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Long Beach Diary:
Day One
We're Not In Kansas Anymore

Long Beach, CA, April 14 ó In its many incarnations, from F5000 to F1 to Champ Cars, the Long Beach Grand Prix has always featured beautiful scenery and on occasion, some really exciting racing. Where it has been changing the most is in its treatment of its fans, and this year is no exception.

When most fans imagine going to a race, they inevitably think of motor homes. I used to love entering the event area every year and walk through the sea of motor homes we called the Robby Gordon Fan Club. By 1998, the Club was gone, replaced by some very sterile looking corporate motor homes. Last year, no motor homes were in evidence at all. The rude, crude, and drunken revelers, God bless them, have been replaced by corporate comps.

Most of us race fans can spot a corporate comp a mile away. For one thing, they tend to dress funny. They always leave right after the feature race. I could go on, but I wonít. I see way too many of these people at Long Beach, and Iíll see them all weekend.

What all of us Ė comps and fans who actually paid for their tickets Ė saw was a newly reconfigured street course. From the looks of it, itís pretty nice. Unfortunately, itís very inconvenient for fans to get in and out of. There are many bridges but lots of dead ends. My husband and I walked well over two miles to exit the track this evening, and we were worried, as the one means of exit for handicapped fans Ė a single elevator - was not working. We had observed several people in wheelchairs who might unfortunately still be there.

So, at Long Beach, race fans are treated rather like poor relations. Often loved, but very badly treated and frequently not considered in making decisions that effect them. The denizens of Dover Downs have effectuated their takeover of this event and it shows where it counts, in the full porta-potties, in the track not being ready this morning for Formula Atlantics practice, in being hassled for bringing our own canned soft drinks, in hyping a CART Fan Appreciation Event in the program but never telling the fans where it is to take place. I could go on, but I wonít.

I go to the Grand Prix, despite being treated poorly, because itís about a half-hour from our house and features some fantastic racing talent.

Following are my notes from today:

Biggest Surprise of the Day: Seeing a blue Players' car and having momentary delusions that Greg Moore really isnít dead. Sitting there misty eyed for a few minutes as I got a grip on reality.

Second Biggest Surprise of the Day: How strong Bryan Herta looked in Shinji Nakanoís car. He was totally awesome today, and we in grandstand 34 were surprised he didnít take the provisional pole. And this is in a ride he got temporarily Ė this week!

Comeback Trail: Both Kool cars were very quick and ran at the front of the pack. Kanaan, last yearís polesitter, was also very fast today.

Fading Fast: Juan Montoya and Team Ganassi. I take nothing away from Juanís talent, but he just doesnít have the package this year. The TG driver who looks strong in 2000 is Ė Jimmy Vasser? And whatís up with the Newman Haas guys? They have the right package, they have the talent, but theyíre not up front.

A Star is Born: Jason Bright, the new Indy Lights driver, looks like a force to be reckoned with.

The Friendliest Paddock: Continues to be the Trans-AM seriesí. I dare you to take a slow walk through and not encounter Lou Gigliotti. Go ahead.

More tomorrow.

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