Things would have turned out differently if the Pilgrims landed in California instead of what was it, uh, Chrysler Rock. The East Coast is so steeped in what it likes to think of as tradition. Everything started back there and there is no life on that other coast in this mindset. One always hears about those great party races like Sebring, Daytona or the Glen. Well dude, they pale against the non-stop party that has raged out here since 1975.
It was said after the success of the inaugural street race, featuring a full grid of Formula 5000 cars piloted by an international cast of drivers, that Long Beach was the only city capable of pulling this off. Other cities have tried street races and reactions have been indifferent at best. Long Beach, on the other hand, has been rocking and rolling for 30-plus years. Styles, trends and music have come and gone only to be retro-sized, and there is no better barometer than the mixture and mass of cultural identities that exist for a few days every April just off Ocean's four lanes of asphalt. Think Coachella Festival meets Hollywood Bowl and a surfing marathon.
The layout of the circuit has gone through many variations and lengths since the inception of the event. Those who witnessed the first-lap frolics that featured F1 World Champion James Hunt's McLaren M23 being launched will never forget that image, or the late-race pass of Mario Andretti in his Lotus over Jody Scheckter in a season that eventually saw Andretti become the first American World Champion since Phil Hill.
Formula One departed after 1983 and was replaced by the Indy open-wheelers as championed by CART. While there was considerable resentment from the diehard fans who viewed Long Beach as the American version of the Grand Prix of Monaco in terms of prestige and hipness, the move to CART was made out of financial necessity to ensure the survival of the GP.
For the F1 establishment, losing Long Beach was a disaster that took years to overcome. Only now that Indianapolis is part of the F1 calendar can the championship be considered international. Long Beach has continued to survive by constantly reinventing itself. Various support races have come and gone according to what is considered to be relevant to the "show." Super Vee, touring cars, Trans Am have all taken their turns at supporting the featured show of open-wheel dramatics.
For 2006, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (you need a title sponsor these days) added the Speed World Challenge and the Grand American Rolex Series Daytona Prototypes to the mix. The Grand Am is making a serious attempt to remake sports car racing in a new mold by offering a stable set of rules that offers a variety of powerplants. Lexus, BMW, Ford, Pontiac and Porsche have all answered the call; however, the major focus was on the new entry of ALMS stalwart Alex Job Racing and its Porsche-powered Crawford that generated the most interest based on the team's performance at Daytona and Homestead. A qualifying run that netted second on the grid followed by a strong second overall on race day behind the winning Lexus only brought the team more notoriety. Of the six featured events, the most exciting may have been the Speed World Challenge GT. The Speed series never fails to provide that "in-car stomach-churning dive-deep brake-late" action that is part reality series and part video game. Then there's the crowd at Long Beach that's as much a part of the show as anything seen on the track. The road may end at the water's edge, but the party never seems to end.