It Took A Dream, Persistence And Mario Andretti
For the past 31 years, North America’s #1 street race has served up drama and excitement on a silver platter to fans, participants, the city of Long Beach, all of Southern California and even to the world.
In 2016, the Indy Racing League brings Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves and more top open-wheel drivers roaring down Shireline Drive downtown Long Beach. It marks just another change in this long history of this grand race through the streets of downtown Long Beach.
Who would have thought that Chris Pook’s dream, Dan Gurney’s persistence, the city of Long Beach’s cooperation and Mario Andretti’s victories would combine to create an annual rite of spring in Southern California?
2016 Race Is 42nd Grand Prix
Yet this April 15-17, 2016, cars will roar down Shoreline Drive for the 42nd time, highlighted by the high-horsepower machines of the Indy Car Series in Sunday’s featured event.
Also during the three-day weekend will be the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race on Saturday, a fun form of motorsports called Drifting, the development Indy Lights, the wild and crazy World Challenge Series, and the exotic sports cars of the American LeMans Series.
Ahead of them lies the glory or disappointment of the day. Behind them is a more than a quarter-century of historical moments, magical memories and event-threatening occurrences.
“I’m quite proud of what we have created in Long Beach,” said Pook, who launched the inaugural event back in 1975. “What we have here is more than a race. It’s a cultural event.”
The goal, Pook preached from the outset, was to not to develop a race, but a happening. It is here that he has succeeded most spectacularly.
The Grand Prix Is A Southern California Tradition
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has become such a fixture on the local social calendar, it’s hard to imagine the days prior to its existence. The event is to Long Beach what the Hollywood sign is to that city, the Rose Bowl is to Pasadena, Pauley Pavilion is to Westwood.
Part of the success story belongs to the fans. The turnstiles click some 200,000 times on race weekend, making the race one of the the largest paid spectator special sports events on the West Coast.
People have taken to the event with such passion, they plan vacations around the race, often sitting in the exact seats they have kept for years. They have developed fierce loyalty to favorite drivers over the years – Andretti, Fittipaldi, Unser, Zanardi, Tracy, Vasser and now Castroneves and Patrick.
The Legendary Moments Of The Grand Prix
The moments these and other drivers have provided are legendary: Andretti becoming the first American to win a U.S. Grand Prix in 1977, an occurrence that may well have saved the entire event; Danny Sullivan twice running out of gas the final 11 laps in 1985; Michael Andretti out-dueling Al Unser, Jr., over the final 24 laps to earn his first CART win in 1986; Unser, Jr.,’s six victories earning himself the title “King of the Beach;” Michael Andretti colliding with Fittipaldi in a spectacular pit lane incident in 1992 and Zanardi’s dramatic late-lap pass of Bryan Herta for the win in 1997.
For the fans, it’s these thrills and many others. A few years ago, the event added a free concert to the lineup and began billing it as “Rock ‘n Roar.” Bands have included Everclear, Third Eye Blind and Pennywise.
The weekend kicks off with Thursday Thunder on Pine which has pit stop and extreme sports demonstrations and the Miss Grand Prix pageant. On Friday and Sturday, there is another free concert at the Performing Arts Center for anyone with an event ticket.
During the day, people walk around, admire the tans and bodies of other fans and join them for beers behind the bleachers or in the bars. Some, it must be said, never see a wheel turn.
It’s all part of the show.