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Long Beach Diary:
Day Three
A Day at Da Races

Long Beach, CA, April 14 We continue our Davidson family tradition for race day arrive early, go to our seats, and stay put. With nearly 100,000 there on race day, this plan has its advantages. There are three races on Sunday and it turns out that all three were exciting to watch, especially in person.

The day starts with the Toyota Atlantic series race under very gloomy skies. Someone in the stands says it's going to rain, making it obvious that this guy doesn't know about Chris Pook's deal with the Devil for it not to rain on race day.

The race quickly goes yellow, as there is a pile up in turn one. Out of the pile, Alex Gurney takes the lead for a good portion of the race. Michael Valiente eventually passes him for the win, but Alex still ends up on the podium with a second.

Staying put is not really possible with driver interviews to do back at the Media Center. It's a fairly quick succession between interviews and lunch, before it's time for a brisk walk back to the grandstands.

As I weave through the Atlantics garage, I run into Dario Franchitti and Ashley Judd on Dario's motor bike. The couple is on their way to the driver announcements. As I have been running into the Scot all weekend, I am fortunate that he doesn't think I'm a stalker. At least I hope not.

I walk down the stairs with David Bowie's brother, and worry that I am suddenly turning into a racing version of Vanity Fair's Dominick Dunne, always seemingly surrounded by the famous and the near famous. Of course, this is not the case, it just sounds that way at times.

Back in our grandstand, I find that our field of vision is still partially blocked by a speaker, but my grandstand mates are friendly. I spend a few minutes explaining rule changes to them and agreeing that the weather is gloomy.

As usual, the CART drivers go around the track, standing in the back of pickup trucks, and waving to the crowds. Some drivers, like Paul Tracy, have whole entourages with them, while others, such as Oriol Servia, have only one person riding with them. Then, there's the usual national anthem and the by-now obligatory moment of silence for the victims of September 11.

The race starts cleanly with Vasser's pole melting into insignificance after da Matta passes him in turn one on the first lap. Cristiano looks strong as he leads the field through the first round of pit stops. The off-cycle pit strategy of Michael Andretti and Max Papis looked brilliant later in the race but not particularly impressive the first time they didn't pit with the rest of the field. Vasser does a good job of holding off competitors such as Kenny Brack.

Of course, we see the punting of Cristiano's car in the pits by Adrian Fernandez and realize that the Tall Man's luck is not there today. It is exciting to watch Jimmy Vasser stalk Michael Andretti, but he never quite threatens Michael. While Andretti's victory is popular with the crowd, Vasser's would have been more so, as he's a Southern California native.

The post race press conference is packed, but we are in the third row. While Michael agrees that Cristiano had the car to beat today, he correctly points out that he had been in that situation in reverse. Others had taken wins he lost due to bad luck, so he was happy to take this one.

Jimmy Vasser owns up to not chasing up to the pace car and costing himself the race. You have to like the way he doesn't whine and takes responsibility for his screw-ups. The happiest person at the press conference has to be Max Papis, who earned a podium finish for a team that may not be there next week.

All of this activity makes it tough to make it to the Trans-Am race. But, the effort is worth it as Paul Gentilozzi wins in an amazing contest with Boris Said and Justin Bell. The T-A race is clearly the class of the field, but I have not even been able to figure out when it will be televised, due to the radical overhaul of their web site. [Editor's Note first airing is Saturday, April 20 on Speed Channel at 5:00 P.M. ET with multiple repeat showings.]

Set up your VCRs and be prepared for a very entertaining road race. You don't want to miss it.

Long Beach is over for yet another year!

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

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