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Long Beach Diary:
Day One
It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Long Beach, CA, April 16 — Thirty years ago Long Beach was a place that no one I knew was allowed to go, especially at night. The area around the notorious Pike Amusement park was known for its tattoo parlors, sailors, and hookers.

Now, arriving at the track on Friday you see a brand new and very clean development wrapped around the street circuit that has remained the same since 2000. Chris Pook’s vision of a street race revitalizing the city has in large measure come true. The Long Beach of today is a wonderful place to visit. The 30th anniversary of the Long Beach Grand Prix is also a fitting place to celebrate the renaissance of American open wheel racing that is now Champ Car.

In order to get this rebirth started, it was necessary for the last remnants of the old guard to fall away. CART was born with Dan Gurney’s legendary “White Paper” which articulated the need for open wheel racing to reach its full potential through control of the series by racing teams. CART eventually evolved into an organization whose racing teams had become overly dependent on manufacturer’s subsidies.

Everyone now knows over the past few years manufacturers, teams, and drivers from CART have gone over to the IRL. The IRL now looks like CART used to look like, except it is run by Tony George, a track owner, which directly conflicts with Gurney’s vision.

By last month, George was still not done with his raids into Champ Car. In his most outrageous move yet, TG offered Adrian Fernandez and Bobby Rahal enough money to leave the series after both had announced they were running cars in Champ Car. Thus, Champ Car found itself in a situation not dissimilar from the Long Beach of thirty years ago. Except, without the sailors or tattoo parlors.

So, with all of this grimy, slimy history behind the series and the city, it was wonderful to hear those Cosworth engines fire for the first time at around 10 AM on Friday morning. Paul Gentilozzi looked like a kid on Christmas morning. He had promised 18 cars on the grid scant weeks before, and 18 cars took their first laps.

Paul Tracy ran well in both practice and qualifying, as did Bruno Junqueira and Alex Tagliani. No surprises there. Who did surprise nearly everyone was Rudolfo Lavin, who was actually fast the first time out with Forsythe Corona Racing. Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Sebastien Bourdais, was actually slow for Sea-Bass in qualifying. As expected, Nelson Phillipe and Roberto Gonzales were slow, very slow. Justin Wilson is surprisingly tall for a Champ Car driver. I’m still trying to figure out where they put those very long legs in the Champ Car chassis.

Over in the support series, Tommy Kendall made a most welcome return to the Trans Am series, and Boris Said is back, after being “kicked out” last year. Over in Atlantics, our good friend Alex Figge was a strong second in qualifying, his time only slightly slower than provisional polesitter Ryan Daziel (whose name is pronounced Dee-al).

The Pro-Celebrity Race has Max Papis on pole for the pros and an Access Hollywood reporter fastest amongst the celebs. I was relieved that Lil’Kim was able to make bail after her recent indictment in New York. Being a celebrity must be tough work these days.

And, speaking of tough, it’s a dirty rotten shame that Long Beach does not have a newspaper that is more supportive of the Grand Prix of Long Beach than the Long Beach Press-Telegram. We have been treated to far too many anti-Champ Car articles from the paper in the past months. But, they saved their ultimate “dis” for an IRL defector.

On the cover of its commemorative magazine for the 30th Grand Prix are photos of Mario Andretti, Al Unser Jr. and Paul Tracy. Good choices. However, it would have been nice if after spending all the time and money necessary to produce this piece, they could have employed a proofreader. It’s obvious they did not consider this a necessary expense because the cover spells The King of The Beach’s surname as “Uncer”. “Uncer?” They didn’t care enough about their race and Little Al that they couldn’t have checked how to spell the man’s name? And, I’ve looked several times in the paper the last few days for an apology from these people. Haven’t seen one. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

We did have an interesting experience leaving the track. After all the on-track festivities over, photographer Jeff Davidson and I headed over to the Marina, which is the south side of the track, and the likely source of Pook’s vision of an American “Monaco.” We met’s photographer, Sal, for dinner. Since Sal was parked considerably farther away from the track than were we, Jeff and I insisted on giving him a ride to his car – and the three of us walked towards our Shoreline Parking.

Along the way, we met one Michel Jourdain Jr. and his bride, the lovely Nora. Michel of course knows his way around the track very well while in a Champ Car. But, friends, he does not know how to walk around the track and find things on foot. This, I confess, I found to be very funny. So, Jeff and Sal gladly gave the Jourdains directions – the fastest way to walk to their boat, at the Marina. Yes, speed is important to Michel even when walking around the racetrack!

And so, after 30 years, Long Beach is one fine place during the day – and safe enough to take your wife at night. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute than that. Oh, maybe one thing. A race. Gotta wait for Sunday for that, though!

Copyright © 2004 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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