David Reininger - Motorsport News International Long Beach, Calif. (April 16, 1999) - The world's biggest beach party is taking place this weekend on the downtown streets of Long Beach. The FedEx Champ Car Series takes to the streets along with...
David Reininger - Motorsport News International
Long Beach, Calif. (April 16, 1999) - The world's biggest beach party is taking place this weekend on the downtown streets of Long Beach. The FedEx Champ Car Series takes to the streets along with the Kool Toyota Atlantic Series, PPG-Dayton Indy Lights, BF Goodrich Tire Trans Am Series and a Toyota Pro/Celebrity race in an event that is sure to draw spectators from far and wide.
This is the 25th edition of the Long Beach Grand Prix. "The first three years, …it's amazing we survived," said promoter Chris Pook. "We came to the brink of closure, God knows how many times."
After a slight decline in attendance in 1984 when the race changed from a Formula One Grand Prix to a CART race, the race has seen improvements nearly every year. Race day drew well over 87,000 fans last year causing some to call Long Beach the crown jewel in the CART FedEx Series.
Today's crowd was one of the largest Friday crowds seen outside of Formula One racing.
"Here in the Long Beach area it's the atmosphere," said Parnelli Jones. It's not just the race itself, it kind of the atmosphere around here, the beautiful beaches, the tall hotels. It's the Monte Carlo of the United States.
"The fans here are terrific," said Dario Franchitti. "Long Beach is on a parallel with Surfer's Paradise or Fontana. These are big races with big crowds."
"I remember last season finishing second here and coming in on the slowing down lap and you could hear the people cheering above the engine. It was fantastic. They were all on their feet. It was a great atmosphere. That was special."
Franchitti's one regret is that he doesn't have enough time to spend with the fans. "The fans are so enthusiastic here," said Franchitti. "Half the time you've got to do something, you've got to come to a press conference, go to a engineer meeting. You can't stop and sign autographs. That's the one down side."
With a garage pass, fans are still able to meet and greet their favorite drivers. Driver appearances are also scheduled at various locations around the circuit, including the Automobile Club of Southern California Lifestyle Expo.
The Expo, housed in the Convention Center, is an exciting celebration of the automobile and motorsport. Long time racing fans will appreciate the display of historic open wheelers including Gilles Villeneuve's Ferrari 312 T5, Brian Redman's Lola T332 which he drove to victory in the first Long Beach Grand Prix in 1975, and one of Mario Andretti's John Player Special Lotus F-1 cars.
The Toyota display includes everything from a pair of FedEx Champ cars to Ivan Stewart's off road racer. One of the highlights of the display is Rod Millen's awesome Toyota pick up truck that won the Pikes Peak hillclimb last year.
There's plenty of entertainment for children too. One area that drew kids of all ages was the exhibition provided by GT Bicycles. Two-time X-Game gold medalist, Trevor Meyer, demonstrated his talents in freestyle bicycle riding on the flatland and the half tube.
Enhancing the beach party atmosphere is the countless radio stations broadcasting live from the event. Each station pumped their particular music format into the air between interviewing fans and conducting contests. The party continues with qualifying for the Champ Cars, the Pro/Celebrity race and the Toyota Atlantic race on Saturday. The Champ cars take the green flag for their race at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday with the Trans Am race following at 3:45 p.m.