News that Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was dropped from the 2014 MotoGP calendar has now made its way around the world. In a press release dated October 1, racetrack CEO Gill Campbell said, “At this time, the U.S. is only able to support two MotoGP events. The support provided by the states of Texas and Indiana makes it difficult for us, as a not-for-profit, to currently compete.”
Since 1988, Laguna Seca has hosted 15 Grands Prix (1988–1993, 2005–2013), but even though the Central California circuit had a contract with series rights-holder Dorna that was good through next year, the 2014 MotoGP World Championship will have just two US stops: Circuit of The Americas near Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana.
In a telephone interview, Campbell told me the MotoGP event had not been profitable for four years and the track owes Dorna $2.5 million. Hosting a race next year would have cost an additional $800,000, Campbell said, and Laguna Seca simply couldn’t handle the financial stress. The race is estimated to bring in $100 million to the local economy.
Last month, for the first time in nearly a decade, Laguna Seca was home to a round of the Superbike World Championship, a series that Dorna also owns. According to Campbell, the track has a contract to host the race for three years, and that agreement will not be affected by the loss of MotoGP.
Improvements to rider safety have been one of Mazda Raceway’s biggest annual expenditures, but there is no longer room to expand runoff areas. “The track was built in 1957,” said Melvyn Record, VP of sales and marketing, “and there are some things that cannot be done. The right side of turn six is a freakin’ mountain! I’m not sure how to change it.”
Wayne Rainey agrees with Record. The three-time 500cc world champion lives in Monterey, overlooking Laguna Seca, and turn nine is named after him. “If there was perfect runoff at every track,” Rainey said, “the spectators would never see the race. There are concerns at Laguna Seca, but all tracks have issues with safety.”
Rainey argues the bigger issue is support. “Being a county park, Laguna has always had difficulty getting funding,” he said. “It is iconic and one of the most difficult tracks I’ve ever raced on, but the facility needs a facelift. If the state could help us—like Indiana is helping [with a $100 million grant]—maybe we could get it up again.”
Another issue is the lack of American riders in world championships. “We need to start back in the AMA to provide racers with a platform to expose their talents so we can get them ready for MotoGP,” Rainey said. “We used to beat the Spanish guys, and I have no doubt we could do that now if given the chance.”
That chance might come in the form of 23-year-old Josh Herrin, who will make his Moto2 debut next season. Herrin won the 2013 AMA Pro SuperBike championship, dethroning his Graves Yamaha teammate, three-time and reigning class champion Josh Hayes, in the process.
Unfortunately, for anyone who enjoys the twisty Monterey circuit, racing is foremost a business. “Dorna is following the money,” Record said, “and that’s not surprising. It’s interesting that they’re ignoring one of the largest motorcycle markets in the country.”