bixby Canyon Bridge, Monterey Peninsula. Photo: Shutterstock.

However, later that proved not to be the ideal case and so roads near the Lodge at Pebble Beach were reselected, partly because they were short enough and tight enough that they would allow some of the smaller displacement cars of the day to be competitive. Originally the route was 1.8 miles — later, a slightly enlarged 2.1 miles. It consisted of both paved two-lane roads and sections of dirt and loose gravel.

Instrument panel of Ernie McAfee's 1955 Ferrari 121 LM Spider by Scaglietti. Photo: Courtesy of Sothebys.

To promote the Pebble Beach Road Race, the organizers thought it would be beneficial to stage an adjunct  Concours d’Elegance that would bring additional car enthusiasts together. Classes were open for both pre-war and post-war collector cars, judged for style, function, history, and authenticity. Today, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is the single most significant collectors’ car event on the planet and has taken place every year since inception (with the exception of 1960 and 2020).

Historic racers in action at Laguna Seca Raceway. Photo: Michael Troutman, Shutterstock.

However, in 1957 disaster struck – Ernie McAfee died in his Ferrari when he crashed it into one of the many cypress trees that were lining the street course. This would be the end of the street circuit, but it was also the birth of the Laguna Seca Raceway. The popularity of the races and the financial impact to the community were so great that the construction started that same year.

Historic Formula 1 cars, all from the 1980s, race through the “Corkscrew” turn at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey. Photo: Shutterstock.

Equidistant between Monterey and Salinas and built around a former lake bed, the track is 2.24 miles long, has eleven turns and 180 feet of elevation changes, including the fabled downhill-plunging “Corkscrew” at Turn 8. The Corkscrew is a revelation in driving experience, once you master getting it right. It is a unique left-right combination through a rather steep drop. The concept is sometimes credited to Kjell Qvale, the first Californian Jaguar distributor and one of the original founders of the Pebble Beach Concours. But there are also rumors that it was due to an engineering mistake where the wrong area was bulldozed and then left as it was. Be that as it may, it is that technical downhill Corkscrew that made the entire track so famous.

Today, the Monterey Motorsports Reunion vintage racing competition (FKA Monterey Historics) and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance are the two crown jewels on the collector-car and historic-racing calendar. They always take place the same weekend in August and in close proximity to each other, creating the two bookends and climax of the entire spectacle that comprises the Monterey Car Week.