25 years of Long Beach by Gordon Kirby When Chris Pook came up with the grand idea to make Long Beach, Calif., the "Monaco of the West" 25 years ago, most people thought the brash British expatriate was a lunatic who would soon go away.
25 years of Long Beach by Gordon Kirby
When Chris Pook came up with the grand idea to make Long Beach, Calif., the "Monaco of the West" 25 years ago, most people thought the brash British expatriate was a lunatic who would soon go away.
At the time, there were no major city street races in the United States, and Pook's dream seemed both ridiculously pretentious and politically incorrect. Yet Pook, a travel agent, quickly developed the race into one of Southern California's premier sporting events and spawned a whole succession of races in other cities across North America. Many failed, some survived, but none are as popular or successful as Long Beach. next
Despite some tough financial times in its early days, the race soon became roundly accepted by the locals. Attendance boomed following Mario Andretti's great win in the second Formula One race in the city in 1977. In that classic battle, Andretti ran down Jody Scheckter, passed him with just four laps to go, held off a late attack from Niki Lauda and won by three-quarters of a second.
In succeeding years, the Long Beach Grand Prix established itself, and the city began to undergo extensive redevelopment. Long Beach became an example of how an automobile race can generate the excitement and energy to help modernize an aging city.
After running Formula One cars from 1976 to 1983, Pook shocked Bernie Ecclestone by telling the F1 boss he was switching to CART in 1984. Many people said CART's drivers and teams couldn't pull a crowd or put on a good show on a tight street circuit. They were soon proved wrong. With CART, the LBGP became a powerhouse and is a highlight of the Champ Car season.
Long Beach has never seen a more competitive field. With Unser injured and Zanardi gone to F1, Andretti, Tracy and Vasser are the only previous winners in this year's field. Good arguments can be made for 11 drivers who could make the Long Beach winner's circle for the first time this weekend. In the order of their current FedEx Championship Series positions they are: Greg Moore, Gil de Ferran, Adrian Fernandez, Christian Fittipaldi, Dario Franchitti, Max Papis, Tony Kanaan, Robby Gordon, Helio Castro-Neves, Juan Montoya and Bryan Herta.
Source: CART Online