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Last time the IndyCar series visited California an act of God nearly derailed the whole show. In August an earthquake struck Sonoma valley, rattling and rocking the entire area for several seconds early on race morning. As Juan Pablo Montoya described the ordeal, “Awful, like awful. Like my shit – my, the bed was shaking. Anything in the bathroom went to the floor. It was bad.”
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His team mates were similarly terrified by the experience. Will Power blurted out, “Man I thought it was all over. I didn’t think we’d have the race. Oh my God – such a shock. I thought I was gonna die – uh.” Helio‘s reaction was priceless. “Not what you want. Man, it was amazing. I never knew we had that. Man, wow – that was the scariest thing of my life.” Of course we fervently hope The Big One doesn’t hit SoCal, at least not until next week after teams have cleared out with the cars and haulers.
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Long Beach is the first of a trio of left coast races on the schedule this year, but it’s by far the glitziest. The event’s such an enormous draw Sir Patrick Stewart of “Star Trek” Captain Picard fame – though our favorite role by far is “American Dad” CIA chief Avery Bullock – will serve as the ceremonial Grand Marshal. Former IndyCar drivers Bryan Herta and Robby Gordon are set to be inducted into the Grand Prix walk of fame, and speaking of minor celebrities a Vince Neil concert’s scheduled, as well. There’s something for everyone at this storied annual event – the always entertaining celebrity/pro race, a Miss Long Beach Grand Prix pageant and even an IN-N-OUT Burger nearby. “Those are good burgers, Walter.”
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The first big league Long Beach Grand Prix occurred in 1978 when F1 began holding its US Grand Prix way out west. Mario Andretti outraced Niki Lauda and Jody Scheckter to the checkers, putting Long Beach on the map and starting the tradition that IndyCar carries on to this day. After the final Champ Car race in 2008, IndyCar wisely entered into a long term agreement with the promoters to continue holding the annual event. If only NASCAR would cooperate by going bankrupt like Champ Car, thereby allowing IndyCar to go to Atlanta, Charlotte, Phoenix, Michigan, Kentucky and others, we’d be set.
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The temporary street circuit measures just under two miles and incorporates eleven concrete walled turns that pose significant challenges to drivers. Unfortunately the winner of two of the last four races won’t be in the field, as Kentish Mike Conway hung up his IndyCar shoes last year. Happily, both the 2012 winner Will Power and 2013 winner Takuma Sato of AJ Foyt Racing will be participating. So too will Sebastian Bourdais who in his Champ Car heyday won three straight from 2005 to 2007, and Ryan Hunter-Reay who visited victory lane in 2010. Last year Andretti Autosport’s Carolos Munoz made a strong showing of third while Montoya took his Penske machine to a fourth place finish. Montoya’s been on a hot streak and will be one to watch.
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After a cancelled overseas race and two total clunkers to start the IndyCar season, a trip to the beach is precisely what’s needed. There’s already an agreement in place for a Long Beach Grand Prix next year, so this week’s race is a safe and successful fixture on the schedule for a change. The drought in California’s another plus for the weekend’s weather, particularly after coming from the swamps of NOLA. There’s no need to fret about the future of Long Beach, so we can all just relax, chill out and enjoy the glamorous show in true SoCal style – unless another act of God occurs.
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