Growing up near the Brand’s Hatch racetrack in England, Timothy McGrane has motorsports in his blood. Since the early 1980s, he has been immersed in the California race scene and has come to the Monterey Peninsula with different hats on, whether working with Rick Cole and the original Monterey Car Week auctions or on Barrett-Jackson’s events, among others.
Although the former director of the Blackhawk Museum, in Danville, Calif., never anticipated the Monterey region to be his home, McGrane is now in the driver’s seat as chief executive officer for WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. During his first couple of months at the helm of the iconic 2.238-mile, 11-turn track, he has shaken things up and laid out a strategy for the future. We recently spoke with McGrane about his motivation, his most memorable machines, and how he plans to map the road ahead.
What is it about motorsports that got under your skin and has stuck with you for all of these years?
It’s been a collective effort. In Europe, motorsport is just part of an everyday lifestyle. When I was growing up, yes, I lived near a racetrack, but it was not unusual for everyone’s mom to know who was on pole for the British Grand Prix. This was not just in the [newspaper’s] sports section but front-page news, and was normal in my childhood. My dad was a car dealer later in life, so cars and that urge to enjoy motorsports at any level was always there.
What were your automotive inspirations growing up?
My mom had a red Mercedes 280 SL Pagoda, and she adored that car. That was probably the earliest car I can remember. She drove fast—“Speedy Silvia” is what the lads called her around the neighborhood, which was very small. She always had a car that stood out, and she was always driving fast! The two always went together.
What can we expect to see out at Laguna Seca in the years to come?
First and foremost, the racetrack itself is legendary and needs no change there. What we do need to focus on is the facilities and amenities that surround the racing surface. Now that the county owns the track and there is a deal which includes SCRAMP [the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula] continuing its management position, we can go out and get the support we need with bigger sponsorships.
Next year, you will see the new Start/Finish bridge, which is part of the long-term commitment and value of the business model. This is really just scratching the surface. In addition to that, we are looking at non-automotive opportunities, as the facilities lends itself to that.
What’s one of the most memorable cars you have owned?
I was involved with a purchase of what, at the time, was an unknown Aston Martin. Back in 1988, there were two known examples of the Touring-bodied DB2/4. One was a left-hand-drive car, the other was a right-hand drive, and all period pictures showed one or the other. The rumor of a third car came around, and I found myself, after confirming in fact that it was real, in the garage in a bidding war with another chap from Switzerland. We came away with the car but sold it not long after. The Bond movies and the successful DBR1 might have influenced my drive for this purchase.
What is your best advice to aspiring car connoisseurs?
There are so many different facets of the automotive world—concours and auctions, races, and everything in between. The core focus, to me, is this: Find something, buy something, and drive something that you enjoy.
How do you perceive the next generation of car lovers evolving when it comes to concours and related events?
There isn’t one answer, but it is our collective responsibility to engage at every level. A lot of times, people feel intimidated by certain cars or quality, and I saw this a lot at Blackhawk, which is why we started our cars and coffee [gathering]. We went from 140 cars to 1,400 and became a platform for vehicles of all shapes, sizes, and conditions. People just came together, and we need to keep providing more opportunities for that.
What is still left on your bucket list as far as car shows or races?
I’m finally ticking the box of the Indy 500. Of all the events that are out there, that has been a must-do. With my new involvement with Laguna Seca and adding the Indy Car series, I plan on being there next May and am looking forward to this legacy event.
What favorite quote continues to steer you?
If you’re going to work hard in life, be passionate about what you do.