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Long Beach Diary:
Day Two
Things Are Getting Curiouser and Curiouser Around Here

Long Beach, CA, April 7 — All race weekends have a certain unique sensibility. Some are about hard charging racing. Others are about battling the elements, whether it’s extreme heat or cold. And then there’s this weekend. I didn't quite have a handle on it last night. Tonight, I've put the pieces together and the picture they form is, well, strange. There’s no other way to say it—this is an Alice in Wonderland kind of race weekend.

Consider the following evidence of this, if you will:

  • Bobby Rahal announces that he’s signed 2000 Atlantics Champion Buddy Rice to an "option" for 2002. Okay, fine so far. But wait! Rice is going to be hanging around Team Rahal for the rest of 2001. Huh? Oh, boy, I'll bet Max Papis and Kenny Brack are going to love that! Which one will be dumped to make room for Buddy-Boy?

  • The slow group came within minutes of out qualifying the fast group in CART's single day, dual session exercise. I don't know guys, I'm from the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of management, so I'm not quite sure what you had in mind here. No one seems to understand it, no one seems to like it—so it appears you just created a whole new set of problems that didn't need to exist in the first place. (And, sincere condolences to Michel Jourdain, Jr. for almost making pole. Tough break, dude.)

  • Instead of the wanton indifference towards fans exhibited last year by the denizens of Dover Downs, they've decided to mix it up a little this year to keep us on our toes. Once again, we were warmly greeted upon entering the course, only to be treated like poor relations once we reached our Grandstand 34. Go figure! The drunken shuttle drivers of 2000 (so inebriated was our driver last year, that I actually called 911 on the guy) have given way in 2001 to drivers who just abandon their vehicles while still running. (One savvy shuttle driver informed us that they wouldn't get paid after a certain time, even if transporting race fans. Maybe that's why the guy last year got drunk.)

  • We attended a Trans-Am press conference during which it was announced that the series had hired a marketing company to target the "urban youth" market as a means of expanding TA’s popularity. No explanation was given as to why this market was being targeted, and one reporter's question as to what this "market" had that would fit with Trans-Am remained largely unanswered, except by a bunch of slick buzzwords that basically told us—zilch! Definitely "Emperor’s new clothes" time, except the management guys aren't listening, at least for the moment.

  • Today’s weather was miserable all day. Raining on and off, then icy cold winds the next moment. The weather really was "the pits." This made the Lifestyle Expo in the Convention Center very popular. And then, to top off the day, as soon as the Trans-Am guys were done with their qualifying session, about 6:00 P.M., it became a beautiful, warm, sunshiny day!

I could go on, but I believe I've made my case for this day and this weekend being a very strange one indeed. Nonetheless, there were some terrific moments today, and I'd like to share those with you, too.

Your coverage team was very grateful to the GPALB's Chris Esslinger for finally coming through with our second credential. It permitted us to finally get some photos that can show you what today was like—thanks again, Chris!

We visited the CART garage area and met some terrific race fans, including a recently retired couple, Dale and Hannahlore. Dale in particular was pleased to learn that CART has started autograph sessions in the garage on Friday. Good find, Dale, and I'll pass it along! We met countless other fans having a good time, and in particular enjoyed meeting other hard core fans.

For those of you who don't know, the hard core fans are the people who stay for every race and every qualifying session, come rain or shine. I would guess Grandstand 34 was about 5% occupied today. Tomorrow, it will be full for sure. All those folks—aside from our small group today—are not hard core fans. It was absolutely freezing by the time of the Atlantics race, but there was still a nice sized crowd (overall) to cheer David Rutledge in his win.

The Indy Lights drivers had little to do today. No one got a chance to better yesterday’s qualifying times due to the rain and their practice wasn't much better. The Pro/Celebrity race was going fine with everyone following Pruett when the heavens opened. Race over! Then, off to the Expo with most of the crowd.

We had the good fortune to meet the father of former CART driver Richie Hearn as we were leaving the track tonight. Yes, Jeff and I finally found a sober driver who did not abandon his vehicle or post. On that trip to our cars in the fortunate shuttle, we met Mr. Hearn. He reported to us that Richie is in Homestead this weekend hoping to get an Indy 500 ride. We're keeping our fingers crossed for you, Richie.

Perhaps this meeting was the strangest of all the day's events. After all, Richie is a talented young driver, yet, he doesn't have a good ride. Scott Pruett, another talented American driver—again, no ride. Two of the remaining US drivers—Herta and Vasser—have rides, but don't have sponsors. Has the time come when fans are going to have to protest this short shifting of American drivers with their checkbooks and credit cards? I hope not, but things are sure, well, weird.

Alice In Wonderland weird!

Copyright © 2001 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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