Laguna Seca renaissance, Part 2: Passion


Photograph: Michael Levitt / Motorsport Photos

The venerable Laguna Seca Raceway Basis exists to boost funds for the event of the Laguna Seca Leisure Space and is a separate entity from each the observe operator and Monterey County. A 501c company, the LSRF has been rejuvenated of late with key additions to its board of administrators — males who collectively posses a transparent imaginative and prescient for WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca’s future with the power and wherewithal to assist safe it. Within the weeks forward, RACER will share the behind-the-scenes of this world-class raceway’s renaissance.

This story was initially posted on and authored by Steve Nickless

Thomas Merrill is among the stars of the “new period” Trans Am Introduced by Pirelli sequence, notably its ultra-exciting standalone TA2 class which was a flagship occasion of the April 28-Could 1 SVRA SpeedFest weekend. The 35-year-old Californian has additionally carved out a popularity as a premier race-driver coach, having inherited an enthusiasm for racing from each of his mother and father, and communication expertise, possible, from his ex-high college trainer mother.

All within the Merrill clan declare Laguna Seca as their house observe. Dad Ross is in his fourth decade of racing Porsches, a ongoing love affair triggered watching Mark Donohue hustle the beast of a 917/30 across the difficult Monterey circuit in 1973. Mother Lauren is not energetic, however son Thomas shared recollections of “hurtling down the Corkscrew as slightly child, using alongside on lunch break in Mother’s 914/6” on the Laguna Seca Trans Am telecast.

A 3rd-generation vegetable farmer, Ross grew up just some miles from the again gate at Laguna Seca, and was an everyday customer, typically bicycling over after college on the paths via Fort Ord following the sound of engines.

Ross received each of his sons — and ultimately their mother — began in karting within the Nineteen Nineties and, whereas Thomas has made racing a profession, youthful brother Jonathan adopted in his father’s footsteps and is now a Merrill Farms, LLC, principal.

Ross Merrill: “I prefer to drive race vehicles, however I’m not doing this as a result of I would like extra observe time.” Picture by Richard Baron

Perennially energetic within the farming trade in addition to neighborhood and faculty (CSUMB) exercise, Ross was one of many prime movers behind the Mates of Laguna Seca working group poised to take over observe operation duties in 2016 till it was elbowed apart on the closing hour by a reorganized SCRAMP.

Undeterred and no much less passionate concerning the racetrack, Merrill two years later was invited by long-time members Carl Anderson and Ken Schley to affix the Board of the Laguna Seca Basis, a 501c company separate from the observe operators and the county.

Merrill was not solely a welcome addition however, along with his many neighborhood ties, was swiftly elected Board President.

Amid a bunch of a dozen movers and shakers sharing a typical enthusiasm for WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway — many linked to the group and the racetrack for many years — Merrill stands out as a “doer.”

“Nicely, I assume the best approach to put it, to clarify my involvement within the Basis is: I share a ardour for Laguna Seca [with other members of the Board] and have a imaginative and prescient for it going ahead, for what it could possibly be,” Merrill explains. “It’s struggling; It wants assist. I’m involved in serving to in any manner that I can, and it’s clear that now could be a extremely good time for all of us to tug collectively. There’s a wide-open alternative for cooperation, collaboration and efficient partnerships between all of us — possession, operations, volunteers and the Basis — to work collectively towards our widespread purpose of restoring Laguna Seca.

“I particularly respect the Basis’s method. It’s targeted on capital enhancements for the good thing about the participant and the spectator equally, with emphasis on the customer expertise. We have to elevate the power to the identical stage you’ll see in another venue on the Monterey Peninsula. Guests go to Pebble Seashore for the facilities; Laguna Seca must be on the similar stage — the observe is worthy of that.”

Merrill was off and operating, and his enthusiasm was and is contagious: “It’s a world-famous observe. [The layout] has such rhythm and high quality to it — it’s a enjoyable observe to drive. But it surely additionally shares proximity five-star facilities on the Peninsula, proper outdoors the again fence. We’ve received the lodges, the eating places, the resorts, the buying, the regional airport, the Monterey Bay sanctuary, Cannery Row. After which the record goes on.

“No different tracks that I do know of share the mixture of historical past, high quality, climate and proximity to facilities that Laguna has. It’s an incredible mixture. I see [the track] as an financial engine that would profit our neighborhood; however one which has been underutilized as of late and is a sufferer of each deferred upkeep and ever-changing administration.

“On the finish of the day, although, we’re able to capitalize on a contemporary spirit of cooperation. I actually imagine we’re all — the Basis, the County, the observe operator, the volunteers — all on the identical web page.”

Merrill was a images fanatic in highschool, and this photograph he took in Laguna Seca’s outdated Flip 2 sparked a love of Porsches that has lasted greater than 4 a long time.

Merrill, like others on the board, has introduced strong entrepreneurial credentials to the Basis activity at hand.

“On the core, I’m a ‘fix-it man.’ I fastened my household enterprise and I’ve fastened different companies. I’ve taken ranches which have been victims of deferred upkeep, rebuilt them and turned them into a few of the best-running vegetable ranches within the Salinas Valley. And I see potential for my experience at Laguna Seca — on the services facet and the enterprise administration facet. No, I’m not a motorsports trade govt and never a observe supervisor — I don’t wish to be. I prefer to drive race vehicles, however I’m not doing this as a result of I would like extra observe time or tickets to a race. I wish to do it as a result of I imagine Laguna Seca may actually be a five-star vacation spot that would draw individuals from all around the world, not simply to race however to take pleasure in occasions like Rennsport — festivals; experiences.

“Sure, it’s concerning the vehicles and the racing,” Merrill continues, “however it’s way more than simply the hardcore racing. it’s a life-style occasion, I assume you possibly can say. I may go on and on concerning the operational particulars, however Laguna affords a novel mixture to do classic racing, host life-style occasions, function an illustration heart for producers and distributors associations — I imply, the record goes on. There are such a lot of sources we are able to herald to make it a five-star expertise, not only for the race automobile driver and fan, however for the entire household. Simply have a look at the campgrounds, with these wonderful views…

“The businessman in me sees an underutilized facility with wonderful potential; the racer in me sees the standard of the place; and the native resident simply desires to do good. I spent my life right here — I’m a third-generation Salinas boy. There have been 4 guys that began the lettuce trade within the Salinas Valley, and my granddad was certainly one of them. They introduced the railroad in and constructed each an ice firm and a field firm. And that enabled them to ship their product east of the Mississippi the place, on the time, 80-90 p.c of the inhabitants in America lived.

“Monterey? It’s a stupendous location with a five-star racetrack, however that observe is at present a sub-standard facility in dire want of improve. I share the imaginative and prescient and keenness of a bunch of individuals involved in seeing that improve occur. I’m energized by the chance to deliver sources collectively for the good thing about the observe and, in the end, the neighborhood. The observe may and must be an financial engine for the entire Peninsula.”

For extra info on the Laguna Seca Raceway Basis, try its Fb web page or log onto

UP NEXT IN PART 3: Drive, with Basis Government Director Dick Renard


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