New WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca track manager John Narigi hopes to have a brand-new volunteer corps in place to facilitate its upcoming and future events.
The decision for A&D Narigi, LLC, to form its own volunteer recruitment initiatives comes in the wake of failed negotiations with the Laguna Seca Volunteer Association, a group comprised of former SCRAMP volunteers. SCRAMP — the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula — was replaced last year by Monterey County by A&D Narigi.
With major two- and four-wheel events to run in the coming months, Narigi explained the decision by A&D to create a volunteer organization of its own.
“Can’t put on a major racing event without a large group of dedicated volunteers, which I have stated from the beginning, with every ounce of desire, to work with previous SCRAMP officers and the formation of the Laguna Seca Volunteer Association,” he told RACER. “They decided to terminate negotiations with me. Was totally surprised. Had no idea.
“But as far as the new organization, there’s a tremendous amount of interest from previous directors as well as previous volunteers or service clubs, from several who had dedicated a whole lot of time and energy out here at the racetrack, over the years. So I’m very excited. I’ve had some private conversations with some key directors. They are dying to come back. I feel very confident that we will have a very strong group of veteran volunteers as well as newcomers. And as of right now, about 80% of the service clubs, through their chairmans or presidents, have agreed to come back on.”
Narigi has tabbed Kalina McKinney to lead the volunteer organization. Like her new boss, McKinney comes to the circuit from Monterey’s hotel industry.
“I’ve hired a full-time volunteer coordinator who will help coordinate everything,” he said. “What will the final structure look like, as it relates to my firm and Laguna Seca? Very much somewhat of the same style of structure, but quite a bit more responsibility on the part of my volunteer coordinator, as it relates to some of the administrative, communicating, equipment needs, and things of that nature. Since I’ve been here, I found out SCRAMP business did not do a very good job at taking care of some key items that were very much of interest to the volunteers.”
The volunteer initiative has a goal of amassing hundreds of participants to handle most aspects of running Laguna Seca’s marquee events. Asked multiple times about the go-live date for the group after it has received whatever training might be necessary, Narigi offered a soft target.
“I think I’m in pretty good shape with my paddock crew; we’ve talked to them, actually, those that want to come back,” he said. “And in talking directly with one of the committee chairs, I believe he has about 16 gentlemen that want to come back. My total number, looking at the logs of staffing of 2019, both SCRAMP and service clubs, I think we need to have a pretty stable crew of about three to four hundred committed individuals. But I plan on expanding. We have very few high schools involved. We’ve had very few cadet programs involved. I’ve been working hard to get the community back supporting Laguna Seca, so we also plan on doing a fair amount of recruitment.
“When I took over, there was also about 300-plus names on our website, people that were of interest, in my understanding. Never contacted by SCRAMP at all. So we have a large pool right now. If I were to give you a numbers goal, three to four hundred. And definitely, by the time we get into late September, having a very strong commitment.”
Of the remaining events left on the schedule, Narigi’s team has the September 24-27 visit by the Ferrari Challenge series, two busy weekends with the October 23-25 GEICO Motorcycle MotoAmerica Superbike SpeedFest and Oct. 30-November 1 Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship with IMSA, and its close to 2020 on December 3-6 with the Trans Am SpeedFest.
The recent event cancellation by the NTT IndyCar Series, lack of fans at the upcoming events, and possibility of at least one more series removing its date from the calendar, could present financial problems for the circuit’s new manager in his first year on the job. Charged with generating profits for the county, Narigi says he’s trying to meet the expectations outlined by Monterey.
“Conversations with the county are rather limited. It is my business,” he insisted. “I am very conservative when it comes to financial challenges. And as long as we can keep our track rental business going… We’ve done layoffs here. We’ve tightened the screws down, like any good business person would do. And we will be back up and running for the ’21 season. We have IMSA. We have the Ferrari Challenge here. We have MotoAmerica here. And then we have Trans Am.
“We’ve replaced our Reunion [vintage event] with a drivers’ appreciation weekend. And we actually have about 155 original participants of the Reunion that are coming to run their cars basically as a track rental, obviously with no spectators. There’s a whole lot more that can be done with this asset. We’ve done quite a bit of focus on our park and camping program. Camping is open. And I’m actually now working on a fairly major capital improvement plan that I will be presenting to the county here, hopefully by the end of the year or actually in the next month or so, for some major improvements that are, frankly, required for this asset.”
Narigi also dismissed any speculation regarding a desired shutdown of the racetrack by the county and repurposing it for housing or business developments.
“No, not at all; the county is completely committed to this asset, which, obviously, WeatherTech Raceway is the marquee,” he said. “It is in a 580-acre park, and they are totally committed to maintaining WeatherTech Raceway and improving it, as am I. We are 100 percent committed to making sure we have Indy, IMSA and, obviously, our Reunion event every year. And I am not concerned.
“They have been 100 percent supportive of, so far, the decisions I’ve had to make, as well as going down into the future. WeatherTech is going nowhere. It’s going to stay up and running and will be improved. There’s no question in my mind. That’s, frankly, why I was brought in. I can’t say the same would be true if SCRAMP was still operating it today.”