Long Beach Grand Prix - Then And Now
Doug's First Long Beach Grand Prix
LACar's Doug Stokes was at the first Grand Prix in Long Beach. A lot has happened since then, but it's still an unbelievable race/show/expo, right here in our backyard.
By Doug Stokes
Wed, Apr 6, 2022 12:49 PM PST
Featured image credit LBGP.
I was a “stooge” (an arcane term for a crew member) on Bill Simpson’s made-in-Argentina Chevy V8-powered Berta Formula 5000 car, forty-five years ago for the first Long Beach Grand Prix in 1977... Long Beach (and indeed, all of Southern California) was not really ready for what it had hit with the GP.
Long Beach... Widely referred to as "Iowa-By-The-Sea" - for it’s annual gathering of homesick Mid-Westerners who congregated in the thousands at "state picnics" there throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s.
By 1977 Long Beach was a very close to being a "former" Navy town, and it’s main drag, Ocean Boulevard was a seedy concoction of liquor stores, dank bars (in some cases with even "danker" entertainment), porno theaters (remember them?), more liquor stores, disingenuous greasy spoon eateries, and what was left of a fleet of cheap/sleazy jewelry stores that had dominated the street when Navy ships were parked there in quantity. And lest we forget, and still lurking by the shore … there was the crumbling vestige of the once-wonderful Long Beach Pike amusement park.
The Queen Mary had arrived to great acclaim some 10 years earlier, it was not downtown, and was about the only reason for a visit. In fact, the pre-race tech inspection of the cars for the first event in ‘77 was held on the parking lot there, in the lee of the great ship.
All that changed seemingly overnight, and "Long Beach" in all of it’s many iterations became - and still is today - the biggest motorsports draw ever to hit the west coast.
Subsequently I spent time at a number of GPs on both a professional and private race fan basis. In 1979 I even got to mimic the GP on a smaller scale … conceiving of, and then taking on the job of race promoter/turtle wrangler at the first (and only) "Queen Mary Kart Prix", a Kart race on the parking lot of the vaunted floating symbol of the city. We even used the ship’s two-tier London bus as a control and scoring tower.
In 1981, as the organization’s executive director, I presided over the first of three official IKF (International Kart Federation) enduro events on the full LBGP street course as Karts shared the venue with a bill of fare that included Formula One, IndyCar, Toyota Celebrity, Super Vee, and Atlantic cars races.
Through all the years, the event has reigned as a true motorsports happening for Los Angeles - with celebrity events, expos, Indy Cars, Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks, Formula D(rift), Historic IMSA Cars, Porsche Carrera Cup Cars, and at least for me the biggest draw of them all: the people who attend, who enliven, and electrify the event with their enthusiasm and joy at just being there in the midst of the great swirl that goes on around the place. If you go, it’s fine to get a great seat out along Shoreline Drive for Sunday’s main event, no problem with that here. But the real deal is to get out there on Friday and/or Saturday and just go with the (crowd) flow.
People watch, be washed-over with the sound of blood-in-the-teeth racing that permeates the place, strain to get a look at the sleek race cars in the paddock, maybe note how gray Michael Andretti’s beard is getting, get a slice of deep-fried pizza or a chunk of grilled calamari on a stick, show some ID and get something cool to drink and just soak the whole damn show in.
It’s organic at that point.
...Again, it’s OK/fine to sit stationary in the grandstands on Sunday, but the real LBGP show is afoot on Friday and Saturday … Did I mention that? And - drum roll please - here’s the official outline for the weekend. Dress in layers, wear sunblock, a hat, and good shoes, hydrate, and pace yourself. There’s a whole lot to take in (and some car races too).
2022 Long Beach Grand Prix Schedule
Friday, April 8, 2022
7:30 AM Spectator Gates Open
7:45 AM – 8:25 AM Porsche Carrera Cup (PCC) Practice #1
9:15 AM – 10:15 AM IMSA Practice #1
10:30 AM – 10:50 AM Historic IMSA GTP Challenge (GTP) Practice #1
11:05 AM – 11:35 AM PCC Practice #2
12:40 PM – 1:00 PM Stadium SUPER Trucks (SST) Practice #1
1:15 PM – 3:00 PM IMSA Practice #2
3:15 PM – 4:15 PM INDYCAR Practice #1
4:30 PM – 5:00 PM PCC Qualifying
5:10 PM – 5:55 PM IMSA Qualifying
6:30 PM – 6:50 PM Super Drift Practice
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM Formula D Super Drift Challenge Competition #1
Saturday, April 9, 2022
7:30 AM Spectator Gates Open
8:45 AM – 9:45 AM INDYCAR Practice #2
9:55 AM – 10:15 AM HMSA Practice #2
10:20 AM – 10:35 AM IMSA Series Pit Set Up
10:45 AM – 11:25 AM Porsche Carrera Cup Race #1
12:05 PM – 1:20 PM INDYCAR Qualifying & FIRESTONE FAST 6
1:30 PM – 2:00 PM Commence IMSA Pre-Race
2:00 PM – 4:00 PM Start of IMSA Sportscar Grand Prix of Long Beach (100 min)
4:30 PM – 5:00 PM Stadium SUPER Trucks Race #1
5:15 PM – 5:35 PM Historic IMSA GTP Challenge Race #1
6:00 PM Acura and ASM Global Present Saturday Concert Starring Royal Machines w/special guests (Terrace Plaza in front of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center)
6:00 PM – 6:20 PM Super Drift Practice
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM Formula D Super Drift Challenge Competition #2
Sunday, April 10, 2022
7:30 AM Spectator Gates Open
9:00 AM – 9:30 AM INDYCAR Warm Up
10:45 AM – 11:05 AM Historic IMSA GTP Challenge Race #2
11:10 AM – 11:20 AM Acura NSX Hot Laps
11:25 AM – 11:40 AM Mothers Exotic Car Parade
11:45 AM INDYCAR Pre Race
12:05 PM INDYCARS to Grid
12:29 PM “Drivers To Your Cars”
12:38 PM “Drivers Start Your Engines
12:45 PM – 3:00 PM ACURA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH (Race #3 of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series – 85 Laps)
3:30 PM – 4:00 PM Stadium SUPER Trucks Race #2
4:20 PM – 5:00 PM Porsche Carrera Cup Race #2
(Tentative schedule, subject to change without notice. Check the official website for updates.)
About The Author
Doug has a long and wide-ranging history in the motoring business. He served five years as the Executive Director of the International Kart Federation, and was the PR guy for the Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Championship Gran Prix. He worked racing PR for both Honda and Suzuki and was a senior PR person on the first Los Angeles (Vintage) Grand Prix. He was also the first PR Manager for Perris Auto Speedway, and spent over 20 years as the VP of Communications at Irwindale Speedway. Stokes is the recipient of the American Autowriters and Broadcaster’s 2005 Chapman Award for Excellence in Public Relations and was honored in 2015 by the Motor Press Guild with their Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award. “… I’ve also been reviewing automobiles and books for over 20 years, and really enjoy my LA Car assignments.” he added.