Event Program: 2021 Trans Am SpeedFest
Trans Am Continues Long History at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca This Weekend
Hometown Driver Thomas Merrill Returns to Laguna to Defend 2019 Win
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli visits historic WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
America’s muscle car series made its return to the circuit in 2019, with TA championship-bound Ernie Francis Jr. and Salinas resident Thomas Merrill (TA2® ) winning races.
It was the first career Trans Am victory for Merrill, the current TA2® point leader who grew up only 10 minutes from the track in nearby Salinas.
“My first experience there was with my parents, who were Porsche Club members and did time trials in my dad’s 1979 911,” Merrill said. “My mom has a picture of me wearing a driver suit that she had made in the paddock from when I was two years old. My first lap was with my mom in her 914 race car during slow laps at lunchtime. My brother and I were sitting where the seat should have been, and we were holding on to the roll cage. She took us down the Corkscrew at a pretty good speed – and that was fun.”
Merrill first raced at the circuit in 2006, in Formula Continental – the first of a few dozen victories at the circuit. In addition to growing up near the circuit and running plenty of races there, Merrill spent 12 years working at the track’s racing school.
“I know every piece of aggregate around this place, and there are plenty of secrets to going fast,” he said. “The second half of the circuit, coming down from the Corkscrew, is normally where I’ve done things a little bit differently and found an advantage.”
All of his experience at the venue paid off when Trans Am returned to Laguna Seca in 2019 after a 15-year absence.“That was one of the most special victories of my whole career, because I started dead last,” Merrill recalled. “I had a lot of friends and family in town for the race, and it was pretty cool to do well in front of all of them.”
Now, Merrill is looking forward to the upcoming race.
“It ought to be real good, because I think TA2® is as competitive as it’s ever been,” Merrill said.
“It was really competitive when we raced here in 2019, and I think this year will be even tougher. We’re riding a high this season with our early results, but I’m pretty relaxed coming back for this race.”
WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca’s involvement with Trans Am dates back to the “Glory Days,” with the circuit hosting races in 1969 and 1970. Mark Donohue won the first event at the circuit in Roger Penske’s Sunoco Camaro. George Follmer won the pole and Parnelli Jones set the fastest race lap, both in Ford Mustangs.
Jones returned to win the 1970 season opener, his first of five triumphs in Bud Moore’s championship-winning Mustang. Trans Am returned from 1978 through 1982, with Greg Pickett and Bob Tullius both winning a pair of races.
After rounds in 2000 and 2001, Tom Kendall won the 2004 race in a Rocketsports Jaguar XKR, the final Trans Am race at the track until 2019. The circuit’s lone Trans Am West race was in 2019, won by championship-bound Simon Gregg in a Corvette.
The Trans Am SpeedFest weekend will kick off on Friday with practice and qualifying for TA2. On Saturday, the TA/XGT/SGT/GT classes will host a combined practice and qualifying with the TA2 100-mile race slated for 1:10 p.m. Pacific. The weekend will commence on Sunday with another 100-mile race this time from the TA/XGT/SGT/GT classes at 1:30 p.m. Pacific.