Monterey Motorsports Reunion tells the history of track racing in on wild week

Hundreds of cars descend on Laguna Seca for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion

A Chevy shuffle: 1981-1991 muscle fills the ears at last year’s Motorsports Reunion

A Chevy shuffle: 1981-1991 muscle fills the ears at last year’s Motorsports Reunion

© Rolex/Stephan Cooper

It’s a given that wherever you find the best of motor sport, you’ll also find the name Rolex. The Swiss watchmaker’s presence on the race track encompasses everything from the Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans, and from the World Endurance Championship to Formula 1. And it doesn’t stop with contemporary racing – because Rolex also backs the Goodwood Revival and, since becoming a partner of the Pebble Beach Concours in 1997, it has supported the entire happening now known as Monterey Car Week.

Key to that is the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, an occasion regarded by many as the most important on-track gathering of historic competition cars anywhere in the world. Held at Laguna Seca across a single weekend each August, it is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated elements of Monterey Car Week – and this year’s Reunion looks to be an extra special occasion because it marks the event’s 50th anniversary.

“Thrill to the roar of fire-belching track burners of the remembered past,” promised the flyer advertising the original Motorsports Reunion of August 10, 1974. “Cars that made Nuvolari, Fangio, Hill, Moss and many others famous.”

That first meeting was the brainchild of automotive enthusiast Steve Earle, whose despair over the lack of opportunities for historic competition cars to be driven as they were meant to be led (so legend has it) to him and a few friends sneaking-in to the Willow Springs circuit in order to exercise their racers illicitly.

Seeing potential in making such gatherings more official, Earle set about organising the first Monterey Historic Automobile Races by garnering 66 cars and their like-minded owners before recruiting experienced track marshals from the Can-Am sports car series (that was then on the cusp of a three-year lull).

Earle advertised the event using the aforementioned flyer, with tickets costing $10 on the gate or $7 in advance – at which price they could be picked-up from Sears or Macy’s department stores.

Mindful of the need to preserve both the cars and the drivers, Earle put safety first, laying down a strict rule from the outset that any entrant causing avoidable car-to-car contact would be barred from the following year’s event (a condition that prevails today).

He also promoted it as a strictly amateur gathering, with no awards or prizes and with grid positions being decided arbitrarily, rather than as a result of performances in practice. He also decreed that cars had to be historically significant, unmodified and true to their original condition. The formula proved a hit with drivers and spectators alike, the former relishing the then-rare opportunity to get on track in their retired race cars; the latter enjoying not only the spectacle of fully working museum-piece machinery in action, but also the chance to get close to them thanks to an open paddock arrangement.

Earle ran the event for a remarkable 36 years before it was taken over by the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP), by which time Rolex had partnered the meeting for nine years prior to becoming its title sponsor in 2010.

In the half-century since its founding, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion has grown from hosting that original field of 66 cars to today’s entries of more than 500, some dating from as far back as 1900 and others produced as recently as the first decade of the current century.

And although it remains an amateur event, its evocative atmosphere, remarkable turn-out of exceptional cars and thrilling on-track action consistently attracts some of the world’s leading drivers – all five Rolex Motorsport ‘testimonees’ having been among them.

Two Minis and an Alfa rewind time to the mid-1960s in a one-hour saloon race. Above: a Bugatti Type 35 – now 99 years old but driven to the limit

Two Minis and an Alfa rewind time to the mid-1960s in a one-hour saloon race. Above: a Bugatti Type 35 – now 99 years old but driven to the limit

© Rolex/Stephan Cooper

“At Monterey, cars are presented in their original form, each one telling a story of a much-cherished piece of art while also being pushed to the absolute limit on a racetrack,” says former F1 star and 2015 WEC champion Mark Webber. “Both Rolex and the Reunion reflect the meticulous precision it takes to make something timeless and robust.”

Sir Jackie Stewart – who is the longest-standing Rolex testimonee, having signed with the brand in 1968 – appeared at the Motorsports Reunion back in 1985, taking part in an exhibition drive behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo P3 alongside Juan-Manuel Fangio in a 159.

Speaking of the event, Sir Jackie told Motor Sport: “The 50th anniversary of the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is a wonderful milestone. I first drove at Laguna Seca in the 1960s and have a lot of happy memories there – and it remains one of the most remarkable race tracks.

“It’s an honour to witness these incredible racing cars competing in the way they were built for. They truly tell the story of our sport’s evolution.”

“There are awards for cars and people”

Former F1 world champion Jenson Button has also driven at the Reunion and describes it as a “thrilling experience”, while Jamie Chadwick – the first female Rolex motor sport testimonee – competed at the circuit last year. And although Earle’s original ethos of making it an amateur event without prizes or trophies prevails, there are multiple awards for both the cars and people who best demonstrate what the Reunion is supposed to be about.

That means recognition in categories such as Best Ford-powered Car or Best Paddock Display, with the ultimate accolade being the Rolex Spirit of Monterey Award for the individual who best embodies the overall attitude of the Californian gathering. For them, a Rolex watch and an original painting by renowned Texas-based ‘motionsports’ artist Bill Patterson await.

Each year, meanwhile, the Reunion focuses on a ‘featured marque’ ranging from Corvette (which was chosen last year in recognition of its 70th anniversary) to earlier selections which have included everything from Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo to Allard and Nissan.

For 2024, the organisers have chosen the theme ‘Salute to featured marques from the past’.

“Being the 50th anniversary, we felt it was important to honour the birth of historic racing, as well as the past marques and fond memories that have been made,” says Laguna Seca heritage director Barry Toepke, who has been involved with the event for 35 years. “Monterey Car Week is special, but the historic racing, where entrants can drive at speed and share their cars with guests, is a one-of-a-kind experience on the Monterey Peninsula.”

And long may those “track burners” keep “belching fire”, we say.

The 2024 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is on from August 10-17 (including Pre-Reunion racing) at Laguna Seca, Monterey Salinas Highway, Salinas, California. Tickets from $50 (£40). weathertechraceway.