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Long Beach Grand Prix - My Home Track

Joey Leh
Aug 26, 2008
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For every car nut out there, a home track exists. You may have driven on it or only passed it on the long commute, but it's there. For some, it's the track where they dial in alignment settings and test new aerodynamics. For others, it may be the familiar parking lot where their local autocross is held. And for some of our more dangerous and illegal readers, it may even be a local freeway loop or backroad mountain shortcut that's only visited once the sun goes down.

For me, it's the Long Beach Grand Prix (LBGP). For more than 30 years, the now title-sponsored Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has brought close racing to the city streets I normally drive on.I can't say I went to the first race ever, but I have many memories from years of hearing Champ Cars tear through the temporary street circuit and the familiar high-pitched wail bouncing off downtown buildings. There's something undeniably attractive about seeing performance machines tear down the same street I used to ride on day in and day out, except with cement barriers and grandstands on all sides.

The only other local race that could rival the LBGP in 'wow' factor (for me) was the short-lived LA Street Race, which took place on a temporary course surrounding the Los Angeles Coliseum (former home of the Rams and Raiders, as well as the site of the 1984 summer Olympic Games). But the LBGP was home to Formula One and then Champ Car. That counts for more than anything.

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Each year, after the racing was finished, the Grand Prix organization would usually take their time before dismantling the course layout. The streets would open up to public traffic, and you could drive some of the course, with cement barriers all around, brake markers still on the fences and tire marks covering the street. I have fond recollections of cruising the back straight, content in the knowledge that I was driving on the same stretch where Gilles Villeneuve once raced.

And so it was with great excitement that I counted down the days leading up to this year's Super Lap Battle time attack exhibition at the LBGP. The phenomenon of time attack is getting stronger and stronger, with influence spreading beyond Japan into England and across the US. More and more people are becoming inspired to head for the track on weekends and US tuners are going faster and faster.

Five hundred to six hundred wheel-horsepower 350Zs and Evos are not hard to find in the Super Lap Battle ranks. This event would be the first occasion where some of the top time attack teams could see how they stacked up against World Challenge, American Le Mans and Champ Car racers on the same track and the same day. Buttonwillow Raceway is now the de facto benchmark for time attack competition, but most professional race teams don't visit the dusty desert track to race with their purpose-built GT and formula machines.

Would the AMS Lancer Evolution VIII or Factor X NSX match a factory-backed World Challenge GT-class Cadillac CTS-V? Would any Champ Car drivers jump ship for a ride in the Hasport Integra or C-West S2000? The LBGP would be the perfect place to answer these questions and see how fast the aftermarket tuning industry could push on my home track and I couldn't wait. Now if I could just figure out how to weasel my way into the Pro/Celebrity race and punt some so-called celebrities off my track. That would be something to remember.

By Joey Leh
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