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Long Beach Diary:
Day Two
Three Blondes Have A Field Day

Long Beach, CA, April 13 — Saturday was a great day for race fans as a crowd of about 75,000 watched an exciting Atlantic qualifying, an historic Pro-Celebrity race, and a CART qualifying session with more surprises than Liz Hurley's pregnancy tests. Without further ado, here's a rundown of Saturday.

The day started with the expected announcement of MG as a new engine manufacturer for the series starting in 2003. Then it was off to the Toyota Atlantic series day two of qualifying. Up through last year, the Atlantics qualified on Friday and raced Saturday. This year, with the demise of Indy Lights and no additional series taking its place, we had two days of Atlantic qualifying.

While the Dorricott triplets of Diaz, Gurney, and Fogarty (the later who I still expect to break into a chorus of Have You Ever Seen the Rain? even though I know he's not that Jon Fogarty) dominate qualifying, in the end, the Atlantic pole goes to Joey Hand, now in his sophomore season with the series.

Lunchtime brings the Pro-Celebrity Race, an event I normally don't go out of my way to cover. However, this year, I am anxious to meet Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher. Unfortunately, special credentials are needed to enter the rarified Pro-Celebrity area, and our credentials don't get us in.

I did watch the race and saw Olympic Gold Medallist Darra Torres, who took the pole on Friday, cruise to a pretty easy victory. That win alone, the first by a woman driver, would have been enough to put the 2003 race in the record book. However, to her credit, Danica Patrick took both the professional pole and won the race, beating Tommy Kendall.

TK, ever the suave gentleman, commented, "All the crap I will take from being beat by the girls is well deserved." Indeed.

The thing about credentials at “The Beach” is that they can often be stretched if you're a girl, if you're blonde, and if you walk into a place as though you belong. I'm all three, and I also took the precaution of arming myself with two other blondes with press credentials so I could watch final CART qualifying from the hot pits.

The western-most pit position is occupied by one Dario Franchitti today, and also has a large JumboTron so that we can watch what's happening on the track. The only problem with this location is that it's very noisy, but hey life is tough in the pits...

Plus, I take the time to answer some questions that have long bothered me about racing, such as, how do the drivers go to the bathroom? Well, race fans, if you don't already know, they have porta-potties in the pits. I learned this because I needed the facilities at the exact moment as Mr. Franchitti, who I urged to go ahead of me, as I had no racecar to qualify that afternoon. Flashing me a smile that undoubtedly makes his bride go weak at the knees (okay, I'm a normal girl, it made mine wobble a little), he took me up on my generous offer to go first.

I also wondered what they do with all those people hanging around the pits, and the answer is, they pretty much leave you alone unless you get in the way of their work. Which, when you think about it, is pretty cool. I was able to see the drivers coming in, confer with their teams, and, most importantly now, psyche out the other teams as to when they are going to go out and do their laps.

The three of us spend most of the qualifying session thinking that Paul Tracy is on the pole. Later, when I see the taped session, I realize that actually Kenny Brack was fastest for much of the session. I am glad I didn't know it then, because it would have spoiled our time.

We have all had similar experiences with covering Kenny – and none of them have been pleasant. He tends to act as though he doesn't have time for interviews or photos, so we get through him as fast as we can if we absolutely have to talk or shoot him. But I digress.

The announcer says that Jimmy Vasser has taken the pole. The three of us make a bit of a scene, and we do attract some notice as we are still next to the Franchitti pit by that time. Others ask us what happened, and we let them know there's an American – Jimmy Vasser – on the pole.

Jimmy is of course the antithesis of Brack when it comes to dealing with the press. He acts as though he has nothing better to do when taking photos or during interviews. We know this is not the case, but we appreciate his cooperation. His friendliness is quite genuine, includes press and competitors alike. We notice other drivers coming up to him and congratulating him on his pole.

We sneak into the oxygen bar before the qualifying press conference and we breathe in the scented air for 5 minutes. Okay, I know it must sound sooo California, but it really does seem to boost my energy, as well as Jeff's and the other two blondes.

The press conference after qualifying is actually quite interesting as we discuss improvements in the new qualifying rules – this is primarily from Jimmy – and the use of tire warmers. Vasser's mention of being able to avoid cold tire crashes is especially poignant, as his friend Zanardi's crash was a cold tire incident. Cristiano da Matta is very gracious and charming about it all. But, it's obvious he wanted the pole very badly.

Before leaving the track on Saturday, we learn that Paul Gentilozzi has taken the Trans-Am pole. My day on Saturday is not finished until about 11 PM – but it’s been quite a day, and we're not even done with the weekend yet!

More tomorrow on race day!

Copyright © 2002 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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