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Long Beach Diary:
Day Three
Just Another Day in Paradise

Long Beach, CA, April 8 — If you’re interested in how we plan our day on race day, just read my essay from last year. Jeff and I have a very simple system that works well. We get to the track early, stay glued to our seats until after the CART race, and leave after Trans-Am. This way, we avoid too much contact with those foreign creatures, the casual race fans.

I don't have anything against these people. Without the casual fan, no races would run on network outlets. No wait, that sounds like a great idea. Let’s see if I can come up with something else. I know they're beneficial to the sport, it's just I don’t understand casual race fans. They're sort of like people who have a moderate interest in sex. I'm a hard core race fan myself, y'know, and I just can’t relate.

And, for all those readers who don’t live in Southern California—or Hawaii or other such environs—this was just another day in Paradise. The skies were blue and clear. Although it was chilly, it was a SoCal kind of chill, which means jackets, and not coats, are needed. Altogether, it was a perfect day for racing. There’s always been a rumor that GPALB founder Chris Pook sold his soul to the devil years ago to make sure race day weather was good. If so, the Prince of Darkness is holding up his end of the deal.

It would have been a perfect day if there had been great racing all day. But, the truth is the racing—with the exception of Trans Am—was pretty mediocre. The Indy Lights race, which was won by SoCal’s Townsend Bell (yeah, Townsend!) at least had lead changes. It’s really not the racers' fault that the field is so tiny. But, it’s just not very interesting to watch such a small field go around such a big racecourse.

The Champ Car race was pretty much what we used to accuse F1 of being—a procession of pretty cars. Polesitter Helio Castroneves was never under any serious threat and handled himself well as he paraded to victory. Helio himself could not be more charming, and I was happy for him that he won his race.

That said, I’ve gotta level with you. It’s two years now that have been really excruciatingly dull to watch. Also, while the Boys from Brazil do their darndest, the lack of American drivers is creating way too many NASCAR fans out of open wheel enthusiasts, much as I shudder to think of it. Fans in the stands always bring it up. Why don't all those team owners who persist in not hiring American drivers listen to them?

Which brings me to Trans Am. These guys aren’t media creatures; they’re more like the guy who lives down the street, if that guy were willing to work day and night on his race car. They're pretty much all Americans, too. The race they put on today rivals anything I've ever seen in competition, and other series had better watch out because a new era has dawned in Trans Am.

The era of the gentleman racer is giving way to newer and faster cars and wide open fields where lots of guys can win. And one did today. His name is Lou Gigliotti, and if you don’t know Lou, you've never walked inside the TA paddock over the last 4 years.

I always try to remember to thank the volunteers who work so hard on this race—there are thousands of them. This year, in addition to the unpaids, I would like to add paid staff and my new and future friends in the media. We all work hard to make the show entertaining, and there's probably more tired people than just the two of us in our office tonight. So for all of us—thank you very much.

Here are some comments to conclude the weekend:

  • The Bryan Herta/Alex Zanardi showdown I hoped for did not materialize. Instead, fully 7 of today's top 10 were repeats from Monterrey. This tells me the field effectively competing for the championship is fairly well defined and pretty narrow. Bryan never really got a chance to race to the front, and Alex looked to be struggling all day with his car before retiring.

  • I really want to dislike the two new Target drivers but I can't because, they're, well, drivers. Bruno Junquiera came up to the top 10 from dead last and Nico Minassian continued with his journeyman performances. I don't see either of them as championship material, but they could manage to win a race, which would thrill Chip to death, I'm sure.

  • So delighted that Derrick Walker no longer has to refer to Shinji Nakano as "Jimmy the Rocket." I wonder if he now makes Tom Anderson do this. Tora Takagi did not have a great day, but at least he doesn't make Walker stoke his fragile little ego.

  • Arciero-Brooke's Max Wilson, who was signed late after being unceremoniously dumped by Sigma Racing, (who got what they deserved, karma-wise, with Oriol Servia) did an amazing job with an Ilmor-Phoenix engine and Lola chassis. I am impressed!

  • Got to chat with Atlantics winner David Rutledge today, and what a wonderful driver and young man he is! As a Canadian, he may actually be able to land a decent CART ride once he graduates. Rutledge readily agreed it was nice to have the pressure off today—and along with me and one other member of the press, we were the only ones with our eyes glued to the closed circuit TVs in the Media Center watching the Indy Lights race.

  • Where was Players driver Alex Tagliani during driver introductions today? He wasn't in his truck like all the other boys. And sorry to Patrick Carpentier for his most recent injury.

Well, it’s a year until next race, and in the meantime, I hope we can cover a few more for you this season, budget permitting.

Don't worry, I didn't forget—Bobby Rahal’s best driver that I mentioned on Friday? It was Juan Montoya that Bobby said was the best driver he had ever seen.

Until next time...

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