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Long Beach Diary:
Day One
The World’s Largest Beach Party Gets Underway ... Sort Of

Long Beach, CA, April 6 — The way I figure it, the gestapo must have been all booked up this weekend. Instead of the usually-thrilling full body cavity searches on the way into the Grand Prix, the workers employed at the entrances to this year’s race politely asked if we had any glass bottles and patted down our packs and then let us in. It was absolutely incredible, and a terrific change from last year.

Friday was a cold day in Long Beach, with the wind providing an over-abundance of air conditioning at what is billed as "the world’s largest beach party." The cold weather meant less exposed flesh, which probably disappointed those who came to people watch. So, check this out. Nobody’s wearing a bathing suit, nobody’s going swimming or surfing, and nobody’s lighting a fire. This is a beach party? I don't think so!

It has become, for better or worse, the premiere event for a series whose premiere race was hijacked several years ago by a man with an ego run rampant. As a result, everyone pays attention to the event, but the races run here are almost secondary in importance, at least on the surface.

This year, the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach was kind enough to provide me a press credential, so I was able to work part of the day and spend the rest of it in my usual guise, that of a rabid race fan. Lest you think that yellow credential has gone to my head, let me assure you, it’s not quite the same as being invited into the pit suites.

Although very appreciative for the credential, the same courtesy was not extended to our photographer. So, we don't have the type of photos we were able to offer with our Sneak Preview coverage. Jeff Davidson, however, did manage to get some terrific shots—credentials be damned—and I'm sure these will be posted soon.

My "work" was attending a press conference featuring Bobby Rahal and doing an interview with Trans Am’s Leighton Reese. My use of the quotation marks is quite deliberate. I certainly can't complain about spending my time hearing about Bobby’s adventures in F1 (which will be featured in a future article) or Leighton’s new experiences as a non-driving team owner (ditto).

As you may have guessed by now, I will talk or listen to talk about racing any amount of time. Both men had intelligent things to say about racing today, and I can't wait to tell you about them. And, of course, I skipped the Stallone press conference. I do wish Sly well—I never wish anyone anything but well—but I get quite enough exposure to overblown egos in my day job, thank you very much.

So, by afternoon, I was thoroughly ready to sit back and just be a fan. I make a good race fan. I found out today that I'm the kind of fan a new father will leave his baby with while he goes to the bathroom. Now, if you're the mom involved with this little family, please tell your husband not to do this—EVER!

Our seats are still in Grandstand 34, which means a walk past the Trans Am paddock, over the Budweiser bridge, another walk to the Convention Center (where the Expo is located), and then across the Texaco/Havoline bridge and down another flight of stairs. On arrival, I am winded but still thrilled to be sitting on Shoreline Drive listening to the announcer guy and trying to find a big-screen within my line of sight that doesn't have a giant palm tree right in front of it or splitting it in half. Today, this was not possible!

Still, the racing was terrific. I do, however, miss CART’s two-day qualifying which makes sense on this track. And I always enjoy laughing during the Pro-Celebrity Race as most of the latter try valiantly to not make fools of themselves in front of hundreds of thousands of people. So, here’s my quick run down of the on track activity, by series.

Atlantics: While David Rutledge took provisional pole, rookie Joey Hand was most impressive in his series debut. It will be very interesting to see how these two fare in tomorrow’s qualifying and race.

CART: The return of Zanardi and the standout performance of Bryan Herta. There’s just something about these two drivers and California. Will we see another dramatic duel between these two? I think it’s a very real possibility, but this time, my money’s on Herta.

Indy Lights: The field is just too small—but that’s nothing against the talent of the drivers. Veteran Mario Dominguez is on provisional pole, while newcomer Jon Fogarty (no, not the guy from Creedence Clearwater Revival) was a solid second. Let’s hope they can attract some more drivers for their next race—before they become the Incredible Shrinking Series.

Pro/Celebrity: Scott Pruett was awesome leading the Pros—and everyone else around the track. Why won't someone in CART give our Scooter a ride? And soon? The celeb contingent would have been more fun with Ashley Judd, but this year we got to hear Mr. Announcerman go overboard with Captain Kirk jokes when William Shatner’s car got toasted.

Trans-Am: What can I say? I love these guys. They put on quite a show, and richly deserve that better television deal. Oh, and Leighton? That Kenny Wilden guy you hired to drive your car? Awesome! Another podium is in the works, I can just feel it. Of course, Brian Simo also shone in the short time they were out on the track.

Tomorrow, I'll have more to report. And, remind me to tell you who Bobby Rahal said was the best driver he’s ever seen. The answer may surprise you!

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