Written & Photographed by Matt Connolly, Saratoga CA
I love the smell of race fuel in the morning! Combine that with the sound of snarling racing engines and I’m a happy guy. If you are reading this, I’m guessing you are a car enthusiast too. I’ve been around the auto scene for more than 30 years, having participated in hundreds of cruises, tours, shows, races and other events. Few events compare to Monterey Car Week in August each year. Every August, car lovers, historians, manufacturers, owners, racers and speculators descend on Monterey, CA for a phenomenal week of automotive excess.
I am very fortunate to visit Monterey for Car Week each year. As one of three pace car drivers at Mazda Raceway – Laguna Seca I have a front row view of the races and spare time to visit many of the other events. This year was no different! I spent my days at the race track and evenings cruising around town, admiring the automotive eye candy and enjoying the sights and sounds of Monterey.
ABOVE: Your author, Matt Connolly in what he likes to call “his office”. Looks like he’s all business to me.
To say there is something for everyone is an understatement. You like American muscle? You’ll find it on nearly every corner. You like race cars? How about the greatest collection of vintage race cars, more than 550 of them, being raced on the iconic Mazda Raceway – Laguna Seca. You like the hoity toity highbrow concourse shows? The Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance may be the most prestigious car show on earth. The Concorso Italiano is dedicated to the world’s finest Italian cars or the Legends of the Autobahn show for German car lovers. Or, how about the Crash d’Concours or Concours d’ Lemons for something truly eclectic.
You like the excitement and contagious buzz of the auto auctions? Mecum, Russo & Steele, Bonhams, Rick Cole and RM all held auctions over several days at venues all over town. And that’s just a sampling of the automotive attractions you’ll find in Monterey in August each year. For one week this year, more than 40 individual events and countless unofficial gatherings attracted the best of the automotive world, old and new.
One of the things that makes Monterey Car Week fun is the variety of “get around cars” you see at the venues and on the local roads. Sure, there are hundreds of show cars and race cars at the events. But many of those arrive and depart in trailers and aren’t driven anywhere during the week. On the other hand, the owners of those show cars also take pride in their rides, what I refer to as get around cars. Those cars, often seen driving from event to event, parked in front of restaurants, in hotel parking garages or in the race paddock are sometimes as cool or exotic as the cars in the show. Each year, I drive our 1968 Hemi Roadrunner down for the week. The Roadrunner isn’t normally a great choice for daily driving but is awesome during Car Week! The sight of big American muscle mingling with exotic Italian sports cars, classic vintage hot rods and modern supercars is not only acceptable, but encouraged. The Roadrunner earns countless thumbs up and nods of approval from admirers throughout the week.
The Baja Cantina in Carmel Valley is a well-loved hangout for gearheads of all varieties. The vibe is fun and loud with live music, a thriving bar and excellent Mexican food. And the restaurant is decorated with automotive memorabilia throughout. You could easily spend a full day exploring the collection of signed pictures, car parts, engines, helmets, and other cool stuff on display at the Baja. On Thursday night during Car Week the grounds of the cantina are transformed into one of the best, most diverse car shows you’ll see anywhere. There is no specific theme for the event other than an overarching admiration for all things automotive and/or mechanical. Cars, motorcycles, even bicycles are on display. Live music fills the air and the party goes well into the evening.
Above are a few of the unusual and diverse vehicles on display at the Baja, including our Roadrunner “Roxy”.
We’ve all seen the rise of popularity and increasing frequency and visibility of auto auctions over the last few years. Credit Barrett-Jackson, for better or worse, for bringing the chatter of the auctioneer and the crack of the gavel to TV screens everywhere on what seems like a weekly basis. The auctions in Monterey this year brought in nearly $1,000,000,000 in sales. Yes, a BILLION dollars. Among the top sellers were the 64 Ferrari 275 that sold for $26M and the Ford GT40 PROTOTYPE that sold for $6.4M. A Ferrari GTO race car set a new world record with a sales price of $38M. Even Steve McQueen’s 1967 Ferrari sold for just over $10M. Astonishing.
Mazda Raceway, Laguna-Seca is an iconic place, adored by racers and fans worldwide. The 2.23 mile track twists and turns (11 of them) through the trees and over a rather large hill just a few miles from the California coast. That dramatic topography makes for a race course with a lot of elevation change and the world famous “Corkscrew”, a series of turns that take racers through a 110’ elevation drop (about a 10-story building) in just 450’ of race track. At its steepest point the Corkscrew is 18 degrees incline which literally takes your breath away, and maybe your lunch if you’re unlucky. If you like roller coasters, this is the track for you! Despite having driven more than 3000 laps on the track, the feeling I get when flying down the Corkscrew or hitting the perfect line through turn 6 for the drive up the Rahal straight, is as thrilling as ever. Taking VIP guests and spectators for “hot laps” in our track prepped Mazda pace cars is exciting and rewarding for me and the rest of the pace car team.
A typical day at the track begins in the fog. Coastal fog is just a part of life in Monterey and race day often begins under a thick blanket that burns off by 10 or 11am. As you can see, racers are always eager to race and would rather deal with the challenging visibility on track than strut impatiently around the paddock.
The variety of race cars you’ll see at the annual Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is simply staggering. Each year a committee carefully selects specific race groups for the event. This year the race groups included everything from pre-1940’s race cars to exotic IMSA GTP machinery from the 1980’s and 1990’s. In addition thundering Can Am racers from the 60’s and 70’s and American Trans Am racers had their own race groups. It’s incredibly exciting to see, hear, smell and FEEL the race cars as they compete. And, it’s very nostalgic for those of us that saw the cars race “back in the day.” For me, seeing these cars, many of them worth $millions, “driven in anger” beats seeing them parked on a lawn at a show ANY DAY.
For automotive enthusiasts everywhere, I’d say a trip to Monterey for Car Week is a bucket list item. Make your plans and reservations early because things get very busy. And if possible, drive something unique and cool to the event. You may not stand out, but you’ll contribute to the spectacle. It’s fun to go to the show but it’s much better to be part of it! See you in Monterey in August 2015.
Special thanks goes out to Matt Connolly, the author of this page, and the photographer. This is a watershed moment for this site, as Matt is our first contributing editor (besides myself). We look forward to more excellent writing and picture-taking by Matt in the future. And if you would like to cover a car event (Car Show, Auction, Cruise, Race, Museum, etc.), you are more than welcome to contribute your content. We reserve the right to edit, of course, but if its a good article and some decent pictures, I’ll probably build a page around it. So, get out there & start writing!