So, the Monday before the Long Beach Grand Prix our guy Jimi Day, with Optima Batteries, calls and says “Hey bud, Optima is a sponsor of the World Challenge Series and I have some credentials for the Long Beach Grand Prix if you, Daphne and the kids want to come down and hang out.” My response was, “hmmmm let me check with Daphne and I’ll let you know, but that sounds cool. Thanks!” Well at the time, everyone in the house but me was sick, and so the response was a little less than enthusiastic but Daphne thought it could be fun.
She says “sure, lets go, but no kids. We have softball and baseball on Saturday, so let’s just have a day for us on Sunday.” Having never been to any kind of Indy race before, I’m mildly excited, but honestly thinking this will be a wine and cheese kind of deal. I’m game though because it’s racing, and quite frankly anything different than an autocross or drag race will score me some points with Daphne, so I’m in!
$40 worth of gas in the Suburban, and we are on our way Sunday morning. And as if Jesus himself was sending me a sign, halfway there my stomach starts talking and there isn’t a fast food joint within a mile of any freeway we were on. After paying $15 to park, we grab our credentials but there’s still not a single open eating establishment in site. Six blocks later we are just around the corner from Gate 1, looking down the street right onto the track while the Indy Lites class was running their race. Hmmmm, this is looking kinda cool! Daphne is getting excited, but my wallet is starting to pucker at the thought of $60 worth of crap racetrack food which I will be forced to consume despite it’s street value being somewhere in the single digits.
We walk in, and were two stories up on the Convention Center grounds, which made for a great view of a couple corners and we were both kind of impressed. We decided that since we didn’t really know where to go we should just keep cruising and walked around. With bridges all over the place so that you can get around, there are lots of stairs if you want to get anywhere. Daphne wasn’t too keen on the all steel tunnel at the top of each bridge, because the cars running under you at speed was “Kinda scawey!” as she put it.
Meanwhile, I’m feeling like a bobble head because there was just so much to see. When we get to the back of the straightaway there are restaurants open with outdoor bars full of people, marinas full of boats with partying people, and another sign from Jesus. The food truck court. Oh yeah. Chad is about to get his eat on! Gourmet food trucks may seem like a fad to the rest of the country, but they are huge here in SoCal and the food at most of them is bitchin bitchin bitchin. I hit up the Greek joint and get the biggest falafel I’ve ever had while Daphne grabbed a crab cake sandwich. A couple of our favorite caffeinated beverages later and we were good to go. (Don’t worry, I drank beer later.)
After eating we head over to the fence, and watch the Indy Lites finish their race and walk around while they start the Pre-Race Ceremonies. At this point we run into the Morrow family, aka Team Spectre, who had also taken advantage of Jimi’s generosity. We compared notes, talked about how the crowd wasn’t what we expected (more on that later), and then went to see Jimi in the World Challenge paddock. We hung out with Jimi and the rest of the Optima Batteries crew and then it was time for the IndyCar race to start.
So here is how we played it. Since the track is almost two miles long, all on the shoreline streets of Long Beach, we decided to hit as many areas of the track as possible during the 85 lap race so we could get the whole “experience”. We hit all but two corners and were totally impressed with how close you can get to the action. Since you can only see one or two corners at a time, they have jumbotrons all around the course showing the same feed you get on ESPN2. Ultimately we ended up liking our original spot between turns 7 and 8 up on the third level of the Convention Center because a lot of passing went on there. Plus, we got to see Marco Andretti’s big crash there which could have been way worse that it turned out. Daphne really liked seeing him fly through the air. The video is great and you can see it below.
So what did I come away from the Long Beach Grand Prix thinking? Well, I have to be honest. I would have spent our own money to go to one of these things, and have only been to one other “Indy” car race before, back when CART was running at Texas Motor Speedway. In 2001 that race was cancelled, while I was there, due to safety concerns when drivers started reporting that they were blacking out in the corners due to high g-loads. My favorite part of that whole weekend was when we were in the drivers meeting (Don’t ask, we snuck in thanks to a buddy, and we can’t talk about it.) and, after hearing other drivers whine, Paul Tracy stood up and said “Sometimes when I’m “fornicating” I feel like I’m going to pass out, but I don’t stop “fornicating”.” Perhaps one of the great quotes of all time.
Anyway, I was going into this thing thinking that my backwards hat and long shorts probably wouldn’t be the “proper” dress since we don’t have little alligators on our BangShift shirts. Boy was I wrong. This place was WAAAAAYYYYYYYYY more like the county fair than some fancy shmancy golf tournament or stuffy open wheel race. I don’t know if it was because it was here in SoCal or what, but the crowd ranged from the stuffed shirt crowd all the way down to the trashy midway girls. Don’t get me wrong, they had Heineken beer, but it was sold at the Tecate booths and more people were drinking the Mexican stuff than the Dutch stuff. People were having fun, walking around with their kids, and buying up souvenirs like mad. It was a site to see. It’s not an NHRA drag race though. I say that because normal people can’t just walk into the “paddock” area and see what is going on. We could thanks to our all access passes, but Joe Public had to stay out. There was still plenty to see, but it’s not quite the same. Although, I’m not sure most of the people there even cared about seeing the pits, otherwise there would have been a line of people standing there wanting in. Oh, and people there are selling earplugs like you are going to be standing next to a running 747 or something when in fact these cars are not loud. Not even cover your ears loud. Like my Camaro is much louder with the exhaust hooked up and revved to 6 grand. Get over it wimps. And while the World Challenge is a cool class with Camaros, Corvettes and Mustangs, most of the racers have that road racer cool guy thing going on. Honestly I want to build a BangShift cheapo version of one of them with a Megasquirt instead of Motec and eat their lunch. It would be fun.
Ultimately we had a good time and I would go back. I’m not sure an oval race would be a big deal for me, but if a street or road course is in your neck of the woods I would say you have to go at least once. We were really glad that Jimi got us in, and had a good time hanging out in the World Challenge Paddock and even got to see Cam from Optima take the Spectre Carbon Camaro out on track for the pace laps before the World Challenge Race. We’ve got video from my iPhone to check out. It’s not epic, but shows our vantage points and how close you can get to the cars racing around the streets of Long Beach.
To watch our iPhone video and Marco Andretti’s crash, scroll down to the bottom of the page.