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Cementing their legacies
Mario Andretti lifts a checkered flag to unveil his marker during the 2008 Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame Induction ceremony Thursday. Andretti, who won the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1977, 1984, 1985 and 1987, told the crowd that returning to Long Beach "is like coming back home."
Diandra Jay/LB Telegram Staff Photographer
The man synonymous with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - Mario Andretti - is now a permanent part of the community.

Andretti, who drove in the very first Grand Prix in 1975 and won the race four times, was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame on Thursday, along with Parnelli Jones and Gary Gabelich.

All three had medallions listing their accomplishments and an image of their car permanently embedded in Long Beach concrete along the Walk of Fame on South Pine Avenue in front of the Convention Center. They were honored in an hour-long induction ceremony attended by city dignitaries, family members and racing fans.

"(Coming to Long Beach) is like coming back home," said Andretti, who won in Long Beach in 1977, 1984, 1985 and 1987. "I don't know anywhere on this planet I feel more welcome than Long Beach."

In the mid-1970s, once-popular street races were on the wane, and Andretti said he wasn't confident race founder Chris Pook's idea for a street course in Long Beach would work.

"I thought it would never fly," he said. "But I could see it would have a chance when I saw how the city of Long Beach got behind it. The city fathers saw this as a tremendous opportunity to bring this city to the attention of the world.

"Look at this town now," he continued. "This city is a destination." 

Grand Prix Association of Long Beach CEO Jim Michaelian said Andretti's thrilling 1977 victory over Jody Scheckter and Niki Lauda "put the stamp of authenticity on this event."

Pook later echoed Michaelian, saying Andretti "saved our bacon" at a time when the financially strapped race desperately needed a high-profile victory.

"That put Formula One on the map in this country," Pook said.

Andretti's status as a racing icon throughout the world is second to none. He's the only driver to ever win the Indianapolis 500 (1969), the Daytona 500 (1967) and the Formula One world championship (1978). No American has won an F1 race since Andretti's victory at the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix.

Andretti, now 68, won four IndyCar titles and was honored as United States Driver of the Year in 1967, 1978 and 1984, the only driver ever chosen in three decades.

Jones won the Indy 500 as a driver (1963) and as an owner (1970-71) and also earned four NASCAR victories in 34 starts. He won numerous midget and sprint car races and is a legend in off-road racing as a driver and owner.

In 1975, Jones owned the Formula 5000 car Andretti drove. A native of Torrance, Jones also drove in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race on numerous occasions.

"I couldn't be more proud to be inducted," said Jones, whose given name is Rufus Parnell. The name Parnelli was an attempt to keep his parents from learning the then-17-year-old was racing at Carroll Speedway in Gardena. "It's just unbelievable."

Jones, 74, was remembered by one speaker as the fiercest competitor he ever faced on a track.

Another lamented the fact there wasn't enough time for Jones to regale the large crowd with hour after hour of racing stories, which he is known to do.

Instead, he ended his brief remarks with a zinger. 

"Now, I'll have millions of people walking all over me like my wife," he quipped.  More at LB Press Telegram

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