If you've never been to an auto race, it can be hard to describe why it would be exciting. After all, aren't you just watching cars go by over and over again? Couldn't you just do that by standing on a highway overpass?
No, not really. Even on the Autobahn, cars don't go at such high speeds — and they certainly don't pass each other with such nail-biting aggressiveness. When you watch a race at the track, your entire body resonates with the loud thrum of the engines as the cars pass. As soon as the first racer makes a critical mistake, it becomes clear just why so many Americans are fans of the sport.
This Sunday cars raced in the Monterey Sports Car Championships, a segment of the American Le Mans Series event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. There were six different races, all unique. Each one featured different makes of cars and different conditions, and each race was more thrilling than the last. More than once, cars slid off the track into the gravel, and then corrected in order to return to the pavement. At least one car lost a fender in one of these incidents, and proceeded to do several laps with a chunk of its frame exposed.
One of the most fascinating places to sit was in the bleachers directly across from the pit. Cars would limp in, and the pit crew would leap out, working in a frenzy to fix the car as quickly as possible. And sometimes, even when the car seemed fixed, it wasn't.
This photo shows the pit crew trying to push-start this race car. The stubborn engine wouldn't catch. As cars raced by in lap after lap, the crew pushed it forward and dragged it back over and over again, trying to get it to start. Finally, they all ran, shoving it and shouting loudly enough to carry across the course. It started, and the car went back into the fray.
At lunchtime, beautiful classic cars of every vintage took to the track for several laps. Though these laps weren't as fast as during the races, sometimes watchers still held their breath, waiting to see if a car would make a curve.
When talking about racing at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, however, one mustn't forget the magnificent natural backdrop. The track is in the middle of the Laguna Seca Recreation Area, which also has truly spectacular campgrounds perched on top of hills surrounding the track. Sitting at campsite 113, here was the view of the track, with cars going up to the infamous Corkscrew:
And here was the view in the other direction, out to the Gabilan Mountains:
Many other campsites have equally brilliant sightlines, both of the racetrack and of the surrounding scenery. As a spectator, it can be easy to get momentarily distracted by the great views, which can make one wonder: how do the drivers manage to focus on the track when they've got such gorgeous vistas surrounding them?
Find out about the excitement of motor racing first-hand on July 23-25, when MotoGP's Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix comes to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Possibly the most popular motor racing events in the world, MotoGP features the world's top motorcycle riders whipping around the track at speeds that sometimes surpass 200 miles per hour. Those speeds are one thing with the shell of an automobile surrounding the driver; it's quite another with nothing between the rider and the track and turns so tight that many racers' knees nearly touch the ground.
MotoGP only comes to the US twice a year, and July 23-25 is your only chance to see these races on the West Coast. Tickets are on sale now at the official Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca website.