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Long Beach Diary:
Day 1.5
The Son Also Races*

Long Beach, Calif., April 17 — So, did you wonder how long it would take for me to come back to Deep Throttle? If you bet one year like my youngest daughter, you would be correct, sir. After that wonderful goodbye essay from Long Beach last year, I was lucky enough (along with Jeff Davidson) to be offered the chance to work with Nancy Schilke at www.motorsport.com.

And so I started writing news articles, and nothing but news articles, mostly on the Atlantic series. I wrote no commentaries last year other than what I did on Long Beach. So, I found myself on a Sunday at an Elkhart Lake event, where the second Atlantic race had fewer spectators than a beer drinking contest at a Mormon picnic, writing to Russell about how I want my credential back and how we had to get this site going again. For real!

So, there we were on Thursday at Long Beach, which is normally the last day of event set up, picking up our paper credentials from the Hilton. At the same time, Al Unser, Jr. and Bobby Rahal were inducted into the course’s Walk of Fame. Rahal noted that he never won a race here, and that his son Graham would have to take care of that. Unser, on the other hand, has long been known as the “King of the Beach.” Even though his son, Al, also races, it seems as though Al, Jr's place in the sun will remain secure. It is also evident from our first walk through that the Grand Prix is making efforts to appeal more widely to families and beyond its mostly white bread middle class base.

If you put several hundred journalists in a contained space, there’s bound to be plenty of talking going on. Up until noon Friday, everyone was talking about Paul Tracy coming back to open wheel racing, and how good it would be to have PT back. But, whispers started during lunch that Helio Castroneves had been acquitted in his tax evasion trial in Florida. Quickly there was a packed press conference during which it was announced that Helio was on his way to compete at Long Beach, and Will Power would drive for Penske in just two more races – one being Long Beach in the #12 (instead of the #3 he’s been driving) car – and then that’s it.

Well, that's “unification” for you. The biggest change from 2007 – after 2008’s sad swan song for Champ Car – is that this is the first year the Indy Car Series takes over as the feature race on Sunday. Power’s win last year was somewhat overshadowed by Danica Patrick’s fuel strategy win at Motegi. There’s little threat of Patrick winning this weekend, but this is as good a time as any to take inventory of what little remains of Champ Car as it existed in 2007. Three races inherited from Champ Car remain: Long Beach, Edmonton, and Toronto. This underlines a fundamental weakness of the CCWS – very few races were strong enough as events to survive unification. It’s about the same with drivers, except the pattern there is a little more predictable.

It was long thought that a unified series would eliminate or at least reduce the rent-a-rides and leave a stronger field of drivers. By and large this has happened, but of the 14 full time drivers in the CCWS in 2007, only five remain: Wilson, Rahal, Power, Doornbos, and Tagliani. Contrast this with the 10 remaining of 18 2007 ISC drivers, and it’s obvious that unification has been extremely difficult for Champ Car drivers.

And also for Champ Car websites such as ours. Even though we are nominally adults, Jeff and I decided that we were far too emotionally engaged in Champ Car, because at the end of the day, what we love is racing. So, here we are, with our faces smashed against whatever object is keeping us off the track – a fence, a screen, a camera lens – and watching the fast cars go by.

The only thing we don't like is slow cars, and we really don't care what car is being driven, who made the car, what country the driver or the car maker comes from, or what blinking series they're racing in – we only want to race or watch other people race. We are disappointed that there is no more Champ Car – in the words of one photographer here, “It’s not my race anymore, so I don't care” – which succinctly sums up the Jaslowian point of view on the ICS.

But our non-Kool Aid drinking thought is, let’s support the drivers and the race fans – and the great venues that were once part of the CCWS, and embrace the concept that nothing stays the same in racing – which is the Davidsonian view of the fine mess we find ourselves in.

Our editor will be pleased with how well former Champ Car drivers qualified today. Al Unser, Jr. is on the pole for the Saturday Pro-Celebrity race. Over in ALMS, Simon Pagenaud will start second for the team owned by Gil De Ferran. In the FIL, there is a strong presence of road racers from the Atlantic series, and even the ICS practice was dominated by CCWS drivers led by Will Power, who just lost his ride.

Ain't that a bitch?

*In tribute to my late father, who told the worst puns ever.

Copyright © 2009 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

 
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